TV: Coupling (2000-2003)

20120905-132141.jpgWritten by: Steven Moffat
Language: English and some Hebrew, French
Length: 28 episodes of 29 minutes each in four seasons.
Finished watching each season on: 5 Aug, 19 Aug, 29 Aug, 1 Sep

This series was created around the turn of the millennium, and since it was a sitcom about three men and three women, it immediately invited comparison to its contemporary, Friends. Like a British version of Friends, people said. The comparison doesn’t run that deep, though, since the shows are quite different when you get down to it. In an average episode, Coupling tends to have more concentrated humour, following the tried-and-tested British formula of a smaller number of episodes by a more consistent team of only one writer. Steven Moffat is now more famous for things like Sherlock and Dr Who, which I tend to avoid out of habit, but at least he proves here that he has some knack for comedy.

I first watched this a couple of years ago at a friend’s house, and I enjoyed it at the time, although it was quite a late episode, and I had no emotional investment in the characters, so it was a little confusing for me. So I only watched it again recently when a friend here gave me the series.

One if Coupling’s strengths is that it complies roughly to a general structure to each episodes; this is actually different to the usual structure of American sitcoms, in which two or three unrelated storylines tend to play out at once – this allows the storyline to be given suspense by switching to the B story temporarily, but can get annoying – and as I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve seen some shows, particularly How I Met Your Mother, jumping through awkward hoops just to keep this structure going. Here the show tends to start off with two concurrent conversations, usually from the point of view of the girls and the boys. Often they discuss the same events, which we may see in flashback, and the stories tend to converge at the end of the episode in a cleverly constructed dramatic crescendo. This tends to work quite well for the show as it gives each episode a focus.

One thing I was quite surprised about is how dated the show now seems, actually. It was only just over ten years ago, but unlike its contemporaries (eg, Friends), it really looks it. Perhaps this is because the BBC is always trying to be really modern or something – and attempts at this just serve to date a work even more after the fact. It was mainly little things that did this, such as the title card sequence, and especially its font. But it’s also other things, like seeing one of those colourful seethrough iMacs in an office, presumably ultramodern for the time. Seeing that stuff just reminded me how old it was. It wasn’t even just that; subtler clues hint that the zeitgeist of the time was more optimistic then (before 9/11 and all the recessions) than it is now.

Anyway, I think the main thing I want to complain about is perhaps the incessant gender stereotyping. Most of the show’s humour that doesn’t derive directly from the characters themselves (they all have very well-defined roles and tropes, which is good) derives essentially from saying things like “men do this; women do that”. To me this can be amusing sometimes, but often just comes across as old-fashioned – and when almost all the episodes involve this sort of humours somewhere, it gets boring. So sometimes it felt like a stuck record.

Overall, it’s worth it, though. It’s funny and well-written despite its flaws, and the characters really can just be hilarious. So I’d suggest checking it out!

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