Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 55 (Coupling)
There’s an oddity to some of these Pop Between Realities entries. Once again, we’re on a show that we’d never have talked about if we didn’t know that Steven Moffat was going to be one of the central architects of Doctor Who’s revival. But he is, and we do, and so here we are.
Coupling is, of course, sex comedy. It’s more to the point sex comedy about gender essentialism. Precedent suggests I should be infuriated. I mean, let’s be honest: a substantial number of the jokes in Coupling trade on stereotypical depictions of women. And yet somehow Coupling escapes that. There are two aspects of this worth extrapolating a bit. The first is a bit theoretical, but still worth discussing given some of the reactions recent blog posts have gotten. Simply put, just because there are a lot of horrifically imbalanced and oppressive power relations surrounding gender doesn’t mean it can’t be good fodder for humor. Indeed, humor is almost necessary here.
Put another way, as socially constructed, oppressive, and artificial as contemporary gender stereotypes are, they also exist and influence people’s lives. The socially constructed is still real. Put a third way, just today a bemused conversation about why our sofa was functionally reupholstered in blankets led to my showing my fiancee the pillow bit from “The Melty Man Cometh.” Because it applies. It’s solid observational comedy about a real part of contemporary society.
But what’s the difference between it and outright sexist comedy? The main one is something we’ve previously noticed in Moffat’s work. Coupling skewers stereotypes of both men and women, but, crucially, in the grand scheme of things, women win. Or, more to the point, Moffat is far more willing to stick it to the people in his stories who are authorial stand-ins for him than he is to other people, and particularly to women. Coupling makes gestures at the absurd foibles of modern femininity, but it’s nothing like the depiction of men as essentially helpless buffoons.
This is perhaps most obvious in comparing Jane and Jeff, the representatives of each gender who are treated the most absurdly. Both of them are fundamentally absurd and profoundly misunderstand the entire world. But their treatment within the narrative is starkly different. Jeff is all but designed to be a fan favorite character, but he’s the eternal fool. When a plot line happens such that Jeff actually gets a girlfriend, it is in and of itself surprising, and he still manages to bungle everything. Jane, on the other hand, is the oddly charmed fool. No matter how incompetent she’s shown to be, and she’s shown to be at least as incompetent as Jeff, she’s also always given a strange power over the narrative. This pays off in spades in the final episode, where Moffat suggests that she’s actually entirely self-aware and is not actually the fool in the narrative but the character who best understands everything that’s going on.
So men are essentially helpless prats, while women hold both all the power and, as the overall plot regarding Steve shows, the ability to redeem men. It’s overstating it by a little to suggest that this puts Moffat in the same tradition as William Moulton Marston: an outright female supremacist. But on the other hand, Moffat increasingly writes openly kinky dominatrix-types and talks in interviews about how he has a fetish for powerful women who cheat people. So, you know. Emphasis on “by a little.”
Is this perfect? God no. For one thing, it’s basically the formula of every Judd Apatow film. Though Moffat does deserve some credit for working out the formula independently and years before The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and while it’s difficult to call the formula played out in 2001, it’s not exactly a plus either. Moffat’s approach ends up putting women on a pedestal, which is still a form of objectification. His attitude ends up with a strange denial of responsibility for men, who are helpless prats waiting for a woman to redeem them with her feminine wiles, which still perpetuates the dramatically harmful idea that women have magic powers that men can’t resist, which is, in turn, inevitably a justification for why women must be repressed.
But since I’m on the subject of Wonder Woman, let me port over one of the maxims of that book: progress is usually making new mistakes. By balancing a mercurial power over narrative with the sort of dominatrix-esque “women helpfully control men into being better” he ends up with a new one: what we might call the manic pixie dream dominatrix. Yes, it’s a combination of two forms of “put women on pedestals and worship them through objectification” ideas, but it’s a relatively new one. And perhaps more importantly, it’s one where the worst instincts of each of the tropes cancel each other out.
This sounds like damning with faint praise: not bad for a heterosexual bloke’s treatment of women in mainstream television. But I don’t mean it that way. Because it is real progress. Moffat writes better women than his peers do. He represents real progress in straight dudes writing television. He’s imperfect, yes. So is the status of feminism in contemporary society. Flawed isn’t equivalent to “not progress.” At the end of the day, there’s more to celebrate here than there is to condemn.
If nothing else, the narrative of straight blokes being redeemed by strong women with their own distinct desires and both the will and capability to achieve them is, in fact, exactly what most sane models of feminism want to happen. The line between the story Moffat writes in Coupling and the story of men learning to check their privilege from feminists is a thin one at best.
Which is perhaps to say that Coupling is more interesting in terms of Steven Moffat’s development than it is in terms of Doctor Who’s. Fair enough.
From a technical perspective, there’s something Coupling does that’s terribly clever and interesting. Actually, there are a lot of them: Coupling has at least an episode per season that is aggressively and self-consciously eccentric in its structure. Starting in the first season with an episode in which a large swath of the dialogue is in Hebrew, and where the episode rewinds at one point and reshows a section with the dialogue switched (that, is, with the person who spoke Hebrew now speaking English and the main cast speaking Hebrew), Moffat began flexing his structure muscles.
It wasn’t the first time he did things like this. Press Gang had a bunch of unusually structured episodes too, and Joking Apart was full of it. But those, for the most part, were simply matters of telling a story with flashbacks. It’s a tricky structure, and it involves keeping a very good handle on what’s being revealed to the audience instead of merely what’s happening. On top of that, you usually have to make sure the plots of two separate events mirror each other in a non-obvious way. So stuff like the Press Gang episodes “Monday-Tuesday” or “The Last Word” is complex because the events of one time period need to reflect the other. The order of events at the funeral has the added and artificial constraint that people have to show up within the funeral in an order that maximizes the tension back in the hostage situation. You can’t have Lynda at the funeral too early, or even have the funeral guests talk about her too directly, because that would muck up the main plot. But there’s no inherent reason the funeral has to be structured that way beyond the plot constraints. And balancing that is genuinely, properly tricky.
But that sort of thing is nothing compared to what Moffat starts to do with Coupling. Sure, it makes it less of a surprise that he does it, but it’s still very different. What’s key about what he does in Coupling is that he’s not simply telling a story along a non-chronological order. It’s closer to what he did in “The Last Word,” where events at the funeral or in the hostage situation obliquely affected one another in non-literal ways. But it’s more complex than that, because in Coupling Moffat starts playing not with chronology but with point of view. He doesn’t generally tell a story out of order so much as he tells it more than once, according to different characters’ experiences of what happened.
There are several things to point out here. The first is that this positions Coupling as a meaningful point in Moffat’s development as a writer. There’s a shift towards a philosophical approach that is consistent in his Doctor Who material. The decision to make storytelling less about what happens and more about what people experience and remember. There’s a tacit link between stories and human experience involved in this: a key step on the road to “we’re all stories in the end.” Coupling starts to discard the question of what really happened in favor of the question of what everyone’s story is. The truth isn’t subjective so much as it’s irrelevant. What matters is the intersection of our individual subjectivities.
The second thing is that if non-linear storytelling is hard, this is absolutely jaw-dropping. And It’s especially difficult to do it in comedy. Comedy, after all, relies on a gap between what is expected and what happens. On the one hand, the sorts of structures Moffat plays with would seem useful to that end. After all, nothing builds expectations as straightforwardly as rewatching something you’ve already seen. Equally, however, it’s terribly difficult to find any space in this to subvert expectations, and astonishingly so to successfully do setup and resolution like this. The first episode to play with this, “The Woman With Two Breasts,” is breathtaking in this regard. It does a conversation with Jeff and the Israeli woman, in which there are frequent moments of proper comedy. Then it goes back and does the conversation again from perspective. And that’s funny too. More to the point, much of the humor relies on the assumption that the audience is going to remember what Jeff really said and what was going on in the conversation from his perspective. The joke, frequently, is how badly Jeff misread the conversation, with a side of how badly the Israeli woman is misreading Jeff. But all of this has to take place in the gaps of a conversation that was already saturated with jokes the first time. So almost every line has to pull double duty as a genuinely funny line in its own right and as an expectation-setter for another funny line. Plus Moffat has to keep the conversation varied and mobile enough that the audience has enough visual cues to remember which bit they’re in. It can’t just be two people at a table talking; it has to involve movement around the bar and actions so that the audience can keep their place.
What we have, in other words, is the point where Moffat becomes ready. Up to this point he’s been a somewhat compelling figure – a fan who made it into the halls of power, and who has done some interesting and quality bits and bobs of Doctor Who. But we also know that at the end of Coupling Moffat is a year away from a revelatory script that single-handedly pushes him to a new level as a television writer. He’s not ready to run Doctor Who yet. But he’s ready to write for it, and ready to be a great writer for it. And if nothing else, that’s part of the story of the Wilderness Years too. Doctor Who’s return was in part the shifting of large, cultural forces. But it was also in part the personal development of a couple of particularly skilled writers who happened to be fans of it and of the right age to take it over in 2005. That story is part of the Wilderness Years too. The first writer we saw hit that point was Paul Cornell with Human Nature. And for all the flaws of League of Gentlemen, we saw Mark Gatiss hit that point there. But now we get one of the two biggest players. Creatively, only one person remains. Although he is the most important one.
But we’ll come back to that in two months or so.
February 27, 2013 @ 1:02 am
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February 27, 2013 @ 1:05 am
I enjoyed Coupling (especially series 1-3), and Joking Apart, and remember reassuring a friend of mine that Mr. Moffat had a good handle on plotting. Little did I realise how much his elaborate timelines would be a feature of his Dr. Who writing! Good for him.
I'm also amused that the two characters I find least interesting in Coupling are those explicitly based on the real-life Steven and Sue. I find Susan almost unwatchably smug. Perhaps it's typical of a Who fan that my viewpoint characters aren't the 'normal' ones!
What did you make of the US Coupling, by the way? I never saw it…
February 27, 2013 @ 2:26 am
I wonder how much of an influence Alan Ayckbourn has been on Moffat. Several of Ayckbourn's play or sequences of plays involve seeing the same events from different viewpoints and others involve timey-wimey, and most of them have milieu and sets of characters not too unlike those we find in "Joking Apart" and "Coupling". Given the centrality of Ayckbourn in the British theatre over the last forty-odd years, it would be difficult for him not to have been a major influence. Has Moffat ever commented on Ayckbourn in any of his writings?
February 27, 2013 @ 4:20 am
He doesn’t generally tell a story out of order so much as he tells it more than once, according to different characters’ experiences of what happened.
TV catches up with Citizen Kane.
February 27, 2013 @ 5:22 am
Well, Ayckbourn wrote a play called Joking Apart… that said, Moffat says at http://www.jokingapart.co.uk/in_conversation/steven_moffat_p1.htm
JA: Looking at the style of Joking Apart, were you into Alan Ayckbourn at all?
SM: I’ve seen a fair bit of it over the years but I wouldn’t say I was an expert or an afficianado or anything, although I do think he’s brilliant. Really, oddly enough, no. I can see why people ask that. Since Joking Apart, rather than prior to Joking Apart, I’ve read and seen some of his stuff, which is very good….But no, I wasn’t. He does do sort of tricksy things, and I suppose my stuff is reminiscent of his in that I’m doing tricksy stuff, especially on Coupling, with time and so on. But I think these are just the things you do to try to liven up a very ordinary story about dull people having sex.
Of course, Rob Shearman was mentored by Ayckbourn, who produced a number of Shearman's early works (including, amusingly, one called Couplings), so Ayckbourn's work was definitely known among those who were involved in the series' return in 2005. I suspect there was an indirect influence even if there wasn't a direct one.
February 27, 2013 @ 6:21 am
As I've written elsewhere:
"I enjoyed Moffat’s satire on gender roles in his earlier series Coupling; but he clearly takes those roles to be largely innate whereas I take them to be largely constructed, so I actually enjoyed the humor in a somewhat different manner from what Moffat intended. It's like the different ways one would enjoy Yes, Minister depending on whether one thought that a viable alternative to bureaucratic government was possible — laughing at foibles that one takes to be inevitable features of the human condition versus laughing at foibles in a way that can lead to discrediting and combating them."
with the person who spoke Hebrew now speaking English and the main cast speaking Hebrew
IIRC, the main cast are speaking in nonsense language, not Hebrew.
it was also in part the personal development of a couple of particularly skilled writers who happened to be fans of it and of the right age to take it over in 2005
Ah, the hero's journey.
February 27, 2013 @ 10:42 am
I know Moffat likes playing about with time travel, but I don't find his timelines especially elaborate. Nothing he's done is significantly more elaborate than Carnival of Monsters or Warrior's Gate. The one thing he's done that I can't remember from the classic series is the brain in a vat virtual realities from Silence in the Library and Asylum.
February 27, 2013 @ 11:07 am
Respectfully disagree. One of the most interesting things that Moffat has done with DW is to seriously play around with the fact that the Doctor has a time machine. Yes, we all know he can go anywhere in history, but Moffat is, as far as I can recall, the first person to really play around with the idea of, for example, the Doctor meeting someone who knows all about him but whom he hasn't met yet … and then actually play out their relationship over time. Day of the Daleks and Battleground are the only classic stories I recall that ever touched on the idea of the ontological paradox, and both did so inartfully to put it mildly. (In retrospect, I regret not thinking to bring this topic up during the Babylon 5 discussion, since the two stories about Babylon 4 represented a much more sophisticated view of time travel than anything DW had done at that point.) If anything, that may be both Moffat's biggest strength and weakness vis a vis DW. On one hand, his explorations of the implications of time travel are frequently thought provoking. On the other, his repeated use of them is almost fanboyish. By which I mean, Pandorica two-parter was, in some ways, the sort of thing a very literate young fan might write as fanfic ("the Doctor is in an impossible trap that he only escapes because at some point in his future he remembers to time travel back and let himself out").
February 27, 2013 @ 11:09 am
Ah, the hero's journey.
That was mean.
February 27, 2013 @ 11:34 am
Off-topic, but hey ho… In my fanboyish way, I explain the unlikeliness of the the Silence's plot to kill the Doctor thus: with a normal murder plot, the more links you put in, the easier it gets for something to go wrong. When you're doing it using the dimension of time, each link you add actually makes the plot more difficult to foil.
And in the case cited by Alan, I'll accept that normally dangerous and impossible time travel trickery is possible when the entire of time and space is just one planet.
I'll stop now. Honest.
February 27, 2013 @ 11:52 am
This this this this!
It's also why the direction the show has taken since Moffat became showrunner has bothered me. There are lots of little examples, but the one really big bit of crazy-making gender essentialism was the Narnia-riff Christmas special.
That said, Coupling still works pretty well as a satire of socially constructed gender roles, regardless of what Moffat may have intended.
February 27, 2013 @ 12:04 pm
the one really big bit of crazy-making gender essentialism was the Narnia-riff Christmas special.
To quote myself again, re that Christmas special:
"I'm sure some will see tonight's episode as preaching female superiority. But if they do, they're missing the point. The repeated message of tonight's show was that women's strength comes from motherhood. That line is one of the oldest arrows in patriarchy's quiver.
In a long literary tradition, a female character is most likely to be allowed to express strength and resolve if her doing so is somehow connected to her 'natural' role as familial nurturer. Think of examples from Greek tragedy: Antigone and Electra, whose heroism is triggered by their feeling for a slain relative, or even Medea, whose fairly extreme deviation from a nurturing role results from the disruption of her marriage. (Actually one can fit Lysistrata in there too.)"
February 27, 2013 @ 12:40 pm
"with the person who spoke Hebrew now speaking English and the main cast speaking Hebrew
IIRC, the main cast are speaking in nonsense language, not Hebrew."
It sounded like Italian to me. I recognized several words, but am by no means fluent enough to be certain.
On topic though, my favorite aspect of Coupling was always seeing how clearly the main cast were created on a pop-level Freudian psychological model (as is appropriate for a sex comedy), with Sue and Steve as super-ego, Sally and Patrick as ego, and Jane and Geoff as id. It may be a bit of an obvious point, but I always enjoyed watching how these psychological caricatures interacted.
February 27, 2013 @ 1:50 pm
Or as confidence (Patrick, Jane) and paranoia (Sally, Jeff and later Oliver).
Susan is still smug, though.
February 27, 2013 @ 2:49 pm
Smug? She's flustered, angry, or baffled most of the time.
Pen Name Pending
February 27, 2013 @ 2:56 pm
Are you going to cover Jekyll as well? I expect Sherlock will also be on the agenda, for obvious reasons. I predict Being Human and Merlin as well. Merlin is an interesting one because it actually works the best (especially the early seasons) when you watch it as weekly family entertainment. Plus, it is also an example of something that had an actual plan and endgame (which is why people are wrong when they say it "got cancelled"). And Doctor Who is sort of a mix of both–there's the Silence thing going on (which I like, but don't get caught up demanding answers with), but it's main purpose is fun entertainment with big ideas.
(I suppose I should also thank you for this blog; since I've been reading, I've realized that the enjoyment I get out of Doctor Who comes from abstract ideas–not the answers of why things happen that everyone gets caught up with.)
February 27, 2013 @ 4:08 pm
"The decision to make storytelling less about what happens and more about what people experience and remember.”
I think you've hit here on what I feel is the biggest point of difference between Moffat's detractors and his supporters. His detractors seem to want to see characters that are "believable" and a chain of events which are "logical", while his supporters appreciate his playfulness with language, plot and the show's own tropes.
Or to put it another way, one group wants Doctor Who that is self-sufficient storytelling that can hold water, whereas the other has no problem with Doctor Who's "meta-text" being explicitly part of the story.
A clear example is this exchange in The Angels Take Manhattan about how its time mechanics work:
"Time can be rewritten."
"Not once you've read it.".
Now if you understand time in Doctor Who as a scientific concept with a consistent logic, this is absolute nonsense. Because it plays not on how time is in Doctor Who, but on what the audience remembers about how it works. Moffat takes an analogy and makes it literal, in a way that directly affects the events which unfold.
Though the best example may be how Moffat refers to "Doctor who?" as the oldest question in the Universe, hidden in plain sight. This seems to suggest that the Doctor Who universe didn't start with a Big Bang billions of years ago, but with a title sequence in 1963.
Of course there are plenty of other valid reasons to like or dislike Moffat's work. But not accepting that the nature of Doctor Who as a television show can affect what happens in the story is a major stumbling block for enjoying this era of Who.
February 27, 2013 @ 4:51 pm
I take a little bit of an issue with the idea that "Time can't be rewritten once you've read it" is "absolute nonsense" as a scientific concept. It seems to me that it's deliberately evoking (though admittedly not in a way that shows rigorous scientific understanding) the concept of wave function collapse in quantum mechanics — the whole Schrödinger's cat thing where the act of observing forces the universe to render something from a superposition of possibilities into one certainty.
February 27, 2013 @ 7:17 pm
That's a great point, Ross. But that's not what I meant to say. I should have been clearer.
You're right that "Time can't be rewritten once you've read it" makes sense if you take "read" to mean that it has been experienced or observed. But in The Angels Take Manhattan the future events considered unchangable (such as River breaking her arm) are not observed in a quantum sense. The Doctor has only read the future in the literal sense of the word – by reading a book.
I can't see a reasonable scientific connection between the act of reading a book and rendering a future event immutable – it assumes that the printed word is concrete evidence of the future when it could easily be fiction. To me, the only connection come from taking the word rewritten literally in the phrase "Time Can Be Rewritten". And as I understand it, a concept is not 'scientific' if its behaviour is changed by the language used to describe it. Hence why I said that in this episode time is not treated as a scientific concept.
February 27, 2013 @ 9:13 pm
RE: The Wardrobe
I saw it more as parental essentialism, and especially the self-sacrifice and empathy that comes from having and raising children. Yes, the Doctor reduces it to gender, but his response to the crown is very different from, say, Cyril's. There's a huge disconnect there. I bet if Cyril was a Dad — a loving, committed, responsible father — he wouldn't have been rejected. Lily is a better candidate because she's older and has learned to be less self-centered. The Doctor, on the other hand, is too egotistical and vain to carry a forest in his head.
February 27, 2013 @ 9:15 pm
Oliver is named after the Brady kid, right?
February 27, 2013 @ 11:39 pm
We didn't get the Brady Bunch in the UK (or Gilligan's Island either).
February 27, 2013 @ 11:46 pm
Gilligan's Island was definitely shown in the UK in the 60s — my dad has mentioned it to me as one of the TV shows he used to watch regularly as a child. Maybe it was only shown on some ITV regions, though.
February 28, 2013 @ 2:59 am
See, there's a big gulf for me between "Nothing known to science could justify" and "This is nonsense", and there's a big gulf between a dubious extrapolation from actual science and "not scientific", and it's actually signifigant, at least to my sensibilities about narrative coherency, that Moffatt does the former and not the latter.
February 28, 2013 @ 4:14 am
We didn't get the Brady Bunch in the UK
and every day I am glad of that.
February 28, 2013 @ 4:25 am
I take the "Time can be rewritten/Not once you've read it" to mean that you have free will if you make your decision before you read about the decision in the book you have.
Imagine you stand in front of a red door and a green door, and you go through the red door. Then you turn the page in your book and you read "You go through the red door". Did you rewrite time? What did the book say before you chose the door? Did it say "green"? Or like a certain cat, did it say both…until you read it?
If you read it first and it says "the green door", the Doctor maintains that you can't then go through the red, no matter how hard you try to. Because if you did, the book you held would then be a paradox. Maybe you try to go through the red door, but you find the key you have doesn't work, and you are eventually forced to choose green. Or you go through the red door…only to find that both doors have actually been re-painted with opposite colours. Or maybe the red door simply won't open.
The Doctor's quote surely refers to personal time lines, not Time as a whole. Which gives a new twist to the old "you can't change history, not one line" quote. The Doctor's referring to his own (and his companions') personal time line.
In fact "You can't change your own personal history…not one line." sounds better.
February 28, 2013 @ 4:33 am
It depends on whether the recording is accurate though, right? The Melody Malone book contains accurate observations about what happened (despite what I assume is a fictional opening) and to the extent to which that's true every time the Doctor or Amy read the book, they've observed the events, fixing them. This is because the events have been observed in a quantum sense — by River.
If you go back to TGWW, you'll see Rory calling out the Doctor on his not reading a history book. That's not how the Doctor travels, because he doesn't want to lose his agency, his choices, his freedom — one of the main motivating forces that makes him who he is.
But Bennett's right in that in general Moffatt isn't all that interested in playing with scientific logic; rather, it's narrative and symbolic logic, the rules of metaphor, that hold the reins. And this is true of Myth in general.
February 28, 2013 @ 4:52 am
But surely Moffat had enough genre-awareness to know about Cousin Oliver by the time he wrote Coupling!
February 28, 2013 @ 5:11 am
I doubt it. Pre-Seinfeld American sitcoms have never made any impact on British culture.
Put it this way:
I'm (for a British person) a bit of a connoisseur of US sitcoms of that era.
I'm also a Monkees fan, and so I know about the episode with Davy Jones (because I'm the kind of obsessive Monkees fan who owns their 2001 live DVD).
I have nineteen mutual Facebook friends with Robbie Rist, the actor who played Cousin Oliver, because he's played in or with several bands I like, some of whom have members I'm friendly with.
And yet I just had to Google "cousin Oliver Brady Bunch" and that was the first I'd ever heard that Rist was even in the show.
To the extent that pre-Seinfeld American sitcoms are known over here at all, they were put on as cheap 'filler' programming in the early afternoon, in timeslots aimed at kids. Even something like I Love Lucy is, if not actually unknown here, pretty obscure — there's a general belief that Americans just Couldn't Do Sitcom Properly (a belief not helped by many US sitcoms, like All In The Family or Sanford And Son, being anaemic reworkings of better British originals).
I can guarantee that if naming the character Oliver was a reference, it will have been one directly suggested by an American friend or acquaintance, not one that came naturally to Moffat's mind — not because he's insufficiently genre-savvy, but because the reference would mean about as much to British viewers as, say, a reference to Del-boy falling through the bar would mean to US viewers…
February 28, 2013 @ 5:40 am
The episode makes it pretty clear that its about gender, not parenthood. The crown accepted both the mother and daughter, while rejecting the Doctor, who has been a father, as we know.
While I definitely enjoy modern Doctor Who, Moffat's constructions of gender — and specifically some of his ideas about what constitutes a strong woman — are regularly problematic for me.
February 28, 2013 @ 8:47 am
Yes Andrew, but you don't work in television, do you? I mean, sure, naming the Jeff surrogate "Oliver" isn't a joke for the British audience; yes, it's an in-joke, though I can buy that an American friend gave Moffat the idea. But considering how important names are to so many writers, and given that this character was invented solely to replace the departed Richard Coyle, I don't think the in-joke interpretation should be dismissed out of hand.
If it's purely a coincidence, I'll happily take credit for its discovery. 🙂
That's the thing about writing, though. In-jokes that serve a small number of people are regularly employed, like all those "frock" references in the audios and books which would only be picked up by hardcore Who fans, but which are completely missed by those who weren't involved in those online discussions, right?
February 28, 2013 @ 9:15 am
I really don't think that Moffat would reference something so… tacky is perhaps not the right word. But he seems someone who is quite concerned about appearances, and I suspect that if he was to make an 'in-group' reference, it would be to something that would make him look a bit cool by association to those who got it. There'd be no kudos in knowing about the Brady Bunch.
But also, I don't think in a British context it would even be an in-joke. I would be hugely surprised to find anyone in Britain — even in British TV — who would get the reference, if reference it is. I've never heard of Moffat spending any time at all in a peer-group that would get Brady Bunch references.
It's not impossible, of course, but having poked around a bit I see only one other mention of the possible connection — on the "Cousin Oliver" TVTropes page. I would believe it if TVTropes had existed when he was writing Coupling series 4 — naming someone after the name used on TVTropes for that type of character does strike me as something Moffat would do — but TVTropes only first went live less than a month before that series was broadcast.
February 28, 2013 @ 9:25 am
Pre-Seinfeld American sitcoms have never made any impact on British culture.
Um, this simply isn't true: The Phil Silvers Show, MAS*H, The Golden Girls, Cheers, Roseanne, Mary Tyler Moore, The Odd Couple, Rhoda, Mork and Mindy, The Cosby Show; all were shown in the UK at peak time in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and all were massively popular in their day.
February 28, 2013 @ 9:37 am
As I recall stuff like Cheers was shown late-night on Channel Four, rather than peak times.
That said, some of those shows were popular, yes, but they didn't impact in that they didn't influence anyone working in British TV (POSSIBLY not true for MASH, actually, thinking about it — and maybe not Roseanne). You don't really see much in terms of people referencing them — and they were the shows that were shown over here. They also disappear from folk memory much more quickly than the equivalent British programmes do, That's all I meant, not that nobody in Britain ever watched an American sitcom before Seinfeld, and yes I phrased it badly, but I think the main point still stands.
February 28, 2013 @ 10:19 am
Leaving aside the general question of the salience of US sitcoms in the UK, I think that the Brady Bunch in particular was not a big presence on British (or, in my case, Irish) screens. I'd never heard of it when I moved to the States in the '90s, and my complete lack of response to anything associated with it (or Gilligan's Island) remains a big gulf between me and Americans my age. These '70s-era child-friendly sitcoms maybe have specific qualities that don't transfer well, in comparison to something more metropolitan like Cheers or more riotously subversive like The Phil Silvers Show.
February 28, 2013 @ 10:21 am
That sounds like the sort of thing that you could have no possible way of knowing. That, despite being shown on British TV, and being enormously popular, and, presumably, being seen by these british TV makers, that not a single one of them was in any way influenced by them? I mean, even if that were true, how the hell would you know it? Do you have some inside knowledge of some kind of British TV Writer's Sequester that prevented them, like a jury, from being influenced by the media around them?
February 28, 2013 @ 10:41 am
The Golden Girls spawned a fairly poor British remake (Brighton Belles); Roseanne inspired 2.4 Children; I can't believe the makers of Desmonds didn't have the Cosby Show in mind. So a few people in British TV were influenced. I would agree that the Brady Bunch wasn't big over here though.
February 28, 2013 @ 1:43 pm
As I recall stuff like Cheers was shown late-night on Channel Four, rather than peak times.
Cosby, Cheers and The Golden Girls were shown in 9/9.30/10pm slots. Channel 4 kept late night for its own alternative comedy shows – the Comic Strip, Saturday Night Live, The Last Resort, etc.
February 28, 2013 @ 4:22 pm
Thanks Jane – in about 30 words you were able to express what I was trying to more definitively than I could in 400 words.
To be clear, I was mainly trying to address the overuse of scientific logic in criticisms of Moffat's work that I've read on the Internet. I probably botched it up because these aren't criticisms that I hold personally. I adore Moffat's take on Who, and consider TATM a highlight.
I guess to use Jane's words, I'm a staunch defender of narrative and symbolic logic as a force in Who. Indeed, I think this viewpoint is the only way some Doctor Who stories can be enjoyed (say The Gunfighters or The Unicorn and the Wasp, both of which I adore).
February 28, 2013 @ 7:15 pm
I like to think of it as, "I've read your timeline, and I COULD rewrite it, but…I found it satisfying the way it was."
It's like, you read the story and gain insight and understanding of the characters in the story. If you change something around to satisfy your own needs, you run the risk of tearing two or three other things down and creating something else entirely.
March 1, 2013 @ 3:17 am
The Silence is another example, in a way. While their full motivations have not yet been revealed, it appears at the moment that they spent most of S5 trying to stick him in the Pandorica in response to something he was going to do to them in the future during S6. Of course, the whole Silence arc begs the question: What could possibly be so bad about the Question being asked that literally destroying the entire universe was an acceptable alternative?
March 1, 2013 @ 3:28 am
Eh. I've actually reached the point of actively trying NOT to look for deeper meanings in the Christmas episodes. They air on Christmas and Moffat, like RTD before him, seems to feel obligated to put syrupy Christmas schmaltz above the larger narrative focus of the show on such occasions. Madge Arwell wasn't just "a mother," she was "a widowed mother tending the hearth during the long dark nights of the Blitz." Just as Cyril wasn't remotely believable as a real boy so much as the living McGuffin who drives the plot because of course the youngest boy is going to open the large tempting box left behind the magical caretaker. Just like, of course, there is a planet somewhere in the universe where the trees have naturally evolved to have Christmas ornaments hanging from them. And, of course, the Doctor just happens to take people there on the one night in the millennium when the whole planet is in danger.
Can you tell I really didn't care for that story?:)
March 1, 2013 @ 6:26 am
Hmm… I dunno. I like Moffat's playfulness, I've never made the mistake of thinking Doctor Who is or should be science fiction, and thus far I dislike two of Moffat's three seasons as showrunner.
March 2, 2013 @ 6:38 pm
You mean Rashomon.
March 3, 2013 @ 2:27 am
No, I meant Kane, since it came out earlier. Though I wouldn't be surprised if another film before Kane adopted a similar structure too.
March 3, 2013 @ 3:52 am
We've got no evidence that they intended to destroy the universe – only that they intended to destroy the TARDIS to stop the Doctor from getting to where they don't want him to. The destruction of universe was very probably an unfortunate side effect!
Series 5 was about their assassination of the TARDIS, Series 6 about their assassination of the Doctor.
As much as I'd like to go with the idea that Series 5 & 6 are out of order, I have to concede that there is no evidence as yet that this is the case.
As far as the alleged Pandorica Rescue Paradox, the fact that this is the only time it has been deployed does demonstrate pretty clearly that the only reason the Doctor can do is it due to the narrative collapse that's going on around his ears and is justified and earned in a way that, say, BF's "The Shadow Heart" doesn't.
March 26, 2013 @ 5:53 am
"Precedent suggests I should be infuriated. I mean, let’s be honest: a substantial number of the jokes in Coupling trade on stereotypical depictions of women."
I'm never entirely convinced by men who trumpet their feminism (I am so infuriated by stereotypical depictions of women). The ethics of employing stereotypes don't vary depending on which gender is being stereotyped. To asert otherwise depends on the false idea that only women have been stereotyped down the years and it's about time they got some of their own back. Whereas in truth both men and women have always been stereotyped to the disadvantage of both. To imagine that the stereotypical relationship between the genders has been to the advantage of men may be materially arguable but it's really only buying into a stereotype of material advantage.
It's no less patronising to women to posit a situation whereby they can only come out on top (and I don't agree that they do noticeably in Coupling) when set alongside gender stereotyped (thick and helpless) men. The gender stereotypes on both sides are entirely excusable in Coupling as they're done in the pursuit of clever humour and applied equally to both the men and the women.
You can derive telling truths from the comedy of how we all buy into gender stereotypes but you can't draw any grand conclusions such as "the power of women to redeem men" because we're being shown comedy stereotypes of both.
August 11, 2013 @ 10:07 am
Is it possible that Cousin Oliver became a known quantity in the UK because of the old Jump the Shark website? Coupling aired well after that website's rise to fame (but well before TV Guide gutted it), and Cousin Oliver was one of the patron souls of the website, heading the "New Kid in Town" category (i.e., new cast member that causes a TV show to suck).