Tuesday, March 21, 2017

This Life

Last night, my friend Dean and I finished re-watching the seminal BBC TV series This Life. For me, it is the umpteenth time that I have watched it all the way through. For about the first ten years after it was made I made it an annual tradition to plough through my VHS copies (and, later, the DVD boxset!) but I haven't done so for a long time since.

When its first season aired in early 1996, it felt like I was the only person watching it; but, a year later (and after a hasty re-run of that freshman year) season two hit our screens and it became a passion for many across the United Kingdom.

If anyone were to delve into this show with fresh eyes, they might not see what all the fuss is about. The show hasn't dated (apart from the noticeable lack of mobile phones and the occasional '90s jeans syndrome') but myriad shows have followed in its wake and regurgitated a lot of the format and storylines. This was the mid-nineties and it was rare to see such audacious authenticity in the depiction of the lives of twentysomethings.

The show's creator, Amy Jenkins, wanted a show about young lawyers in which you never saw the interior of a court room (a conceit discarded by the reunion special ten years later) - Amy wanted to expose the emotional struggles that young people fresh from university go through when entering adult life. It's a period when the partying lifestyle doesn't quite want to be relinquished; sexuality still needs to be explored; and the coveted independence from family is not as welcome, nor as easy, as one might have anticipated.

With its bold and frank approach to sex, drugs, alcohol and all things considered sinful, it shocked and entertained in equal measures. Of course, there were frequent letters written in to the Daily Mail from aggressively indignant and pompous windbags who loathed the notion of young people enjoying themselves, but that just made it all the more decadent.

These friends and colleagues live together in an expensive Southwark home, trying to get on with their careers and their lives but having to maintain a very student lifestyle that is proving difficult to abjure.

Season one introduced us to Miles, the entitled and arrogant public school educated tosser; Anna, the sassy, witty and feisty squatter in Chambers; Milly, the driven yet uptight perfectionist; Egg, Milly's daydreamer of a boyfriend who'd rather be playing football than doing attendance notes; and Warren, the Welsh and proudly gay man who is terrified of his family's disapproval.

Other characters included Delilah, an obnoxious, thieving drug addict; Ferdy, a bisexual courier; O'Donnell, Milly's boss and seducer; and Kira, Warren's mouthy and bold cousin.

Season two arrived with a hard act to follow. We were introduced to some new characters and said goodbye to an old friend in a shocking and gripping storyline. Ferdy became a series regular and slowly became more confident in his own sexuality. We were also introduced to Rachel - a character who has divided fans. Was she just a misunderstood, innocent try-hard, or was she a calculating, manipulative bitch?

The second series was twice as long as the first and this allowed a multitude of storylines but it was dominated by Warren's dark encounter on the wrong side of the law, Milly's misguided affair, and Anna's anarchic collapse.

Numerous plot threads hurtled toward the exhilarating finale and clashed with catastrophic consequences. The show really went out on a high, and with a bang, in one of the best TV series finales ever. (Forgive my hyperbole, but it really was a fantastic denouement!)

In 2007, we had a reunion special. In all honesty, it didn't quite recapture the glory of the original two series. It was lovely to have the majority of the core cast back on our screens, but the plot felt rather contrived. Critics and fans were, on the whole, disappointed. I, however, was more than content sitting down with a pizza and a bottle of red and reacquainting myself with old friends.

This Life left a great legacy. Shows such as Cold Feet and Queer as Folk followed and ran with their own success. But would they have been made had Amy Jenkins not been a pioneer in creating this addictive show?

The show also launched the careers of its cast - most notable Andrew Lincoln and jack Davenport - and those of us who were engulfed in its maelstrom for those two years have a strange bond formed of a passion and respect for this beloved TV drama.

I would just like to mention Daniela Nardini who played Anna Forbes with such incredible gusto that she became a cultural icon. This acerbic, brassy and astute character was also a f*cked up headcase - but we all loved her. Daniela absolutely deserved her BAFTA award for Best Actress. I for one would love to see a spin-off series all about this remarkable, hedonistic Scot. 'The Trials of Anna', maybe?

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