Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Dressing for Breakfast

I recently discovered the delights of Channel 4's on-line service 4OD in which they offer many of their past programs for free although you do have to suffer the same flaming adverts again and again and again. So for the first time in 15 years I've just watched the largely forgotten 90s sitcom Dressing for Breakfast. I've deemed it to be largely forgotten as google failed to show me anyone who had been moved to write about it and so I thought I'd redress the balance.

Dressing for Breakfast ran for 21 episodes over 3 series in the mid 90s and I'm guessing it was pitched to the station as being Women Behaving Badly, being a female take on the popular BBC sitcom Men Behaving Badly. The result was a series that featured strong female characters and a format that I reckon inadvertently provided a template for many of the sitcoms that have come since, although none of them captured this show's easy charm.

The main character is Louise (Beatie Edney) who at 30 finds herself single and not happy with that status. For help in getting her life sorted out she has two guides: her best friend Carla (Holly Aird) who is in a stable but boring relationship and who is always on hand to provide jaundiced support. And her mother (Charlotte Cornwell) who can always be relied upon to bolster her confidence in that peculiar mother / daughter way that only goes to destroy it. The stories are always slight, but they feature witty dialogue and enthusiastic performances from the cast. Unlike many shows of this kind the, shall we say, adult nature of the conversations and subject matters always manage to be witty and relevant to the plot rather than smutty and designed to be shocking.

The show is also one of those shows that is a connections nexus. There's that game Six Steps to Kevin Bacon and I can’t help but think that Six Steps to Dressing for Breakfast would work just as well. Just about every bit part actor in the show is someone who has appeared elsewhere in things I've watched. So, for instance, a young Philip Glenister appears as Louise's boyfriend playing essentially a young Gene Hunt from Ashes to Ashes. This comes over as odd because Louise's annoying friend Rose is played by the actress who was Alex Drake's mother-in-law in Ashes while the creepy bloke in the flat next door was the creepy clown in Ashes. Stuff like this can drive you nuts.

As for the show itself, unusually for the time (and since) there is some continuity between episodes with on-going stories and plots that develop over the years such as her mother's failed relationships and a doomed love triangle. This means the show has the time to cover some not particularly funny issues such as bereavement and infidelity. Of the three series the first is perhaps the best. It's rough and awkward but it has charm whereas the second series is slicker, but spends too much time on new and annoying characters. I'm undecided on the merits of series three where clearly the success of Friends led to a rebranding with the mother disappearing (bad move) and the emphasis changing to being a wacky flat sharing comedy.

Despite numerous faults, this show stands up well today, and so now I'm looking forward to seeing what else I can find on 4OD. I'm guessing not much.


Quail said...

The Glenister thing is like 6 degrees of separation. Actors and agents know each other and recycle around the houses.

Joanne Walpole said...

I used to watch this in the 90s and liked it a lot.