First aired: 12th May 2000
Jack Davenport – Steve Taylor
Sarah Alexander- Susan Walker
Richard Coyle- Jeff Murdoch
Gina Bellman – Jane Christie
Ben Miles – Patrick Maitland
Kate Isitt – Sally Harper
Raji James – Waiter
Synopsis: Steve Taylor is getting ready to dump his girlfriend. Susan Walker is going to the bar to meet her boyfriend.
Steve has tried to dump his girlfriend on the last 4 times they met, a fact which he explains to his best friend the bizarre Jeff. The reason it goes wrong is that she initiates sex.
Susan and her best friend Sally are heading into the bar, discussing the casual nature of her relationship. The two pass at the doorway and walk to their respective dates. We expect they mean each other, but Susan is meeting Patrick, whilst Steve is having the dumping conversation part 5.
Steve meets Jane, a loving and exuberant woman who is more than a little ‘unpredictable’. He tries to end the relationship with her and she refuses, the conversation goes back and forth as Steve is driven to the edge of desperation. Susan is meeting with chauvinist yuppy Patrick. Patrick wants out of the relationship, while Susan isn’t really seeing it as a relationship. Patrick is despondent and Susan spends a lot of time backpedalling to assuage his bruised ego.
Steve gets up to leave, ready to just walk out, then Jane mentions her ex, Elizabeth. Jeff arrives at that point, seeing Steve’s resolve weaken and then waves at Susan, a co-worker. Susan pops to the ladies, only to bump into Steve who is trying to get a condom to take back into the cubicle where a eager Jane is waiting. Susan had met Steve a year earlier and had wanted to ask him out then and is single again now. Taking the hint Steve asks her out, whilst in the midst of a tryst with Jane.
A day or so later, Susan talks to Jeff in work about Steve and how close he and Jeff are. Part way through the talk, Steve calls her to finalize the details of their date. This whole state of affairs makes Jeff nervous. Steve tries to dump Jane by phone, a plan foiled by an answerphone message being cut short. That night Steve goes to the restaurant early to avoid Jane, who has stalked him there, Jeff tags along, wanting to keep Susan and Steve from discussing him. Susan also arrives early, as does Patrick and Sally who are in a date themselves. All six collide in a farcical moment and to get out of it, Susan jokingly offers to show a breast. Jeff, Patrick, Sally and Jane take her up on it as does Steve. In a fit of pique Susan agrees and uncovers her right boob (a preference of Patrick’s) and the whole gang gets a glimpse and then all six, Susan, Steve, Susan’s ex, Steve’s ex, Susan’s best friend and Steve’s best friend all go to dinner.
Notes: With six friends who are youngish and are never seen at work, the easiest comparison that can be made is that this show is like Friends. In the words of the show’s writer, you can say that only if you don’t know this show and don’t really know Friends either. Friends is a straight forward sit com, whereas Coupling is almost completely a sex-farce. With miscommunication, strange timing and more than a little bawdy humour, this show is farce of the highest order. The writing is by Steven Moffat, who imbues each character with humour and charm making them for the most part likeable, if a little silly at times. His Steve is a bit of a pompous ass, but is generally well meaning, Susan is a bit of a control freak, but genuinly a lovely person, Sally is vain, but only to the extent of her being funny and Patrick is an easily identifiable yuppie who has bought into the hooray henry life. The true gifts of this show are the 8lbs of crazy in a 4lb bag Jane, who stalks her ex, whilst driving him made with her affections (somewhere between clingy and sexy) and would be sympathetic, except for that unpredictable crazy in her mannerisms. The other gift is Jeff Murdoch, a comedy creation of pure genius. Jeff is awkward and scared and tries to make the whole terrifying world fit in his head with concepts such as ‘porn buddies’, ‘boyfriend zone’ and ‘unflushable’ and whenever he starts talking it’s equal parts amazing, terrifying, relatable and hilarious. I don’t know if this would have made it to series without his being a voice in the show.
The six man cast of exes, best friends and new couple splits itself nicely, often with split scenes and alternate viewpoints and it makes the show stronger for not needing a lead cast member. This is the story of Steve and Susan getting together, but it’s just as much Jeff’s story, or Sally’s story. No one is wasted, or given short shrift and as a result, this feels like a solid show from the get go. Each character has their own voice that is distinct and yet feels specific to that character, there’s no line from Patrick that could come from Jeff, nor a line by Jane that Sally could say with the same effect. Most comedies take a couple of seasons for the level of cast and character cohesion that Coupling manages to master iniside the first twenty minutes and I defy you not to giggle when you hear the words “The right one.” delivered with such deadpan matter of factness. I doubt there are any perfect episode ones out there, but this is pretty damn close.
Does it work? Yes, all the pieces are there right from the beginning.
Does much need fixing? Not really, the story is perfectly formed.
Does it stand up? Have watched this half a dozen times over a dozen years and it still stands up each time.
Do I want to watch the next one? Watched the next one the same night.
Did I enjoy it? Very much, I can always watch this show, its something of a perennial favourite.
Overall: One of the best shows of that era and holds up a lot better than it’s peers.