Monday, 18 May 2009


Monday, 18 May 2009
BBC Three's BAFTA-winning comedy Pulling came to an end last night, after two series and this hour-long special. It's rather tragic that BBC3 get themselves an award-winning sitcom that feels ready to explode into the public consciousness, only to axe it amidst claims it doesn't fit their target demographic. While I agree with that assessment (Pulling focuses on three thirtysomething women, and BBC3's output seems focused on 16-25 year olds), it's still a shame it hasn't just transferred to BBC2 as a "grown up."

My own experience with Pulling has been a little unsettled. I missed both series when they first aired, but caught up thanks to good word-of-mouth and after seeing a few funny clips. BBC3 had a marathon showing of Pulling late last year, which I watched via BBC iPlayer the week after transmission. Annoyingly, the iPlayer service (on Virgin Media) didn't list the episode numbers, so I watched chunks of the show out of order -- which was a little disconcerting. It meant that I'd sometimes watch an episode dealing with breakup of a relationship I didn't know even existed, then the next episode would show them first meeting! So, not the perfect way to watch the show, but its ribald humour still shone through the unfortunately splintered narrative.

For the uninitiated, Pulling is primarily the story of selfish Donna (co-writer Sharon Horgan), a thirtysomething woman who broke up with long-term boyfriend Karl (Cavan Clerkin) in the first episode, to move in with her two friends; debauched, vociferous mess Karen (Tanya Franks) and romantic disaster area Louise (Rebekah Staton1). A lot of the fun comes from seeing the trio cope with their chaotic, drunken, embarrassing love lives. It's "Girls Behaving Badly", but three times as coarse as any blokey sitcom!

In this special, Donna is dating a rich playboy called Stephan (Tobias Menzies) who treats her like dirt. But, she suffers his appalling behaviour because he has access to swanky parties, even if he insists she pretend to be an escort when they go out! In this finale, Donna has to reassess her life when ex-boyfriend Karl arrives home from Italy with an Italian girlfriend he plans to marry.

Abstemious Karen is living with a middle-aged chauvinist pig, having come to believe that making a man happy is a woman's role in life. However, she falls back into old habits after reuniting with her skuzzy ex Billy (Paul Kaye), who claims he's dying of cancer -- so, Karen decides to give poor Billy some memorable life experiences before he checks out, like swimming with dolphins and skydiving.

Finally, Louise arrives home from holiday with a new man on her arm; a love-struck geek who saved her from a mudslide, whom she can't get rid of because she feels she owes him. But how long can she put up with his creepy infatuation and insistence on buying a puppy and getting married?

Straight to the point: this was the funniest thing I've seen all year. Beautifully observed, brilliantly acted and deliciously coarse. Highlights? Donna trying to bluff talking French in a nightclub, a paralytic Karen and Billy trying to convince a pilot they're sober enough to skydive, Louise's boyfriend leaping out of an airborne hot-air balloon after his proposal of marriage was turned down flat, every second of Paul Kaye's ratty performance, Karen's boyfriend turning on the TV to watch snooker seconds after having sex, Karen getting her revenge by tying him to a chair and assaulting him with food in every orifice (Babybel cheeses crammed up the arse), and on and on and on...

Perhaps there's hope for Pulling? This special could (perhaps should?) have completed the story, but instead left the Donna/Karl situation on a big cliffhanger at an airport. Are writers Sharon Horgan and Dennis Kelly leaving the door open for another series? Will its critical success lead to BBC2 picking it up? Will we get another special? Or did they just delight in leaving the whole thing open-ended for fans to speculate on?

Whatever their reasons, I urge you to keep an eye out for any repeats. It is (well, was) the funniest sitcom on TV not called Peep Show, and I'm sure it will only grow in popularity as more people discover its earthy, riotous charms on DVD.

17 May 2009
BBC Three, 9pm

Writers: Sharon Horgan & Dennis Kelly
Director: Tristram Shapeero

Cast: Sharon Horgan (Donna), Tanya Franks (Karen), Rebekah Staton (Louise), Cavan Clerkin (Karl), Juliet Cowan (Tanya), Paul Ritter (Martin), Tobias Menzies (Stephan), Tom Brooke (Greg), Andrew Brooke (Oleg), Paul Kaye (Billy), Steve Jackson (Joe), Monica Nappo (Sabina), Spencer Jones (Dolphin Guy) & Romy Baskerville (Registrar)

1. Am I alone in thinking Rebekah Staton looked better before she lost all that weight? She should put on a few more pounds, if you ask me, for a happy medium.