Occasionally, something comes along on TV which captures your imagination, something different from everything you’ve seen before. In 1996, I stumbled across (well, it was broadcast at something like 11 o clock on a Tuesday night on BBC2, so stumbled was about the right word) a series showing the goings on, in a London house, of five would be graduate lawyers, including all the Sex, drugs and Rock'n'Roll you could want. The camerawork was jerky, almost amateurish, the dialogue was sharp, real and immediately attention grabbing, and the characters, who had soft and dark sides as well as their brash outer shell, were very perceptively and quite brilliantly drawn. Not a great deal happened that perhaps you wouldn’t expect to happen to a bunch of pushy, aggressive, sharp young things, but the whole thing moved along with a real “buzz”, and you were immediately drawn into them and their lives – what they were, what they wanted, how they interacted, and simply how their lives panned out. As a bridge between wanting to be the hard partying twenties and being dragging reluctantly into unwanted adulthood, it was hugely addictive, lasted for 32 episodes, and was called “This Life”.
I am not an avid TV viewer, but it sits comfortably in the best three or four drama Series I have ever seen on TV.
Amy Jenkins (bizarrely, the daughter of the Labour Chancellor Roy Jenkins - what, besides Claret drinking, must have gone on in their house?) has claimed most of the plaudits for its success, although I seem to remember at the time that the really cracking episodes were written by others, particularly Richard Zajdlic. It was one of those series where you really believed in the characters – there seemed to be nothing forced about them or the way they dealt with each other, even though they were huge differences between them, both in their backgrounds or their attitudes. Even the secondary characters, Ferdy, Kenny, Kiera, Jo, Graham, the loathsome Rachel, and the equally slimy and appalling O’Donnell were jewels in the way they added colour and excitement to the storylines. And after a whirlwind two seasons, the whole thing came to a sharp halt, with the most stupendous last two seconds I’ve ever seen in a drama.
If ever you wanted a demonstration of the difference between the questions “Why did you stop?” and “Why don’t you stop?”, This Life got it absolutely right. It finished on an absolute high, and left you screaming for more. The finale gave you no idea what happened to Miles, Warren, Egg, Milly and the stupendously long legged, chain smoking, Soave drinking, beguilingly exciting Anna, and you were deliberately left to work out for yourself what directions all their lives took.
Just before Christmas, it was announced that Tony Garnett and Amy Jenkins had managed to get the main cast together again for a one off “10 years on” programme, and I have to admit to a huge rush of anticipation which stretched all through Christmas, on reading this. As a run up to the show, the whole of the original two series were shown again, and any thoughts that it might have aged over the last 10 years were immediately squashed. It was still fresh and vibrant and come last night, when it was broadcast, I sat down with a great feeling of excitement to watch 90 minutes of what was clearly going to be pure joy.
I cannot remember such a letdown in a television programme. The characters had all lost at least one of their dimensions. The storylines were contrived, inappropriate, illogical, facile, and simply unbelievable. The plotlines contained glaring errors and were hopelessly condensed, with the cadences and flow which made the original two series being completely lost. All in all, it was a self indulgent and ill thought out programme, which left you feeling the author was taking the easy option at every turn.
It was simply a programme which should never have been made. So, if you haven’t yet seen the original 1996 programmes, watch them – they are terrific and a real treat. In Warren-speak - "Outstanding!"
But don’t go anywhere near the “10 years on” update – it’s an absolute stinker.
this life 10