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Tube Talk: A chain-smoking Romeo & Juliet

Tube Talk: a weekly TV column With John T. Forde

A chain-smoking Romeo & Juliet

I’m not usually inspired to write about TV programs twice, and still less inclined to repeat rave reviews. As my Nana used to say, it’s only a short road from repeating yourself to eating cat food and running down to the bus stop with no clothes on.

But this week, I want to re-rave a wee gem of a TV drama tucked away on Friday nights on TV1 that’s been seriously overlooked, and in need of another hard sell.

Bob & Rose (TV1, Fridays, 8.40pm) is a six-part dramedy series set in urban Manchester. (Y’know – that grey smoggy place in England where the Commonwealth Games were on this year.)

It’s about a gay man called Bob, who becomes friends with a 30something slapper called Rose. They meet, they go out on the piss, fall into bed together and realise they’ve got the hots for each other. A few furtive shags on a train later, they decide to make a go of it and – to their surprise – fall in love.

Bob & Rose’s writer Russell T. Davies, who based the plot on a gay friend of his who fell in love with a woman and got married, is no stranger to breaking taboos. His last series, Queer As Folk, was a fabulously full frontal, no-holds-barred take on urban gay life, complete with underage sex, Olympian drug use and some bitchin’ one-liners.

While Bob & Rose doesn’t quite have QAF’s cock-and-coke lifestyle, it’s just as provocative. In a world where gays and straights tolerate each other, occasionally shop together but keep their distance, the show dares to ask if it’s possible for two people from different ends of the sexuality spectrum to maintain a relationship.

While Bob scratches his head and wonders if it’s just a phase and Rose worries that she’s being a masochist, their respective social groups are praying for rain and plotting sabotage. Bob’s evil ex-boyfriend drags him back to bed to “reconvert” him, and Holly, Bob’s barking mad best friend who has moss growing in her living room, undermines the couple at every turn.

Many gay men are outraged with the show, arguing that it feeds fire to homophobic clichés that gay men can be “cured” by the love of a good woman. Other gays are simply relieved that the actor playing Bob ( Jonathan Creek’s Alan Davies) is a bit overweight and geekish, so he’s not “letting the side down.”

It’s to Davies’ credit that the show refuses to make judgements or take sides. Bob & Rose could be a latter-day, chain-smoking Romeo and Juliet who are misunderstood by narrow-minded family and friends. They could also just be two lonely people who are bored with their respective social scenes, and ready to take comfort where they can find it. Either way, it’s compelling viewing, and takes a tender, kindly look at its characters’ flaws and vulnerabilities.

Perceptively written and beautifully acted, Bob & Rose does what all good drama should – makes you laugh, makes you cry, and then makes you think.
tubetalk@nzoomail.com

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