Series 2


Thirteen Year Itch, by Giselle


Joking Apart Series 2 is a considerably mellower experience than Series 1.


Mark, previously speared by his anguish and desperation, now shows signs of a rather unhealthy obsession with Becky. The bittersweet contrast between Mark's despair when Becky leaves him and the giddy joy of their early relationship, so beautifully illustrated through the flashbacks in Series 1, has gone. What JA2 lacks in anguish and spent passion it makes up for with accomplished farce, although this proves to be at the expense of a satisfying narrative line, and a real connection with the characters. The focus is no longer clearly on Mark and his relationship with Becky. Tracy and Robert are muscling in on the action, and not in the way one might have originally expected, given the mini-affair between Mark and Tracy in Series 1. Until more than halfway through the second series it is tricky to say where it is heading, and although there is every opportunity to ensure that the last moments of episode 6 are as dramatically engaging as the denouement of Day Dreams, the chance appears to have been sacrificed enroute upon the altar of high comedy. Given the painful autobiographical origins of the series, this is not really surprising - if The Moff is Mark, then surely the laugh is more important than anything...


The stand-up material in JA2 is now just window dressing, included only in the interests of continuity. It offers a handful of memorable soundbites however - "Life is nature's way of keeping meat fresh" takes on an entirely darker edge when recycled 10 years later in The Doctor Dances. The device served primarily to set Joking Apart (apart) from other comedies ("the one with the stand up that isn't Seinfeld..."), and by Series 2 it has already outlived its usefulness, and is diminished accordingly. The characters are now demanding the entire 28 minutes without interruption.


Ultimately, Joking Apart is a series borne from very personal circumstances. The translation into a TV sitcom was perhaps too raw at the outset to have proper form, and by Series 2 it has lost its way, no longer driven by the very real pain of loss which is uncomfortably apparent in the first six episodes. Nevertheless, the series is accomplished on many levels, and plants the seeds of more sophisticated themes and devices, many of which will be developed and spectacularly realised in Coupling. Ultimately, whilst JA2 bears trademark Moffisms aplenty, it does lack a certain finesse. Of course, that's not to say its not funny... simply that we have impossible expectations of our Genius in Residence, especially in hindsight.


Replay's outstanding dedication in seeing this series realised on DVD has meant that the existing materials have been remastered with an impressive care. And they do look beautiful. Don't take my word for it - go check out their website for the before and after comparisons. My only niggles with the DVD lie solely with the menus, which insist on inflicting the appalling theme tune upon me at every opportunity, and encoding which does not appear to enable 4-way navigation. That said, the chaptering does thoughtfully allow you to skip all the titles if you are quick enough on the buttons in "play all" mode...


There are moments of plunging certainty when you begin to suspect that what you are about to do is probably the right thing. If you can just talk yourself into it... go buy the DVD!


Episode overview


Mark has apparently remained unattached and uninvolved since the break-up (and let's face it, the hideous Not-Claire-Not-Helen would be enough to put him off returning to the casual dating scene for good). We first see him on a trip to the local newsagent for... supplies, where he unexpected encounters Becky. Just exactly why Mark should feel it necessary to try to conceal his porn habit from his wife of five years - a wife demonstrably at least as sexually active as he is - is a mystery, but this is of course a question we should not stop to ask. The majority of the first episode plays out as a largely silent bedroom farce, with Mark's obsessive desperation vividly illustrated as he lies curled foetally on Becky and Trevor's bed watching their homemade sex tape through his fingers.




Episode 2 ventures into the surreal. Mark's solicitor plays amateur psychiatrist in an intense prologue, setting the tone for a dark and rather disturbing tale of death and retribution. It is story of ventriloquist's dummies and kitchen knives. The arrival of Trevor at Mark's flat allows for the cruel yet visually pleasing swipe at Trevor's appearance (down to matching waistcoats), before circumstances present the pair with the unexpected opportunity to bond over a dead body of an old man.




Episode 3 has two Moff staple ingredients - sex and telephones. Mild-mannered Robert is behaving suspiciously, leaving his friends and colleagues to cover for him with surprisingly well-prepared phone impersonations. Its all bound to end in tears, and the arrival of Robert's parents at the climax serves to ratchet up the angst.




The arrival of Alison Stewart in the flat opposite Mark's seems to suggest he could be moving on at last. Alison is gorgeous, and naturally her first meeting with Mark is fraught with unplanned nakedness, dodgy plumbing, Robert's adventures in cross-dressing and visiting relatives with fragile dispositions. But this all seems quite promising, given Mark's track record...




 ...until the arrival of Dick. Concussed and confined to bed, Mark is visited by man's best friend, Trouserman. And so it is that in the midst of the most surreal turn of Series 2, we are also given the strongest suggestion yet that things between Mark and Becky are far from over.




But Becky is a serial offender. The suspicions indignantly refuted in Episode 2 prove to be true after all - she is sleeping with her solicitor. And in one final, insane telephonic farce, it is only Maxine Desk who dares to speak the last, dirty secret that everyone is keeping: Mark loves Becky, and Becky loves Mark...  Maybe.





Joking Apart Series 2 MoffStatsTM

Autobiography Mark Taylor
Gratuitous relatives Aunt Helen
Mofflinks the pub where Mark and Becky meet is in Talwinning Street; "Something Terrible"; the genesis of the Melty Man; "Life is nature's way of keeping meat fresh"; unplanned nudity; Maxine Desk is Tracy's Truth Snake

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