Nightlife

Coupling - The Complete Third Season

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jun 1, 2004
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The British answer to -Friends- are back! Steve and Susan (Jack Davenport and Gina Bellman) continue on their erratic course toward marriage and blissful contentment, but along the way there are heartaches, mini-break-ups, and arguments about household hardware. Patrick and Sally (Ben Miles and Kate Isitt) are on each others’ nerves as they tremble on the verge of ending up in each others’ arms; Jane (Sarah Alexander) is in hot pursuit of a born again Christian who won’t have sex before marriage; and Jeff (Richard Coyle) is, per usual, unable to open his mouth without spouting either insulting nonsense (in thepresence of women) or off-kilter love philosophy (when hanging around with the lads).

The fun starts off anew with "Split," which picks up right where last season left off: Susan rushing out of the house with Steve in pursuit. (The brief appearance of Giselle, the "French bitch," is edited out, but you can’t watch the last few moments of last season’s final scene without flashing on Giselle introducing herself to a bewildered Steve after a long bout of confused identities.) As Steve and Susan face each other in the street, tongue tied, a tear races down the middle of the screen; for the rest of the episode we watch as Steve and Susan, each related to separate halves of the tube, dream of one another (she wants him to forsake porno; he wants her to put on a lesbian spectacle), gripe to their pals about one another (in a too-long, too-contrived sequence involving the British Telecom version of Star 69), and head off for solace to "the temple of women." By this last, Steve means a girlie bar, and Susan a salon: the boys have a far better time, I’m afraid, than the girls.

In "Faithless," Jane meets an intriguing new potential beau. The problem is that he’s a born-again and not into fun and games while single. As a substitute for a proper date, he takes her to a Christian get-together, where Jane makes considerable waves. Meantime, Jeff is unable to parse what, exactly, a female co-worker wants from him. Why? "Because he’s Jeff," moans Steve, "and there’s no known cure." This sets things up for the next episode, "Unconditional Sex," which is a great title because that’s, as it turns out, what Jeff’s new friend has in mind. But trying to explain why he can’t only lands Jeff deeper in enemy (in this battle of the sexes comedy, that means "woman") territory, and only an unusually inspired round of lunacy can save Jeff this time.

"Remember This" is a splits sides, not the screen, and works ever so much better. A late night "rescue" brings back fond memories for Patrick and Sally -- but, in hilarious Roshomon style, the specifics change depending on who’s telling the anecdote of how the two first met.

"The Freckle, the Key, and the Couple Who Weren’t" is less labored than the title, but still manages to pack in bondage, psycho ex-boyfriends, and a good healthy dose of hypochondria.

"The Girl With One Heart" could also have been better named, given the first-season episode "The Girl With Two Breasts," but on the other hand it offers something else from the first season -- a cozy dinner at Steve and Susan’s where madness and confusion reign and Steve has another chance to deliver moving, if silly, oratory.

The seventh and final episode, "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" quotes the show’s title song to great effect, because for each "Perhaps" there’s a woman -- and a big, paternity-shaped question mark. Throw that in with some celebratory dancingn in crude Spider-Man costumes, and you’ve got a wildly funny send-off to Season Three.

In all, this is one of the better seasons, more consistently funny than Season One and continuing the best storylines established in Season Two. It’s also Richard Coyle’s last season -- at any rate, he won’t be back for Season Four -- so it’s a treat to see Jeff’s character used so well, given to greater panic than ever and stumbling into even more uproarious situations than usual. In one marvelously done scene, Jeff and Jane have what you think will turn into a romantic encounter, only to result in a devastatingly funny critique of their respective characters.

This is still the work of a single writer, though, and even if that means there’s a chance for one comic vision to guide every scene and every line, there’s only so much Steven Moffat, series creator and sole scribe, can come up with in terms of fresh, funny material. The third season does have its plodding moments, along with more brilliantly conceived and executed gags than ever, but if the fun is that much brighter, the slow parts just seem that much slower.

The extras are pretty minimal -- there highlight is a collection of what they call Deleted Scenes on the menu, but which are actually outtakes, many of which show the actors missing their cues or succumbing to the giggles.

Season Three won’t convert any hearts and minds. If you think Coupling is a cheap and second-rate rip-off of Friends, you’ll probably find plenty here to re-confirm your opinion. If, however, you are a fan, you won’t want to miss these seven new adventures on DVD.

Outtakes, Photo Gallery, Actor Bios

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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