Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Bob & Rose"

The Russell T. Davies series “Bob & Rose” (2001) is at least half perfect; so much so that you could slice it down the middle. If you're like me, you will reach the end of the end of the third of the program's six episodes convinced that "B&R" is so close to flawless that the shortfall is not significant. Problems begin to surface only in episode four.

The fact-based story is the most extreme case imaginable of a person falling inexplicably in love with someone who is not their type: in this case a gay man (Alan Davies) poleaxed by a straight woman (Lesley Sharp). (You know Bob's a goner when, six hours later, he's still chuckling over one of Rose's jokes.) Bob maintains stuanchly that he is still gay and not bi-sexual: "I haven't changed. I've just added a little bit on top." (Another of Bob's signature lines was adapted for use by Ianto Jones on Davies' Torchwood: Children of Earth: "I don't like men. I like him.") The key to the productions success is how good both performers turn out to be at suggesting the giddiness of a couple of shelf-worn grown ups surprised by joy -- and the wisdom shown by writer-producer Davies and his two directors, Joe Wright and Julian Farino, in standing back and keeping things simple.

The only other exploration of the mismatched romance theme worth mentioning in the presence of the near-perfect "Bbb & Rose" is Bertrand Blier's Too Beautiful For You, in which Gerard Depardieu, married to godessy Carole Bouquet, outrages friends and family members by leaving her for his dumpy secretary. I think it's a bolder move to suggest that crossing the beauty barrier could arouse passions comparable to ignoring conventional lines of race or class. More dismissive of the conventional/sentimental. It may actually be easier for an audience as long as both characters are attractive, even when one of them is (playing) gay.

Davies has a good satiric point in the resentment Bob inspires in the gay community by daring to color outside the PC lines--and possibly an even better one in the beffudlement of his loving mother (Penelope Wilton), who has devoted every waking moment to a mothers-of-gay-children activist group and now feels horn-swaggled. In practical, narrative terms, all these various forms of opposition serve the same function: generating suspense in a situation that would otherwise have almost none, because the love at the center of the story is strong and true by definition. The title characters are portrayed as so gloriously sane and clear-headed that they could scarcely fail to recognize, as we do instantly, that they are perfect for each other. Disinformation campaigns like the one waged by Bob's jittery school-teaching colleague Holly (Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson) are required to create even modest speed bumps.

Everything that in the series' final half begins to seem problematic can be traced back, I think, to one miscalculation: trying to stretch five hours of story to fill a mandated six hours of running time. Imperfections that become increasingly glaring include Davies’ over-reliance on mirror-image narrative constructions (inter-cutting between two party scenes or phone conversations or break-ups or family visits that comment ironically on each other); the over-statement of the obsessiveness of the meddling Holly, which makes a sad and lonely character begin to seem pathological; and the attenuated and borderline extraneous subplot about Rose's mum and her drastically unsuitable new con-man fiancee.

The other triumphant aspect of the production for me is that Davies' explores, as very few straight writers would dare, the vast potential of "coming out" as a metaphor. In the interview linked above he says: "To my surprise, 'Bob & Rose' started to become the gayest thing I've ever written. Because over six weeks, everyone comes out of the closet - unloved wives, secret James Bond fans, and those who are simply lonely, all harbouring some sort of love that dares not speak its name. And all realising, through the actions of Bob and Rose, that they can shout it out loud."

Hat tip: Muffy St. Bernard.


Muffy St. Bernard said...

I wrote my glowing review after the third episode, but I wouldn't change it much after six...I agree that it could have lost an episode, and that the con-man subplot didn't exactly fit, but somehow it all felt okay to me...

...except the very last scene, which I remember thinking was TOO much. I don't remember WHY I thought that, though.

I see what you're saying about the strong love vs. speed bump tension, and that really worked for me: could all these totally-understandable problems ultimately ruin such happiness? Sadly yes, which is why I was totally stressed until the very end.

Oh yes, Bob's day-after chuckling is exactly the sort of thing that Davies excels at, and I'm glad he can finally forget about the monster-of-the-week stuff for a bit.

Generic said...

The final scene, meaning the quick shot of a certain domestic/electronic device? Well, yeah, I guess. Maybe I'm so accustomed to how heavy-handedly that scene would be milked on an American TV show that the relative briskness and speed of the treatment here seemed like the pinnacle of good taste.

I rented and watched one episode of Alan Davies' hit show "Jonathan Creek." Sent the disc back without watching any more. Moderately enjoyably commercial mystery comedy.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Yes, that was the quick shot, it just seemed like TOO much. But like you say I should count my blessings that it wasn't much more!

Jonathan Creek, avoid like plague, noted. I think my New Year's will be spent with Emma Peel.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

PS: I just watched "Waters of Mars." I wasn't entirely sold on the sudden personality change -- I wish they'd lead up to it a bit more -- but I did enjoy it and I thought it was successful.