Body-swap comedies are hardly original, even for television. But, perhaps inspired by positive audience reaction to Lost In Austen last year (which concerned a woman being sucked into the Pride & Prejudice novel), Boy Meets Girl riffs on another sci-fi phenomenon: a man and a woman who switch bodies after a lightning strike...
The man is question is DIY store worker, slob and conspiracy theorist Danny Reed (Martin Freeman); the woman a middle-class magazine journalist called Veronica Burton (Rachael Stirling). As it tradition, you couldn't get two more different people, so there's plenty of comedy potential. After lightning strikes the electricity pylon they're both stood under, Danny wakes up to find himself hospitalized in Veronica's body, before being transferred home to recuperate with her husband Jay (Paterson Joseph) in their luxury flat. Veronica isn't so lucky, as se wakes up in Danny's body with amnesia, meaning she spends most of this opening episode wandering the streets in a fugue state. She might actually prefer that when she discovers the hovel Danny lives in with his cereal packet toys and magazines about how 9/11 was faked.
It must have been intentional to focus on Danny-as-Veronica first, because the idea of a man becoming a woman just feels inherently funnier. But maybe I only think that because I'm a man? Indeed, it's a trait I share with Boy Meets Girl's writer, newcomer David Allison. Whatever the reason, we spend an inordinate amount of time watching Danny-as-Veronica stagger around in high-heels, slurp cereal, avoid his "husband's" kisses, fudge writing a horoscope for work, fondle his breasts, and experience the pleasure of a Rampant Rabbit. Rachael Stirling bares the weight of the whole episode, really, and she does an excellent job as a man-trapped-in-a-woman's-body. If it wasn't for her, it would all have felt much flatter.
Martin Freeman could be equally as good as a woman-trapped-in-a-man's-body, but this episode didn't give him much to do, beyond act slightly posher and neater in his body-language. Episode 2 will apparently give us the Veronica-as-Danny side of the story. What was more distracting to me in this opener was hearing a broad northern accent come out of Freeman's mouth, which felt like a strange creative decision. I know the show's set around Manchester, but did we miss an episode where a Mancunian swapped bodies with a southerner?
Sadly, beyond the base-level fun of seeing a man cope with a woman's lifestyle and body, there wasn't much about Boy Meets Girl to lure me into watching the next three episodes. Stirling certainly gave a fantastic, believable performance as the ultimate tomboy, and it wasn't a total chore to sit through... but there was no hiding its derivative nature and that "ITV Drama" feel to everything, with plinky-plonk music. The supporting cast were a decent mix (Angela Griffin, Ashes To Ashes' Marshall Lancaster, Paterson Joseph, James Lance) but the fact remains that it's a high-concept idea that's been done much better. Still, considering my low expectations, this was enjoyable enough, but I'd have preferred a two-hour special, as there wasn't much to entice me back for two more hours.
1 May 2009 ITV1, 9pm
Writer: David Allison Director: Alrick Riley
Cast: Martin Freeman (Danny Reed), Rachael Stirling (Veronica Burton), Paterson Joseph (Jay), Angela Griffin (Fiona), Marshall Lancaster (Pete), Tamzin Malleson (Siobhan), James Lance (Ali), Lisa Millett (Jenny), Peter Wight (Bill), Stuart McGugan (Malcolm), Seamus O'Neill (Barry), Paul Oldham (Stevo), Pete Dunwell (Danny's Landlord), Samantha Seager (Barmaid), Jason Furnival (Security Guy), Alison Burrows (Female Customer), Ruth Alexander-Rubin (Doctor), Maria Gough (Older Nurse), John Churnside (Toilet Attendant), Archie Kelly (Foreman) & Rachel Brogan (Gazette Receptionist)