01 July, 2010

What the Papers Say: "Reunited" pilot


Sam Wollaston, The Guardian

"
Like many people I've recently been in touch with some old friends, on a well-known social networking site. We're thinking of meeting up. For a drink, then maybe one more, followed by tequila slammers, and casual sex. That's if it goes like it does in Reunited (BBC1). I suspect it won't.

They're all at in Mike "Cold Feet" Bullen's comedy drama shagathon. Hannah with her Japanese boss; Hannah with Rob; Rob with loads of other people, including Sara's sister; Belinda with the guy from the Spanish evening class. And a part of Hannah and Martin – who were together when they all shared a student house eight years previously (before Hannah copped off with Rob first time round) – would very much like to get together again. I think I know which part too, if you see what I'm saying. Blimey. Well, what are friends for?

Trouble is, Martin's engaged to Sophie, who confusingly is wearing the same dress as Hannah. Only dull-but-nice Danny, who's being cheated on by Belinda, isn't getting any. Oh, and Sarah, but she's got Jesus. I reckon she should dump Jesus and get it on with Danny; it would be more in keeping with the general flavour of Reunited.

It's sharp and well observed, though none of them is either nice or nasty enough to care about very much. This is just a pilot; there may or may not be a series to follow. I'm not convinced there should be. The interesting thing about a reunion is the first bit, seeing who's doing well or not – in terms of money, hair, children, chins, happiness, sanity etc. And who you still fancy, of course. It's a one-off thing: meet-up, catch-up, slammers, wham bammers (or not), hangover, regrets. And then you can forget all about each other for another eight years."

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Tom Sutcliffe,
The Independent

"Reunited couldn't more conspicuously have been a pilot if it had been wearing flying goggles and a leather helmet, but for some reason nobody seemed to want to mention the fact. Mike Bullen's script about student housemates meeting up again after eight years was described in the Radio Times as a "comedy drama", which rather suggested that within the hour Mike Bullen would have tied up at least one of the mop-head of loose ends he'd assembled. But as tick followed tock it dawned on you that Hannah's agony over whether Martin still loved her or Belinda's guilty secret about "Spanish lessons" or Rob's odd-couple affair with the judgemental Fran were not going to get any firm resolution before the final credits rolled, and you lost your only remaining motive for watching. It was a bit like being told a shaggy dog story only to have the teller smile enigmatically at the end and say he might deliver the punchline in eight months' time, provided the overnights turned out to be good enough.

I'm not keeping my fingers crossed myself, because this looked like a parody of Cold Feet-style drama, rather than a fresh product by the man who helped create it. In fact, what it really looked like was one of those narrative adverts that take their inspiration from Cold Feet-style drama, a Gold Blend world in which every line is silkily knowing, or involves embarrassment as well rehearsed as a dance routine. It had the same commercial compression in the storytelling, so that when Martin (on the brink of marriage and still nursing a grievance over a now ancient infidelity) spotted his old flame in the pub he froze in the doorway and a little shimmer on the soundtrack did the emotional shorthand for you in about two seconds flat, no characterisation required.

This was an ensemble affair though, so Gold Blend won't quite cover it. Before long, a Magners cider gang turned up, perky in their backchat, up for fun, breaking off for bits of man-hugging and girlish giggling. Hannah was at the centre of it, but there were other storylines circling: needy Sarah, who announced that she'd found Jesus and Belinda and Danny, who were three children into a marriage and – on her side at least – beginning to get twitchy about it. And then there was Rob, a serious miscalculation by the likeable Irish comedian Ed Byrne, who had somehow been persuaded to take on the role of Rob, the feckless, notionally "charming" one. "If you still want to punch me I'd understand," he said perkily, when he met Martin in the loo (it was Rob who slept with Hannah when he shouldn't have). Martin declined, but I'd have been more than happy to do it for him if I'd been on the spot."

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Andrew Pettie, Daily Telegraph

"Eery few years a comedy drama comes along that speaks to a generation. In the mid-Nineties, BBC Two’s This Life successfully captured the confused, competitive world of ambitious young professionals via a household of trainee solicitors. Soon after, ITV reeled in millions of slightly older viewers with Cold Feet, which followed the romantic ups and downs of three couples over six hugely popular series.

Last night, Reunited (BBC One), for now just a 60-minute pilot, made a pitch to its target demographic: frustrated thirtysomethings still coming to terms with their failing ambitions, thinning hair and lack (or surfeit) of children. As a frustrated thirtysomething with plenty of failed ambitions, dwindling reserves of hair and no children, I tuned in with interest.

The action started brightly with an attempted shooting in a Tokyo hotel room, in which scantily clad Hannah (Zoë Tapper) was caught mid-affair by her Japanese boss’s enraged wife. This, however, was merely an exotic plot device to get Hannah scrambling back to London to catch up with a group of five friends she’d shared a house with 10 years earlier.

They were: Hannah’s former (and no doubt future) lover Martin (Joseph Millson), still dishy but now engaged; ostensibly content married-couple-with-kids Belinda (Emma Stansfield) and Danny (Navin Chowdhury); and likeable Irish rogue Rob (likeable Irish stand-up comedian Ed Byrne). My favourite, though, was the laughably unhinged Sara (Michelle Terry), who had managed to cram the most into the intervening period by suffering a nervous breakdown and then discovering Jesus.

The writer, Mike Bullen, who also wrote Cold Feet, is clearly an experienced hand at concocting set-ups for prime-time comedy dramas. As Reunited’s title – with its echo of the social networking website Friends Reunited – hints, the story’s dramatic tension springs from an intriguing modern quandary.

Thanks to the internet, it is now virtually impossible to shake off unwanted acquaintances, who in the days before Facebook would have drifted out of your circle of friends never to be heard of again. But what happens when, after a couple of Google searches and a round-robin email, you’re suddenly thrust back together? Will old passions and jealousies reignite? Will long-forgotten secrets be disinterred? If Bullen is given a full series to tell us, I’m pretty confident the answer will be yes on all counts.

But although the various plot strands – involving Martin and Hannah’s poorly disguised feelings for one another, and Belinda’s fling with a man on her Spanish course – were competently threaded together, you never felt swept away by the characters. Rob was the most lifelike. This was his tongue-in-cheek apology to Martin for having slept with Hannah eight years ago: “I’m sorry. I was mixed up. By a combination of rum and coke.” But even Rob’s chucklesome asides only served to remind you that Ed Byrne’s jokes are usually a bit funnier than Mike Bullen’s.

One of the reasons people adored This Life is that they identified with the characters, whose lives felt like theirs, except with more attractive sexual partners and regular cliff-hangers. But beyond that, they also enjoyed their company. By contrast, I imagine that the circle of friends brought back together by Reunited were blander than the majority of viewers’ real-life acquaintances – who also have to get by without the assistance of a script. "

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Tom Murphy review

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Overnights: 3.33m (15.3%)

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"Reunited", BBC Drama


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