In 2003, NBC debuted a sitcom called Coupling that was canceled after just four episodes. While you may remember that show, it's more likely that you remember the British series on which it was based: a show also titled Coupling, which ran on BBC Two from 2000 through 2004.
The British Coupling hasn't been canonized the way that The Office, another wildly successful BBC comedy adapted for American audiences, has, but that's beside the point. The show won wild critical acclaim for its biting humor, nimble writing, and style that combines the situations of Friends, the neurotic dialogue of Seinfeld and the good-spirited explicitness of Sex and the City. All four seasons are streaming on Netflix, and they're all — the first three especially — a comedic goldmine.
Tracing the intersecting personal lives of six friends — perpetually frazzled Steve (Jack Davenport), reasonable Susan (Sarah Alexander), self-conscious oddball Jeff (Richard Coyle), vain Sally (Kate Isitt), hunky Patrick (Ben Miles) and loopy Jane (Gina Bellman) — much of the show's magic stems from the unconventional narrative styles. Some of those styles have since been popularized by shows like How I Met Your Mother — nonlinear storytelling, use of split-screen and divergent perspectives — but they're rendered with a freshness and vitality that's irresistible.
The standout fifth episode of the first season, "The Girl With Two Breasts," shows Jeff attempting to pick up a beautiful woman at a bar who only speaks Hebrew; the sequence is shown from both sides (with her part of the conversation translated into English) to illustrate the gravity of the miscommunication, a conceit that works to hysterical effect. Likewise, the third episode of Season 3, "Remember This," contains embedded flashbacks of the same evening from both Sally and Patrick's perspectives, and the ways in which their recollections vary are wondrously funny and well-observed.
For all the lewd humor and meditating on sex, relationships, and the ways in which men and women vary, it's also, at times, an almost painfully wistful show. Somehow, Coupling manages to meditate on missed connections and the frustrations of incompatibility even as the characters exercise a proto-Apatowian vulgarity that would never fly on broadcast TV in the states. It hasn't aged perfectly, but the good spirit and inventiveness of the writers and cast persist.
So drop what you're doing and spend your nights and weekends (or days) even marathon-ing Coupling, and maybe this mostly-forgotten classic will find the place in TV history it deserves. Watch it here.
What Are We Marathon-Watching This Week? is a series where the very best TV shows that were canceled or forgotten before their time are spotlighted and treated with the respect they deserved all along — so you can spend all your time in bed, watching them.
Photo Credit: BBC