Introducing Our New Columnist
Donna J. Plesh
Jack Davenport, Sarah Alexander
of BBC America's "Coupling"
Tired of NBC's 'Friends'?
Why not try 'Coupling'?
By DONNA J. PLESH
SHORTLY AFTER I watched the first episode of NBC¹s "Friends," a friend asked me what I thought about the show¹s chances for success. Pleased to be asked my opinion as a person considered knowledgeable about television and the industry, I replied, "It will be gone by the end of October."
It¹s 2001 and the show about a group of now thirtysomethings living in Manhattan is in its eighth season as part of NBC¹s "Must See"--or perhaps it should be retitled "Must See Sometimes"--Thursday night lineup. Last season the show faced its first real ratings competition when CBS dropped its 800-pound gorilla "Survivor" opposite it in the 8 p.m. Thursday slot. The ratings told the story: "Survivor" won the 8 p.m. war, but "Friends" survived.
The ratings brought no real panic in the NBC camp, but was it just a coincidence that the long-running hit¹s season-ending epsidode featured the wedding of "Friends" friends Chandler (Mathew Perry) and Monica (Courtney Cox Arquette) and the surprising pregnancy of Rachel (Jennifer Aniston)?
In the past, the marriage of lead characters on a hit TV show hasn¹t ended happily ever after. (Anyone remember what happened to "Rhoda¹¹ when the title character got married? In fact, does anyone remember much about the show at all?) When sexual tension is gone, where does the plot--and the hook to keep viewers coming back week after week--go?
Of course, in the case of "Friends," there still are the unmarried Joey (Matt LeBlanc), Ross (David Schwimmer), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Rachel. But the sexual tension, whatever little there ever was on "Friends" (Ross and Rachel--the early years) pales in comparison to the overt sexuality and seemingly constant talk about sex on BBC America¹s "Coupling."
After watching the first season of "Coupling," I thought it would be interesting to get a "Friends" fan¹s take on the show described by BBC-A Chief Operating Officer Paul Lee as a "very grown-up 'Friends' meets 'Sex and the City.'"
"Coupling" begins its second season of episodes on BBC-A on Oct. 26. Like "Friends," the Brit import focuses on a group of thirtysomethings.The friends on "Friends" hang out a lot in a coffee bar, while the "Coupling" gang spends a goodly amount of time at the neighborhood pub, preoccupied with finding someone of the opposite sex for sex. Or at least talking about sex. A lot.
The "Coupling¹¹ gang of three men and three women are involved in various forms of friendship, relationships and non-relationships. Of the group Susan (Sarah Alexander) and Sally (Kate Isitt) and Steve (Jack Davenport) and Jeff (Richard Coyle) are friends. Patrick (Ben Miles) and Jane (Gina Bellman) are members of the group courtesy of their previous romantic involvement with Susan and Steve.
To find out how two shows stack up against each other, I asked a thirtysomething friend and longtime "Friends" fan over to watch some episodes of "Coupling."
The Brit import, she thinks, is "pretty funny. It reminds me of 'Friends,' but older. The jokes are geared to an older audience. 'Friends' is (still) geared to the twentysomethings, even though they are now in their 30s. Both shows focus on a group and their relationships with each other--and there are plenty of glib one-liners in 'Coupling.' But, 'Friends' is definitely funnier."
So what does she see as the biggest difference between the shows?
"On 'Friends,' Chandler and Monica hit the sheets first while in England for Ross¹ wedding. Then they kept their relationship pretty much a secret for months. The sex (on the show) is not thrown in your face like on 'Coupling.' The sex on 'Friends' is tame in comparison."
My friend¹s comments seem to agree with those made by Sarah Alexander, who plays Susan on "Coupling," at the BBC America session at this summer¹s Television Critics Association press tour: "It¹s ('Coupling') very modern and we¹re addressing very modern issues and we¹re being very upfront about sexuality. And women, particularly, are being quite predatory and very confident, sexually."
OK. But, sex aside, what does Alexander think of the comedy in "Coupling?"
"With 'Coupling,' the series concentrates on observational comedy. It¹s not so plot-driven like 'Friends,' or where there¹s a sort of story throughout the episode. Not much happens in 'Coupling.' It concentrates on the sort of minutia of life and relationships, and small details about, you know, when you take your socks off during sex and all that sort. So it¹s the smaller details we find funny."
Back to my thirtysomething friend. Will she be watching the new season of "Friends"? And what about "Coupling"? Is it a show she will be watching?
"Schedule permitting, I will probably be watching the new season of 'Friends' every week. 'Coupling'--I don't think I would watch frequently, just sometimes. It's an amusing show, but a little too randy for my tastes. I guess it's a Brit thing. 'Friends' definitely caters to American sensibilities more; the sexuality is not as blatant."
And what about me? I will be watching "Coupling" for sure--and "Friends," too. Rachel REALLY is pregnant and ROSS is the father! So what direction does the show take now?
© 2001 by Donna J. Plesh.
Editor's Note: NBC's "Friends" started the new season as TV's No. 1 rated comedy.
Meet Donna Plesh
Donna J. Plesh is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and is a graduate of the School of Journalism at The Ohio State University. During her newspaper career she has been a feature writer, copy editor, copy desk slot person, sports writer, education writer, city hall reporter, entertainment writer, television critic and television writer. She most recently worked on the TV magazine staff of the Orange County Register.
You can comment on this column or contact Donna Plesh with an email to: email@example.com
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