Mutual Friends, BBC1

Did we like it?
We liked parts of it in the same way someone with the last wisps of life passing their lips savours their chronically sore knee as it is the only conduit through which any feeling now exists.
What was good about it?
. The central relationship between Martin (Marc Warren) and Patrick (Alexander Armstrong) succeeds but only because everything surrounding it lies a state of moribund decay.
. It’s only because of Marc Warren’s redoubtable acting talents that you feel anything at all for the hapless Martin. He is made to feel the guilty party by his wife for her affair with his dead friend Karl, and is treated at his work with the same scorn as a jester who has had the last of the humour and jollity sucked from his cranium by the lobotomising attrition of the nine-to-five.
. Alexander Armstrong brings some much needed pathos to the flimsy Patrick, whose seething effervescence and irrepressible recklessness bring to mind Armstrong’s ad character Pimms-O’clock man.
. And when this pair are on screen there is at least the hook of engaging characters – the absurdist plot lingers, but accordingly isn’t as noticeable as elsewhere. Even so, at the climax of the first episode the amusing juvenile prank of Patrick crapping in the shoe of his comically treacherous business partner, Patrick and Martin then scarpered like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
. The well-written eulogy Patrick delivered at Karl’s funeral – at this point we had quite high hopes.
What was bad about it?. A cast of characters supporting Patrick and Martin only slightly more appealing than those found in Hitler’s bunker as the Red Army closed in.
. The female roles, to a woman, are so vexing it makes you wonder if the novel idea behind this drama is to create a Desperate Housewives or Sex And The City for boorish men who want women to appear as facile and worthless as men do in those two oceans of misandry.
. Martin’s wife Jennifer (Keeley Hawes) endeavours to put the blame for all the ills in her life on her flawed husband, but rather than journeying with her as she resolves her problems you wish she would take the same route as her erstwhile lover and chuck herself in front of a train.
. Liz (Sarah Alexander), Patrick’s ex-fiancée, isn’t much better. She shacks up with Patrick’s business partner, quickly contracting his tediously conniving manner. And Karl’s widow Leigh is so annoying you have immediate sympathy with him, wondering how long you could have withstood this cantankerous harridan.
. And the calculated device of creating tension through making Martin and Jennifer’s son Daniel walk in on his parents’ arguments – either so he can reveal the late Karl’s infidelity to his wife, or so Martin can call his school play “crappy” within earshot to send his offspring skulking into sulk – was woodenly contrived.
. One of the dread harbingers of middle-class banality – car tyres crunching a pebble-dash drive.
. Another is that chilling dinner party music, the sort you can only appreciate from six feet under – and that’s only a vicarious joy at those folk forced to absorb this aural effluence into their brains.
. The scrappy sitcom device of Martin’s hard-nosed boss melting into fits of girly ineptitude when the dashing Patrick says he wishes to use her law firm to fight his business partner’s efforts to excise him from their joint catalogue venture. It also meant she unquestioningly hired Martin again at Patrick’s request, only moments after he had been sacked – that’s right “sacked”, not “fired”. “Fired” is a word Americans use and has only translated for appropriate use on Americanised gameshows like The Apprentice. Elsewhere, we wish it would crawl across the Atlantic with all the sluggish turpitude of reactionary talk shows.
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