Watch Coupling

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: Coupling

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: When a group of friends really get to thinking how to get what they want out of love, the results are a wild mix of one-night stands, one-lunchtime stands, two-timing and partner-swapping.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: When it comes to television about a group of pals just going through everyday life, Friends is the cornerstone of sitcoms. Lasting for 10 seasons and capturing the eyes, ears and hearts of millions, the series sparked an endless number of copycats trying to replicate the formula of a group of funny, flirty and fit men and women dating each other, arguing with each other and getting into a series of mishaps and tomfoolery. Six years after the show debuted in 1994, our friends across the pond got what is basically their own version of Friends, but it was raunchier, funnier, and dealt with its characters and relationships in a much more authentic way, even if it still had the laughtrack and some general British silliness. It’s called Coupling, and it will easily help you deal with the fact that Friends is currently nowhere to be found for easy subscription streaming.

Coupling focuses on Steve (Jack Davenport of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl) and Susan (Sarah Alexander of Red Dwarf), a thirtysomething couple who have just started dating. Steven and Susan also each have their own exes Janes (Gina Bellman of Leverage) and Patrick (Ben Miles of V for Vendetta), who continue to be part of their lives, and best friends Sally (Kate Isitt) and Jeff (Richard Coyle of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). Six people. Many relationships. Plenty of laughs.

What makes this show stand out from the rest of the Friends copycats is it hails from Steven Moffat. Yes, the same Steven Moffat who co-created and wrote Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and acted as a showrunner and writer for Doctor Who. In case you didn’t know, Moffat is rather funny outside of the mystery and sci-fi realm, and he proves it in this series that is full of wonderfully witty quips as only the Brits can deliver, not to mention just the right amount of sitcom absurdity and foolishness.

Much of the comedy comes from the relationship quibbles between these characters, but there’s also rather astute observations about dating in general, for both men and women. But the real treasure of the show is how the characters become much more than stereotypical sitcom types. Each of them has their own flaws that they have to confront and they actually grow from them instead of riding the same flat line throughout the series.

Coupling also plays with the traditional sitcom format a bit too. The season three premiere is called “Split,” and without giving any specifics away, we’ll just say it involves following two of the characters simultaneously. It’s either split horizontally or vertically, or sometimes it goes picture-in-picture, but we see both of them and their activities throughout their day. That’s just one of the examples where the perspective of an episode adds a new layer to the proceedings.

Keep in mind, this show hails from the early 2000s, so it can be a bit dated when it comes to certain gender/sex perspectives. But it digs into many more genuine questions and problems with regards to dating, sex and more, even if it’s through the exaggerated lens of a sitcom. I remember watching this show and being flabbergasted that a BBC series would deal with this kind of sexual content, stuff that American network TV would never touch at the time. But the UK is just less stuffy about that sort of thing, and Coupling is the better for it. Yes, the show is a bit over-acted, as most sitcoms from the early 2000s were, but the dialogue always comes sharp and snappy, and most importantly, it’s still funny as hell. At the very least, all 28 episodes spread across four seasons will bide you some time until Friends returns to streaming on HBO Max.

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