Posted by: Paul | August 22, 2010

Roger and Val Have Just Got In

For the second time this year (third if you count the Lizzie and Sarah pilot), the Beeb have justified my faith in the license fee being A Good Thing by debuting a new sitcom which has become essential viewing. What has happened? After a few years of total BBC3 dross and recomissioning My Family over and over again, they’ve hit a rich vein of form last seen in the middle of the decade, with Nighty Night, Saxondale and Human Remains.

Like Rev, Roger and Val Have Just Got In is on the gentle side, and all the better for it. It’s a beautifully observed two hander, with Dawn French and Alfred Molina (yes, Dr Octopus!) as a married couple approaching middle age with all the trials that entails – wistful ‘what have I done with my life’ type musings, getting to grips with death and bereavement, childlessness, and the minutiae of everyday married life. You know, the mainstays of comedy writing!

Slapstick it is not. It’s very, very stage-like – never moving outside a couple of rooms of the house, a simple two person cast, long takes in real time of two characters who have known each other inside out for years in the half hour after they arrive home from work, just talking. It puts the emphasis squarely on that most important of things – the script. And it’s brilliant. Never sarcastic, never cruel, it’s shot through with warmth and empathy. It runs the gamut from silly arguments about nothing which subsequently become about something, to sensitive dissections of how to cope with elderly parents.

I’d be tempted to say that there’s no reason this wouldn’t work just as well on radio – and it would work very well, you can imagine it gently flowing from the speakers post 11pm, as you’re winding down and need something to smooth the transition from daytime activity to nighttime slumber – if it wasn’t for the exquisite performances from both leads bringing the characters to vivid life. On the radio you wouldn’t get the little glances at each other, Dawn French’s appealing crinkles at the corner of her eyes when she smiles, Alfred Molina’s ability to speak volumes with an incline of the head. It’s all about their relationship, and when they’re on screen they become Roger and Val implicitly. They’re never just Dawn and Alfred.

However, there is a poignant mystery at the heart of the show – though Val and Roger are childless, there was once a child. I’m sure we’ll never find out exactly what happened, but the little allusions here and there are enough to keep you wondering, and fill the show with pathos.

But beyond the empathy, it’s still a sitcom – and at times it’s laugh out loud funny. What made me laugh the most is the ‘married couple’-type exchanges. Halfway through episode three, Roger is trying to talk Val into watching a DVD, and it was the ‘I want you to WANT to watch it!’ that made me think, ‘that’s us!’ – or at least, ‘that’s me!’ I’m sure every couple would see a little of themselves in their relationship.

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