Television Revision: Coupling – Season 1

By Andrew Williams
September 3, 2013

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation).

Now, this is a story all about how… The romantic and sexual adventures of new couple Steve (Jack Davenport) and Susan (Sarah Alexander) infringe upon their respective exes Jane (Gina Bellman) and Patrick (Ben Miles) as well as best friends Jeff (Richard Coyle) and Sally (Kate Isitt).


Happy days? Penned by television writer par excellence Steven Moffat, Coupling was often reductively referred to as ‘The British Friends’ when it first aired (due to the subject matter and gender distribution of the cast), but the two shows have vastly different strengths. Friends had phenomenal chemistry, brilliant one-liners, and great character work, but could never be accused of being too intricately plotted. Coupling has episodes that dazzle with their structure (it’s a thing). Yet, it ain’t entering the Comic Timing Hall of Fame anytime soon.

Not everything that would eventually make Coupling so great is yet on display in Season One. There is, however, the beginning of something special. Moffat based the characters of Steve and Susan on himself and his wife, and his observations on dating, romance, and sex are well deployed in the sitcom format. Moffat’s way with plotting is clearly in evidence, and while you can hear the gears crunch occasionally in the first few episodes, he’s just warming up.

Unfortunately, the subpar characterisation leaves this very charming, attractive cast floundering. By the end of the first season, each character can pretty much be summed up in a word (maybe two if they’re lucky). Add in some dreadful jokes and alarmingly poor editing and Coupling Season One clunks more often than it soars.

The final frontier: A terrific British sitcom gets off to a rocky start, but the seeds of greatness are being sewn.


Top two episodes: 4) Inferno. Susan’s discovery of her beau’s pornography leads to a much-loved Coupling tradition: The Steve Taylor Rant. 5) The Girl with Two Breasts. Not every show will replay an entire scene between two characters speaking different languages so you can understand what the second person was saying, but Coupling will.

Worst episode: 3) Sex, Death and Nudity. At his best, Moffat is able to string his various plot elements together in a way that feels organic. Not here though. An unfocused effort that veers all over the place and ends up feeling forced.

Season MVP: Though these six episodes don’t give this great cast much time to develop chemistry as a group, the charms of the individual performers are clearly on display. While Coyle’s Jeff was the show’s popular breakout character, I think these early eps clearly belong to Alexander and Davenport, who are able to anchor all the zaniness with their natural chemistry and gallons of charisma.


Coupling is available on Quickflix.

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