Did we like it?
It was very good, but only very good rather than the celestial hilarity of the last series; and the root of its problems perversely lie in its main strength – the incorrigibility of its lead characters.
What was good about it?
• Jeremy trying to console Mark on the potential trauma of the play: “We’re going to see a play, but now they use Americans and people off the TV so it’s fine!”
• Mark falling in love with Heather the moment he sees her. “I love her, Jez. Tell her I love her.” And mused: “Maybe my marriage has just been a warm-up for ‘the one’.”
• The brilliant writing as Heather intimates she would rather sandpaper her face with Amanda Holden’s rough, glue-on sincerity than go on a date with Mark. First she claims that the tickets for a museum exhibition are all sold out, before not turning up a date only to run into him as he slopes back to the flat and hoodwinks him about how she has lost her phone and so couldn’t contact him.
• Jeremy’s date Paula: “I’ve got a sexually-transmitted disease.” Jeremy: “It wasn’t me!” And then Jeremy’s smugness that he could have such a condition because it implied virility and manhood, until Paula asked him about unusual discharges from his penis.
• Big Suze’s enthusiasm for burning the captive burglar with cigarettes.
• Mark’s efforts to seduce Heather in his bedroom: “Here we are on the bed together. Look how much bigger my feet are than yours!”
• John Barrowman didn’t make a guest appearance, as his presence now seems more obligatory than end credits.
What was bad about it?
• Jeremy and Mark are essentially exactly the same people they were in the first series. And while this leads to comic brilliance, such as the dog-eating in the last series, it’s now starting to become a little predictable.
• Each episode centres on Jeremy convincing Mark to do something that he’s slightly uncomfortable with but that he eventually goes along with because he convinces himself it will help his emancipation from his sorry little existence – here it was a double date with Jeremy and his latest date Paula and her friend Heather.
• The humour then arises from Jeremy’s blasé attitude to social etiquette, which invariably causes the more anally retentive Mark to first become embarrassed, and then to act irrationally because of his discomfort. And this occurred when Jeremy stormed out of the boring play they were all watching, leaving Mark to “soak up the feeling like a hate sponge” (a great line).
• The subsequent quarrel in the flat over what to do with the teenage burglar was played out exactly as it would have done in the first series. Mark has shown a glimpse of bravery when he grappled with the burglar, but this was shown to be a flash in the pan when the burglar’s friends stole their TV right in front of their noses. It would have been pleasing for Mark to at least try to defend his property other than with a meek shrug of the shoulders. And it’s this lack of character development that made the whole scenario, despite one or two glorious moments, being dull.
• Even as Mark overpowered a disbelieving Jeremy as the latter tried to leave the flat before the arrival of the police, Jeremy soon realised that no matter what Mark’s actions he would always be the same weak person whom he could manipulate and abuse, someone to whom he would always “be the one” rather than the flustered Heather who left the flat having concluded Mark was “a weird guy”.
• It also dimmed the scene in which Jeremy accidentally ended up spending £45 on a bottle of wine as he tried to seduce Big Suze at a meal where he had originally planned to tell her that he might have Chlamydia. He acted exactly how you’d expect him, too, all his once amusing petty selfishness was telegraphed 30 seconds ahead.
• Mark falling for the concept of ‘the one’. ‘The one’ is a device used in American teen-drama series as a lazy, shorthand strategy to bypass the usual emotional labyrinth of falling in love and to distil the process into something as cold and inhuman as Laurence Oliver’s dentist/ Nazi in Marathon Man, and his abuse of Dustin Hoffman’s teeth.
It has since been scooped up like refuse from a landfill site by the Roman legions of women’s magazines suffocating paper shop shelves like grey squirrels swarming over the last few red sanctuaries, and also squats on the GMTV sofa like a sac of pus moulded into the shape of a Chloe handbag while Fiona Phillips, Carla Romano and Ben Shephard lap up the salty excretions. On the other hand, perhaps Mark has fallen so far into despair that he reads women’s magazines and his vulnerable state has rendered him susceptible to their mendacious fairy tales, so it may be a perspicacious observation.