Breathless ep 2

Sorry – was this supposed to be serious?

Jeannie and Truscott got home, got busy and were interrupted by their in-laws in a scene that Terry and June would have nixed as too cheesy. Suave Otto turned his mildly embarrassing pursuit of Angie into full-blown stalking and announced he’d “never felt like this” (Dude, listen to yourself!), as if he were the Principal Boy, five minutes after meeting Princess Jasmine, launching into an off-key duet about their speedy but everlasting love. Iain Glen crept about with his comedy moustache, minimal dialogue and the music of “Boo, Hiss! here, please” playing behind him. And – bizarrely – the bulk of the episode focussed on Cinderella Lily and her “I’m so sad, no one appreciates me or my soufflé dish, I can’t go to the ball have a baby….” tale of woe.

Good grief. Just wake me up at the end when they do the birthday announcements and we all have to sing along to the big finale, will you?

Whatever they thought they were writing, this wouldn’t have passed muster as a local pantomime let alone flagship network tv drama. At least last week’s instalment, disappointing though it was, had plenty of Otto and Angie – they’re not brilliant by any means, but they’re far better than the rest of this sorry lot. This week, they were barely in it, with far too much Lily, Truscott and other stuff I wouldn’t waste my ticket money on instead. Big mistake. And the last one I’ll be putting up with from this show: not even Jack Davenport could induce me to waste any more time watching this turgid combination of stupidity, stereotypes and stilted dialogue, so Breathless and I are done. Oh yes, we are.

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Breathless ep 1

Well, I guess I got what I wanted. Breathless isn’t actually Dr Heartbeat. It’s far too busy being Dr Mad Men instead.

Set in 1961, a certain amount of overlap in hairstyles and costumes is going to be inevitable, but so much about this is Mad Men re-created on a budget and re-located to Holby City gynaecology ward that it’s embarrassing.

I’m not even talking about the pregnant women (and everybody else) smoking and the drinking and driving and whatnot – again, it’s 1961, so some overlap is fair enough. I mean all the main characters seem to have emigrated from Sterling Cooper.

Take Davenport’s slick-haired Otto Powell. Suave, handsome, confident. Intimidatingly good at his job. Dark secrets in his past and present. Ignores/cheats on his increasingly troubled blonde wife, despite an almost irresistible sympathy and understanding towards other women. Uh-huh. They couldn’t have been more blatant if they’d called him Dr Don Draper.

Although the writers were obviously worried they’d been a touch too subtle with “Otto”, so they went a step further and named the red-haired, curvaceous, determined nurse with the nasty doctor fiancé (he’s the Pete Campbell, by the way) and the red dress to show off her figure “Jeanie.” Just in case we didn’t work out for ourselves she’s Nurse Joanie Holloway. FFS.

Sigh. I so want to be fair to Breathless. I so want to like it. But I’m struggling, and it’s not just the borrowing from other shows that’s putting me off; if your show’s good, borrowing’s forgiveable. But Breathless isn’t good. It’s more cheesy and dull than anything else.

The main problem is the characters, I think. For the most part, they’re ciphers rather than people you can believe in or care about. Yes, there are a few moments when Otto’s mask of self-satisfaction slips and we get a glimpse of the more vulnerable, more likeable man underneath. And the new nurse Angie may just be able to carry off principled and pretty without being too perfect. But their relationship is so desperately bogged down in cliche and the affair they haven’t even started yet is so clearly signposted from the second they meet that I’m already bored with it. And they’re the characters I like! I care so very, very little about any of the others, that if even these two and their forbidden attraction can’t hold my attention, what hope is there for the rest of the show?

Of course, there are some interesting themes. The underground abortion story could be an intelligent exploration of a complex and difficult issue, if it worked a bit harder. The horrific Dr Truscott’s behaviour towards his patients and fiancée, and Jeanie’s own worries about marriage and status could be used to examine the position of women and attitudes to women’s bodies in medicine and society. But while the ideas are there, the execution isn’t, so it all just seems a bit corny and tired. And – never mind Mad Men – far too much like an old-timey episode of Casualty to ever really spark my enthusiasm. I’ll give it another week to grab me, since it’s Jack Davenport and I love him, but it’s not looking good.

Public Service Announcement 42 of 2013: Sleepy Hollow, Breathless

Less than a month after it began in the US, supernatural fantasy drama Sleepy Hollow begins tonight (Wednesday) at 9pm on the UK’s Universal channel. “Tall, dark and British” (and also quite handsome, to be honest) Tom Mison plays Ichabod Crane – yes, that Ichabod Crane – who wakes up in modern Sleepy Hollow, 250 years after his death, only to find his old buddy the Headless Horseman’s had the same idea, with dire consequences for the townsfolk and the local cops. If the premise sounds off-the-wall, that’s clearly because it is, but the show’s been such a wild success in the US that a second season has already been commissioned so it’s worth a look if you like your procedurals dark and full of literal demons as opposed to the usual more prosaic ones. I’m on reviewing duties for the first ep.

Tomorrow (Thursday) night meanwhile brings with it a much more down-to-earth proposition in the form of period medical drama Breathless, starting on ITV1 at 9pm. Set in 1961, before the legalisation of abortion, the show focusses on the lives of doctors and nurses in a gynaecology ward, and I could pretend to you that I’m watching it hoping for a profound examination of sexual politics and the evolution of healthcare and reproductive medicine as viewed through the prism of the 1960s, but let’s be honest: I’m watching it because Jack Davenport’s in it. Otherwise, I’d – rightly or wrongly – be dismissing it as Dr Heartbeat and ignoring it completely. Since he is in it (and pulling double duty, as it happens, given that he’s in Smash at 9 o’clock on a Thursday as well) check back here for a review of ep 1 as soon as I can manage.