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Everyone’s talking about… This Life (well, in the US they are)

By Rupert xSmith – Guardian Unlimited Sunday January 24, 1999

What must they think of us? When BBC2’s lawyers-in-love drama This Life made its début in America last November, TV commentators went into a spin over the show’s ‘frankness’ about matters sexual and chemical (they didn’t complain about the swearing, thanks to a judicious bleeping of the more robust Anglo-Saxon vocabulary). The most their British counterparts could manage when the show began back in 1996 was a chilly tut-tut about the shaky camerawork.

Several weeks later, This Life is making serious inroads into the hipper fringes of the US TV audience, thanks to the efforts of BBC America, the transatlantic arm of the BBC Choice cable operation. The reach may only have been around five million households, but they were certainly the right households: acres of press coverage have guaranteed This Life a bigger audience next time round.

Much of that acreage has been spent in an attempt to define what exactly This Life is like – ‘Sort of like Melrose Place’; ‘a younger, hipper version of thirtysomething’; ‘MTV’s The Real World shot by the producers of NYPD Blue’; ‘a cross between Friends and Ally McBeal’ and so on. As the series drew to an end, the New York Times decided that This Life was really like nothing else on American TV, devoted a whole page and colour pic to the phenomenon and loudly demanded more.

It’s unlikely – in fact, impossible – that This Life will ever be a big mainstream hit in post-Monica America: the freewheeling attitude to sex and drugs means that none of the networks will touch it with a bargepole. But for those in the know, it’s a breath of fresh air. ‘I suppose I should be offended,’ said the Baltimore Sun critic, ‘but I’m not. In fact, I’m hooked on their lives like none other on American TV save the gang at Homicide.’

The other obstacle in This Life’s way is its Englishness. The Chattanooga Times complained about ‘thick accents and British slang’, while the San Francisco Examiner printed a helpful (and to these eyes, hilarious) guide to This Life-speak. ‘”Kip” is a place to sleep, “cottaging” means cruising for gay sex… and “git” an annoying, unpleasant person. So now we know.’

One thing’s for certain, American casting directors must have their eyes glued to the screen. Jack Davenport and Andrew

Lincoln are tailored for Hollywood: handsome, unafraid of nudity and with cute Brit accents to boot. Daniela Nardini, surely, could play some kind of deranged, cigarette-smoking bisexual killer hunted by a crusading cop (Kevin Costner, perhaps), while Amita Dhiri could break down elegantly in the next Ang Lee movie. Perhaps they could share a house together somewhere in Beverly Hills.

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