Cold Feet review: Less than the sum of its parts

A slightly uncomfortable watch: Hermione Norris, James Nesbitt, Fay Ripley and John Thomson in 'Cold Feet': ITV
A slightly uncomfortable watch: Hermione Norris, James Nesbitt, Fay Ripley and John Thomson in 'Cold Feet': ITV

Not many TV shows from 1997 are still going. You remember 1997, surely? The year Tony Blair ended 18 years of Tory rule, Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash and the first Harry Potter book was published. The dawn of New Labour was also when the potty mouths of South Park first appeared on our screens, the first tweedy corpse was discovered on the village green in Midsomer Murders, and the pilot for Cold Feet, a series about thirty-somethings making their way in a changing world, first aired.

After its original run ended in 2003, Cold Feet made a popular return in 2016, and is now back for series nine. These days, it’s a series about fifty-somethings making their way in a changing world. Of course, everything slows down when you’re pushing 60.

They’ve had their ups and downs, but the main characters are mostly still with us, and still in the posher districts of Manchester (think Coronation Street but with an honours degree) – albeit in a slightly altered configuration. There’s Pete and Jenny Gifford (John Thomson and Fay Ripley), the only threat to their relationship being Jenny’s cancer (in remission). Karen and David Marsden (Hermione Norris and Robert Bathurst) are present, though they’ve long since split up, and Karen is thinking about shacking up with the eternally randy Adam Williams (James Nesbitt). He’s less lad-about-town than oldest-swinger-in-town.

It’s a curiously uneven watch, and not as much like putting on a comfy old cardy as you’d imagine. But there are some genuinely moving moments. When Jenny returns from hospital with an all-clear, she’s treated to a surprise party which she doesn’t quite enjoy, Adam making a fool of himself as ever. When it’s over, she sits down and takes a good look at herself in the mirror. She peels off her wig to reveal the few strands of hair remaining after her chemotherapy, and wipes off her painted-on eyebrows. But, being Jenny, she harbours no self-pity, no despair, just an air of quiet defiance. When one of her daughter’s teenage mates makes some poor-taste joke about her illness, she verbally beats him up, only to have her teenager say she wishes her mother were dead for the embarrassment she’s caused. That hurts.

There are quite a few adolescents in the show now, offspring of various liaisons, and they offer a strong element of familial tension. This appeals to all the fifty-somethings whose life journeys mirror those of the Cold Feeters. As in the 1990s, they still see a reflection of themselves on screen.

Still, I found it a slightly uncomfortable watch. I still cannot warm to, nor engage with, James Nesbitt’s Adam, the charming, wisecracking guy from Northern Ireland. He is not likeable, but neither is he despicable enough for me to enjoy hating him. The action still pretty much revolves around him, and I’m beginning to find him a bit too creepy: an unlovable rogue, you might say.

Adam gets suspended from work for some #MeToo-style misdemeanours, and he doesn’t handle it well. Nor does he behave very respectfully towards David, whose ex-wife he’s trying to shack up with (for nefarious reasons of his own, naturally). David is played with a newly acquired vulnerability by the ever-brilliant Robert Bathurst. When David makes a malicious quip to Adam – “Do you have a problem with women?” – Adam immediately fires back with, “No problem pulling yours,” and the pair end up brawling in a pub car park.

Maybe it is supposed to be a bit of macabre slapstick, but the whole thing puts me on edge, and it looks unbelievably silly. And, of course, it’s hard to believe someone as obviously smart and shrewd as Karen having anything to do with an old tom cat like Adam.

All that said, the performances are accomplished, the writing isn’t bad, and there’s actually plenty of life left in it. Over the next 22 years or so, the characters could probably work their way through having affairs with each other until they’re too knackered to bother. The army of fans will surely still be tuning in when the cast are in their eighties.

Yet Cold Feet these days is curiously less than the sum of its parts, whereas it was once the other way around. Comes to us all, I suppose.