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One of Life's Givers,
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This review is from: Nighty Night - Series 1 [DVD] (DVD)
I didn't like this when I first saw it. Didn't like it at all. In fact, I pretty well hated it. The whole set-up seemed wildly implausible. Jill Tyrell, a fabulously incompetent hairstylist, has just been told her husband is dying of cancer.( "Why me? " she wails.) With slow-speaking Terry safely tucked away in hospital, Jill is free to grow as a woman. This means insinuating herself into the lives of her new neighbours Cathy and Don, her intention being to steal Don from Cathy. All the while she must contrive to keep from Terry the fact his tumour is actually shrinking and he is recovering. Terry, told repeatedly by Jill the tumour has "biggened", seems to accept this even though he is probably fit enough by now to be a trapeze artist. (Funnily enough the doctors never seem to discuss Terry's condition with him, especially as the news is good.) Terry must be the stupidest man on the planet, which is maybe why Jill married him.
Well, OK. A plausible impossibility is better than an impossible plausibility. My worry on first viewing was Julia Davis would yield to the temptation a lot of comedy writers yield to and try to make everything as darkly twisted and sick as possible - anything for a horrified laugh, and the whole series would collapse into absurdity. Character would be pulled out of shape by the accumulation of grisly events and the whole thing would be a kind of unholy cross between Carry On and the Marquis De Sade. On repeated viewing I'm happy to say this didn't happen, except for the one sticking-point for me, the character of Terry.
Actually I've met hairdressers like Jill (well, one) who always have some slick excuse for their negligence. In one funny exchange it's, " I think divorce has brought your eyebrows down, Mrs Horner. " (Eventually the poor woman ends up with a hairstyle like Richard III and jumps off a bridge.) Some of the scenes in the salon are hilarious. Jill is helped by Joy and Linda, the latter brilliantly played by Ruth Jones. Linda suffers from asthma, an uncontrollable appetite and is if anything even more incompetent than Jill. The health & safety inspection scene is a particular favourite of mine, with Linda whimpering as the inspector finds one hygiene disaster after another. In another scene Linda (whose own hairstyle resembles two charred cottage loaves stuck either side of her temples) is unwisely left to operate the tan blaster on a Mrs Wickstead. As Jill goes through the procedure, practically telling the customer the room is as confining as the Black Hole of Calcutta (just to put her at her ease), Linda keeps mumbling, " Ah..." , zombie-like. Then, as Mrs Wickstead is led off to her fate, she asks, " Jill, who is Mrs Wickstead? "
Much of the comedy around Jill derives from her appalling insensitivity, narcissism and shameless me-first outlook. Cathy, the new neighbour, has MS, and Jill shamelessly exploits her illness and her politeness to get what she wants. I cherish the episode where a 'girly afternoon out' foisted on Cathy by Jill turns into a grotesque obstacle course of negotiating gradients and bumps for Cathy in her wheelchair, while Jill drives blithely away in her car. A later dinner party piles on the agony: Cathy is vegetarian, so of course Jill has prepared a hideous meat platter consisting of tongue: cow, deer, sheep, duck, pig, auroch... Then 'prawns in a milky basket' that Jill charmingly likens to a 'panty-liner' while both guests are trying not to throw up. During the course of this evening Cathy gets locked outside (deliberately), urinated on by the manic terrier Michael, slapped (a blow aimed at Michael that somehow misses), and finally showered with dog-turds when she tries to find some Pepto-Bismol for her upset stomach. It is excruciating to watch, but very funny.
Most of the acting is first rate, but particular mention must go to Rebecca Front as Cathy, who is absolutely outstanding - every nervous laugh, accommodating smile, twitch of disgust at her oblivious husband's stellar crassness ( Cathy: " I just feel ugly, and old, and inadequate..." Don: " C'mon, darling, you're not...old ") is perfectly calibrated. She doesn't put a foot wrong. Mark Gatiss is also superb as the hapless Glenn Bulb, with his memorable tic of a gulping sideways yawn. And Angus Deayton, who on first view I thought to be a total nonentity, is actually very amusing to watch, taking Cathy for granted, slipping off to the pub from the church group whenever he can, ogling Sue (the vicar's wife) and flirting with his receptionist, Gina, who is Asian. ( Jill calls her "a dwarf with styes". )Along with the acting is a particularly well-chosen soundtrack, and such a relief from the bane of any good comedy, the laughter track. Gabrielle's Don't Need the Sun to Shine plays every time Don sneaks off for 'a bit of a quiet time' away from the church group Swallow's Fun & Friendship themed get-togethers; I'll never be able to hear Marillion's Lavender in quite the same way as it is the clarion-call to Jill's obsession with Don; The Pretenders' I'll Stand by You is poignantly used in the funeral episode, especially as standing by Terry is manifestly not what Jill has done; the opening of Elgar's cello concerto lifts the curtain on the funeral and counterpoints her murderous assault on Terry.
Black comedy is very hard to do; as I say it usually collapses under the freight of twisted humour it feels obliged to carry, but this series I believe mostly succeeds. It stands alongside the comedy greats ( Fawlty, The Office etc. ) quite easily in its scope and ambition and works principally because although improbable at some points ( Terry, Jill's funeral speech) the very restricted and restrictive suburban milieu offset the demented goings-on so well. So don't go by first impressions, as I did. Give it another try. It is well worth it.