Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Review: HIM & HER, 2.1 - "The Move"

Wednesday, 2 November 2011
BBC Three's Him & Her returns for a second series, which I'm sure will delight and depress viewers in equal measure. You either appreciate this comedy's realism and deliberate pace, or you find it tiresome and the raw characters too uncomfortable. It helps that I'm a fan of sitcoms with restrictive settings, and Him & Her has never once strayed from a single one-bedroom flat. Other viewers may go stir crazy, but a narrow focus often means characters and dialogue are written sharper. I'm happy to spend time with these people because the acting's great and there are some brilliant lines, but I do wonder about the show's lifespan because it lacks The Royle Family's warm touch.

The only major change for series 2 is the fact Becky (Sarah Solemani) has moved in with boyfriend Steve (Russell Tovey), but that doesn't mean much because we spent the majority of series 1 believing they were cohabiting. Him & Her's game plan is therefore the same: unemployed Becky and Steve laze around in bed, doing nothing constructive with their day, as their grubby tranquility is interrupted by friends and family. In this episode, Becky's bossy sister Laura (Kerry Howard), her loutish fiancé Paul (Ricky Champ), and middle-aged friend Shelly (Camille Coduri) come round for a house-warming, followed by oddball neighbour Dan (Joe Wilkinson), who's proud to announce he has a girlfriend ("made her a Full English, took her to an airfield, y'know"). Trouble then brewed when it becomes clear Steve's ex-girlfriend Julie (Katie Lyons) has also been invited.

As always, it's in the small moments where this sitcom triumphs. Untidy Steve having an uncharacteristic obsession with clothes hangers facing the same way, a scene where he implores Becky to lick a cut on his arm as a test of her love, or everyone's fascination with the fact Steve likes eating apples (particularly because he rubs them on his shirt before eating them, which Becky thinks is an old-fashioned mannerism). If nothing else, Him & Her perfectly captures a sense of humdrum reality, especially because the flat itself is so credibly unpleasant and cluttered. You can almost smell the laundry basket. The performances are also a key reason to watch; Tovey and Solemani make for a highly convincing couple, and Wilkinson casually steals scenes as socially inept loner Dan. The best example here being when Dan showed Steve a photo of his plain and podgy girlfriend, seeking Steve's approval with an admission he'd love to sleep with her.

I think problems arise with Him & Her through how individual viewers react to Steve and Becky. On the one hand they're clearly head-over-heels in love (which is quite unique for a comedy of this nature, where it's easier to write gags for a couple who dislike each other), and they have the patience of saints when it comes to handling and humouring the people in their lives. On the other hand, they're feckless, indolent and often very gross. They feel very authentic to me, but I can understand why some people find Becky and Steve hard to watch, or refuse to because they believe they promote laziness. (Neither character's employed, so one assumes they exist purely on social benefits and dole money.) Thing is, fiction often holds a mirror up to society, and Steve and Becky are what's currently being reflected back. It's a sitcom for its time.

Still, I agree that some of Him & Her's strengths can also be seen as weaknesses. I don't blame people for finding the characters unlikeable and the whole setup rather laborious. It's not a dynamic laugh riot, nor does it have many moments that stick in the memory (although I still giggle over the moment in series 1 when Steve was caught about to masturbate to porn), but it's a sitcom that knows what it wants to be, and succeeds on those terms.

written by Stefan Golaszewski / directed by Richard Laxton / 1 November 2011 / BBC Three