Coupling intertitle (series 1 – 3)
|Written by||Steven Moffat|
|Directed by||Martin Dennis|
(Series 1 – 3)
|Opening theme||"Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps"
(Vocals by Mari Wilson)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||4|
|No. of episodes||28 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Beryl Vertue
(series 1 – 3)
(series 1 – 2)
(series 3 – 4)
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original channel||BBC Two (Series 1 – 3)
BBC Three (Series 4)
|Original run||12 May 2000 – 14 June 2004|
|Related shows||Joking Apart|
Coupling is a British television sitcom written by Steven Moffat that aired on BBC2 from May 2000 to June 2004. Produced by Hartswood Films for the BBC, the show centres on the dating and sexual adventures and mishaps of six friends in their thirties, often depicting the three women and the three men each talking among themselves about the same events, but in entirely different terms.
The series was inspired by Moffat's relationship with producer Sue Vertue, to the extent that they gave their names to two of the characters.
The show debuted to unimpressive ratings, but its popularity soon increased and by the end of the third series the show had achieved decent ratings in the UK. The series began airing on PBS stations and on BBC America in the United States in late 2002 and quickly gained a devoted fanbase there as well. The show is syndicated around the world. An American adaptation of the sitcom was briefly produced in 2003.
Moffat had used the breakdown of his first marriage as inspiration for his 1990s sitcom Joking Apart. Retaining this semi-autobiographical trend, Coupling was based on him meeting his wife, Sue Vertue, and on the issues that arise in new relationships.
According to an interview with The New York Times, Moffat met Vertue at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 1996. Vertue had been working for Tiger Aspect, a production company run by Peter Bennett-Jones. Bennett-Jones and his friend and former colleague Andre Ptaszynski, who had worked with Moffat on the sitcoms Joking Apart and Chalk, told Moffat and Vertue that each fancied the other. A relationship blossomed and they left their respective production companies to join Hartswood Films, run by Beryl Vertue, Sue's mother. After production wrapped on Chalk in 1997, Moffat announced to the cast that he was marrying Vertue.
When she eventually asked him to write a sitcom for Hartswood, he decided to base it around the evolution of their own relationship. Drunk one evening, he went into her office, wrote the word "Coupling" on a sheet of paper and told her to ask him about it later.
The couple formed the basis for the main characters Steve and Susan. The four other characters are Steve and Susan's best friends and last ex-relationships (one of each for both Steve and Susan); they represent the extremes of confidence and paranoia between the sexes when it comes to relationships. The two main characters are left to negotiate their own relationship as illuminated by these extremes. The fourth episode, "Inferno", was written shortly after Vertue had found a similar tape in the VCR, although Moffat added the 'spanking' element to the script as he "didn't think the real tape was quite pervy enough.'"
According to Vertue, Steven Moffat wrote at the top of their house. Once he finished a script she read it two floors away so that he could not hear her laughing. The producer says that his first drafts were "pretty much ready to shoot". She did not give him many notes; she would tick all of the places where she laughed, and then he revised the script accordingly.
The humour of the show, according to Moffat, is in the context. He says that there are "no jokes per se" and if they did put jokes in, they were normally taken out because they did not work. He found writing the show difficult at first because he was writing his own voice six times over, with none of the characteristics and inflections of the performers to inspire him.
The use of techniques that are unconventional in sitcoms, such as split screen and non-linear narratives were not originally intended. The first series episode "The Girl with Two Breasts", in which half of the episode is in Hebrew, proved so popular that they tried to do something similar every series. Moffat says that the simplicity of the setting encouraged an "epic, ridiculous way of telling an ordinary story." The opening episode of series three, "Split", uses split screen to simultaneously depict what happens with Steve and Susan after separating. The series four opener, "Nine and a Half Minutes", depicts the same events in the bar from three different perspectives.
Rehearsals for Coupling took place in a church hall off Kensington High Street. British sitcoms, unlike their American counterparts, usually cannot afford to occupy a studio facility for the entire run.
The actors received their scripts on Friday mornings. They had a read-through, the timing of which usually resulted in Moffat cutting minutes worth of material. Director Martin Dennis worked out the camera script on Saturday afternoons. After a day off on Sundays, the sets were erected for a producer's run on Mondays, and then a technical run on Tuesdays. Much of Wednesday was spent camera blocking, a process which regularly over-ran at the expense of a dress-rehearsal.
As the actors became familiar with the material, they would sometimes expand a joke. However, according to Moffat, this could complicate a joke too much for an audience coming to the material for the first time. Martin Dennis, according to Moffat, regularly told the actors, "You know that funny thing you're doing? Don't do that." The director encouraged them to deliver lines as well as in the read-through.
All of the location sequences for each series were filmed in London in the first week of each production block. As Moffat was generally late delivering the final few scripts of each series, those episodes contained no location material. The exterior shots of the bar were filmed in Clerkenwell in the first series. After a nearby Thai restaurant complained that filming was disrupting their business, a street just off Tottenham Court Road was used from series two. The house in which Moffat and Vertue lived at the time was used as the exterior for Steve's flat, with the surrounding area used for other sequences.
Episodes were mostly filmed in front of a live studio audience at Teddington Studios in South West London on Wednesday evenings. Sue Vertue says that the live audience reinvigorated the company because no-one had laughed at the material for a few days as everyone knew it so well. The performers were introduced to the studio audience by the warm-up comedian, who also updated them about any important plot detail, and entertained them while cameras and sets were being repositioned. Rob Rouse fulfilled this role for the fourth series.
Material that was technically difficult was filmed the day before the recording with the live studio audience. An example would be a dinner-table sequence, where some characters would be filmed against the fourth wall, rather than the often-used contrived method of cramming everyone together around the proscenium. Readjusting the set and refilming against the fourth wall would have been too time consuming. However, the absence of the studio audiences made it more difficult for the actors to judge the timing of the laughs. For instance, Moffat says that this prevented Gina Bellman from "milking" a particular laugh in the episode "Dressed". The sequences were tightened in the editing process once the scenes had been played to the studio audience.
Despite some critics' comments, all of the laughter in Coupling was from a genuine live studio audience. Although artificial, canned laughter was not used, the laughter sometimes had to be tweaked during the editing process. For instance, the studio audience might laugh for longer than the home audience might be expected to. Also, the audience's laughter decreased if a scene has to go through multiple takes; in these cases the laughter from an early take would be used.
Moffat felt uncomfortable during the studio recording as he felt rather powerless. Sitting in the gallery, he wrote the word 'help' repeatedly on the back of his script. In an interview he says he was aware that their most successful show received the least amount of laughter from the studio audience. Conversely, studio audiences reacted emphatically to his previous studio sitcom, Chalk, yet it received a poor critical reception upon transmission.
Coupling is almost entirely based around the antics of the six main characters. Coupling features no recurring characters that last beyond a few episodes. In the series, "the women are mainly confident and sexually quite voracious, whilst the blokes are completely useless, riddled with self doubt and awkwardness." However, in the series, Sally Harper (played by Kate Isitt) expresses enormous insecurities about her appearance, her lack of successful relationships with men, and her dread of aging. Jane Christie (played by Gina Bellman), who appears to be sexually adventurous and more than secure with her attractiveness, is shown to be secretly desperately lonely and expresses insecurity when she brings her supposedly virginal date (played by Lloyd Owen) to the bar, concerned that Susan's charms might distract him. Susan Walker (played by Sarah Alexander), apparently the most "together" of the female characters, is insecure about boyfriend Steve Taylor's previous relationship with Jane.
Steve Taylor (Jack Davenport) Best friend to Jeff, boyfriend/fiancé of Susan and ex-long-term partner of Jane, Steve is skilled at saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. (While dating Susan, an attractive woman asked him if he had a girlfriend and he said 'no' -- "I meant to say 'yes,' and I missed by one word.") His inability to handle pressure often leads to humorous and hugely inappropriate responses. Despite this, Steve has some common sense and often refutes the seemingly ridiculous things Jeff and Patrick come up with. Despite his flaws, he means well but always seems to lose control of the situation. It was revealed in Series 1 and later referenced in other episodes that Steve is incredibly attracted to Mariella Frostrup and will often fantasise about her during sex. No reference is made to Steve's job during the series, but in a DVD commentary, Moffat mentions that Steve is, like him, a writer. At least once per series, Steve goes off on a long rant explaining a difference of perspective between the sexes. In series 4, he has a baby boy with Susan.
Susan Walker (Sarah Alexander) - Best friend to Sally, girlfriend/fiancée to Steve and ex-girlfriend of Patrick, Susan is one of Jeff's co-workers. Susan is usually very sensible and organised, a fact often resented by her friends Sally and Jane. Susan can be very insecure and often takes this out on Steve. When angry she will generally say "apparently," a habit first noted in the first series episode "Inferno," and henceforth mentioned throughout the rest of the series by other characters. In the series 1 episode "Size Matters" it is implied that Susan views Angus Deayton in the same way that Steve views Mariella Frostrup, even keeping two pictures of him hidden in her bedroom. Steve and Susan's various arguments and differences of opinion make up a majority of the comic exchanges between them. Susan is a successful career woman, speaks French fluently, and takes her work life very seriously. Whilst Susan's job is never directly referred to, she works alongside Jeff, an accountant, and she reveals she has a degree in Economics. In series 4, she has a baby boy with Steve.
Jeff Murdock (Richard Coyle) Best friend to Steve and co-worker to Susan, whom he has dated once. Jeff's constant sexual frustration, ridiculous stories and fantasies about women and sex make up a major part of the comedy. Jeff is terrible at talking to women, often stumbling and unintentionally making up lie upon lie in an attempt to avoid looking stupid. These always backfire on him. He is known for a fondness for the word "breasts", often muttering it during conversations. From titbits he occasionally lets slip, it appears that his problems can largely be traced back to his eccentric and domineering mother (who appears in 2.8, "Naked", played by Anwen Williams). Jeff works as an accountant in an office with Susan, and it is through him that Steve and Susan initially meet. Jeff returns in a dream sequence in Steve's imagination in the final episode, "Nine and a Half Months"; portrayed by Samantha Spiro, "Jeffina" has undergone sex-reassignment surgery whilst living on the island of Lesbos, in a failed attempt to see another woman naked again.
Sally Harper (Kate Isitt) Best friend to Susan (and girlfriend to Patrick by series 4), Sally is obsessed with her own appearance and constantly worries about the effects of aging and life in general on her looks. Her worst fear seems to be of dying alone, but she seems totally inept at relationships due to her frequent paranoia which tends to make her out as a very mean spirited woman. Sally runs her own beauty parlour and is a successful businesswoman, but out of the entire group, she is the most insecure and resentful. A Labour supporter, she finds it difficult to reconcile this with her attraction to Patrick, a Tory.
Patrick Maitland (Ben Miles) Ex-boyfriend to Susan (and Sally's boyfriend by series 4), Patrick has a one-track mind: sex. This gives him a very narrow view of women, but he is great at courting them. Frequent references are made to his rather large penis; Susan nicknames him "donkey" and "tripod," sparking much of Sally's initial interest in him despite her other objections. Although intelligent, Patrick has a habit of saying things without thinking that give the impression that he is rather dense. Two explanations for this given in the series are his own claim that he 'doesn't have a subconscious' and thus 'nothing is going on' in his head and Sally's remark that there's not enough blood in his body for 'both ends' (making reference to his abnormally large penis). He is very good at getting women to bed, and cannot comprehend meeting a woman and not having sex with her. It is revealed in the fourth series that he generally leaves in middle of the night. In one episode it is revealed that unbeknownst to him, a woman from his past made a vibrator from a plaster cast of Patrick's erect penis and marketed as the Junior Patrick; the box clearly has a 10-inch measurement on the side when seen later in the episode. Patrick's love of the ladies often backfires, and the series frequently features story lines about his possessive lovers and ex-lovers. Patrick is a successful businessman and is very competitive with others in the same business, but he does have a vague sense of loyalty to his friends. He collects videos of nights with his girlfriends in his rather large "cupboard of love."
Jane Christie (Gina Bellman) Ex-long-time partner of Steve, Jane is very possessive, and despite breaking up with Steve in the first episode, she never truly seems to let go. Jane has a problem talking to men, often coming on much too strong and appearing desperate or rude to others in her pursuit of a man. Her character also seems to not be too bright, perhaps even disturbed, and is known to be incredibly self obsessed, as shown in a second series episode when a 'subtext detector' shows that the only thing she ever really means when talking is the word "Me". In the fourth series, everyone starts referring to her as being "mad." Jane claims to be bisexual, although we have never actually seen her date a woman. Susan time and again expresses scepticism, so this claim may be a ploy to entice men. However, Susan (for her own reasons) French kisses Jane in the fourth series and Jane seems to be overwhelmed but enjoys it. However, her claim is also successfully challenged by Oliver Morris in the fourth series, where he points out that she is indeed not bisexual. Jane works in a local radio station as a traffic reporter, and is popular mainly due to her flirtatious nature and sexually explicit reports. She was once briefly fired for telling all the drivers to close their eyes to centre themselves and changing the names of streets for her own amusement, among other things, but was re-hired due to her popularity.
Oliver Morris (Richard Mylan) Oliver is introduced in the fourth series and eventually becomes involved with Jane. He runs a local science fiction media store called "Hellmouths" and has been out of a relationship for several months. Oliver often has a very cynical outlook, but is prone to accidents, often making a fool of himself in the process. He is sometimes shown gearing himself up to meet women and have sex by thinking to himself, which the audience can hear. The geekiness of his job is also used for comic effect. Oliver also seems to have inherited Jeff's inability to talk to women, however, unlike Jeff he believes himself to be a ladies man, or in his thoughts word's "a woman-killer, I mean lady-killer...". Oliver has a tendency to use the word 'craziness' frequently in conversations, usually as an attempt to alleviate tension when he starts blabbering.
Julia Davis (Lou Gish) appears in five episodes spanning over series 2 and 3. She first appears in "Naked", as the new head of department in the office where Jeff and Susan work. Julia and Jeff soon fall for each other due to their shared inability to hold a reasonable conversation with a member of the opposite sex. Despite overcoming the inevitable troubles with each other, their relationship ends when Julia's ex, Joe, a soldier, returns from the front line believing Julia to still be his girlfriend. After finding Julia chained to the bed in her room dressed in bondage gear, Joe attacks Jeff. In the final episode of series 3, Jeff explains that Julia and Joe have left together to discover their feelings for each other, in Bolton.
Tamsin (Olivia Caffrey) is Oliver's Irish ex-girlfriend, who left him for unknown reasons around six months prior to the beginning of the fourth series, and has since become pregnant by another man, with whom she has now split. She befriends Susan at an antenatal class and is also revealed to be one of Patrick's many ex-girlfriends. Tamsin and Oliver seem to have a sour relationship, as is shown over the three episodes in which she features.
James (Lloyd Owen) appears in three episodes of series three. He hosts the religious programme at the radio station where Jane works, and Jane pretends to have an interest in religion in order to become his girlfriend. Jane is devastated to find he does not believe in sex before marriage, and even more so to find that he had a fervent sex life before finding God, which included a night with Susan. He leaves on a trip to Germany at the end of '"The Freckle, the Key, and the Couple Who Weren't", and returns in "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps", just as Jane is expressing her amazement that the many sexual encounters she has had while he was away have not made her pregnant ("I have shagged and shagged and shagged and all the little bastards missed!"). At this point Jane decides she is better off without him.
Jill (Elizabeth Marmur) appears in an episode of series 1 and once again in series 4. In the first series, Jill is Jane's therapist whom Jane constantly manages to manipulate. She is dragged to a dinner party with Jane in an episode called "Inferno" where everyone assumes she is a lesbian. She witnesses one of Steve's monologues about loving naked bottoms when the subject of one of his videos, Lesbian Spank Inferno, comes up. Jill reappears in the fourth series as a pregnancy specialist; "Moved on from therapy after your friend Jane...".
Four series of Coupling were produced for the BBC. The programme was thought to have ended when the American network NBC began work on an American adaptation, which NBC was reportedly hoping to position as a replacement for Friends. Unlike most American adaptations, this show was intended to be a word-for-word duplicate of the British version, except that it was shortened to allow for the shorter running time of North American 'half hour' shows. The programme was attacked in the press long before the first episode aired, because it was more sexually explicit than typical American television. The US version was cancelled after airing just four episodes. It starred Rena Sofer and Sonya Walger, among others. Gina Bellman, who plays Jane in the British series, made a cameo appearance in the first episode.
In 2004, the fourth series started screening on BBC Three, and on BBC2 a few months later. Richard Coyle, who played Jeff, did not want to continue in the role and therefore quit. He was quickly 'replaced' by Richard Mylan as a new character called Oliver. The BBC approached Moffat about writing a fifth series, but other commitments made it impossible to gather the cast. Moffat moved on to write acclaimed episodes for the revived science fiction series Doctor Who. Many fans of the series were angered that Jeff was no longer in the fourth series, and Richard Mylan has said in interview that it took a long time for people to accept his character.
All four series were released in the UK, US, Israel, Canada, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, the Benelux countries and Turkey. In India, some episodes were telecast on the BBC and Series 1 is available on VCD.