Google, it is reported, offers employees gourmet dining experiences on its campus. Apple, meanwhile, hired Stevie Wonder to play for its workforce. If the BBC is considering introducing a new employee perk to energise its staff, I’d like to suggest complimentary couples counselling. After the critically acclaimed misery of Stefan Golaszewski’s Marriage last month, comes the lighter companion piece, Stuck, a sitcom about the claustrophobia of cohabitation.
Dylan Moran is Dan, a recently laid-off jingle writer struggling to get his life back on track. Morgana Robinson is his long-term partner, Carla, some sort of new age therapist, pushed into looking after this man, who is a decade her senior. “Is this it?” she asks him. “Just me, flat out, and you farting about like an old fart?” Moran is on safe ground, doing Moran things (he is the show’s creator, after all). He pairs a world-weary cynicism with a skittish energy, not dissimilar to the performance he perfected in Black Books. Robinson continues her conquest of the small screen, following Newark, Newark, with a role that doesn’t extend her especially far beyond her obvious comedic talents.
The stickiness of the title is a reference both to how relationships create a feeling of entrapment (“Without me, you’d be in jail” Dan says; “I am in jail!” Carla replies) and a supportive dependence. In that sense, it’s a classic bittersweet portrayal. The bitterness comes from the crumbs of daily frustration (“You’ve hidden the good chocolate chip cookies!” Dan rages, of biscuits he has clearly eaten). The sweetness comes, primarily, from Carla’s blind support of her partner. “Why didn’t you tell me straight away?” she asks when he finally confesses he’s been fired. “Lying’s more manly,” he replies meekly.
I can’t imagine there were many people who felt the tried-and-tested 20-minute sitcom format needed further truncation, but after Cheaters earlier this year, which comprised a set of 10-minute episodes, the BBC returns, with Stuck, to this new diminutive length. Running for just five of these micro-episodes, Stuck could be watched as an hour-long film about a woman asking her partner to buy her a cat. These easily digestible chunks can fit into even the busiest of schedules (lunch break at a company that’s working you too hard, for example, or halftime at the football) but the brevity renders character development, and all but the most fleeting of supporting appearances, impossible.
Stuck is fine. It has plenty of charming moments and some chuckle-worthy (if not laugh-out-loud) jokes. And if we were in a period of envelope-pushing British comedy, perhaps it could be forgiven for its lightweight, almost vapid, inoffensiveness. But so much of comedy right now feels concerned with the concerns of a middle-class milieu, that this niceness starts to feel like laziness. What the show presents as “truths” have, through cultural insistence, become “truisms”. Yes, men promise to mend things and then don’t deliver. Sure, there’s nothing more irritating than your partner’s morning alarm. Of course, your siblings-in-law have the perfect lifestyles. We all live with the same frustrations; the mistake is to conflate observing them, for the millionth time, with profundity.
“You’re so old,” Carla whispers lovingly to Dan, in bed. “I bet you’ve got a blue plaque over your wang.” That sort of savage affection is as close as Stuck comes to originality. But overall, it is just another depiction of a middle-aged, heterosexual couple living through the needling anxieties of modern life. At its best, it might pass the time it takes for the kettle to boil or the toast to brown; at its worst, it might push a few more marriages a step closer to divorce.