Sep 27 2010
Billed as an 'anti-romantic comedy', this bedsit-set sitcom seems to be blooming – or is it just a succession of crude sex jokes?
Call it the ongoing drip-down effect of The Royle Family if you like – although it's more likely a knock-on effect of budget restrictions – but lately, the BBC has been crawling with low-key single-set sitcoms. Simon Amstell's Grandma’s House let its surreal, borderline-fictional personality crisis play out in a single house. Dawn French and Alfred Molina's charming enough Roger & Val Have Just Got In was a super-close-up of a single marriage. Rev did manage to venture outside, but didn’t exactly scream “big budget action adventure”.
And over the past few weeks another young pretender has begun to flower in the shape of Him & Her, starring Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani. The show's premise is simple: a young unemployed couple living in a bedsit and trying to avoid engaging with the outside world. It's so simple that it took a while to get going – but three weeks in and it's been picking up the following that it deserves.
Close-up and intimate it may be, but this isn't one of those sitcoms where nothing happens. Its writer, Stefan Golaszewski, nails that twentysomething apathy in which real-world events are dangerous invasions into time available for watching Inspector Morse DVDs and having sex. In fact, Golaszewski breaks the last great TV taboo about young people, in showing them to be almost boring. People drift in and out of the bedsit with little explanation of who they actually are. This is real life in all its dull randomness.
Normally my heart sinks when something is described as "getting darker" – as if dark implies better, or funnier, or worthwhile. But while Him & Her does get sick, it does so in the way that real people in real life are sick. Last week, Steve and Becky avoided going out to a party to celebrate a young boy's remission from leukaemia because there wasn't a free bar. They decided to stay in and have sex again instead.
And while Steve and Becky are unsympathetic, the people around them are even worse. The very first line in last night's episode saw Bex's brilliantly awful sister, Laura, claiming, on the strength of an internet documentary, that 9/11 was a hoax, and that "all the people jumping out of the buildings were actors".
For a series purportedly about nothing, the episode went on to discuss whether or not Steve was racist, and then tackled the issue of adoption. Laura's fiance, Paul, had just discovered he'd "been lied to all his life". His response? "I smashed the fuckers' house up." A man permanently on the brink of a violent breakdown, Paul has already stolen the show, only slightly edging past Dan from upstairs.
Only something so well observed could get away with shaving so close to the bone. But at its heart are two great performances. Tovey's trademark exasperated-face is bang on, yet many of those same facial expressions create a starkly different character from his other BBC3 creation, George-the-Werewolf from Being Human. And Becky's bored, subtle disdain is irresistible. You're praying for the wind to change so her face stays like that.
The BBC bills Him & Her as an "anti-romantic comedy". But I'm actually finding it hugely romantic, and weirdly moving. Do you agree? Or is this just a succession of crude sex jokes with no plot?