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
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...
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!
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.
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.