I have to admit, there is some great television in the UK. The Brits are big on irreverent humor, as fans of Absolutely Fabulous know, and some of my now-favorite programs are ones I’ve discovered since moving here.
Pulling is a BBC comedy series centered around the lives of three women in their early-thirties and the continual string of setbacks and humiliations they create for themselves and endure. One of the show’s writers and creators is Sharon Horgan, who also stars as Donna. She and writing partner Dennis Kelly loosely based the show on their own experiences and those of their friends. I always enjoy female-centric programs, especially when the creative aspect is female-driven, and Pulling is a show that’s not afraid to get dirty.
I’ve just finished watching the first season, which originally aired in 2006. The show was BAFTA-nominated in 2007 and Horgan won Best Comedy Entertainment Actress at the 2008 British Comedy Awards. At only six episodes per season, Horgan and Kelly maintain a narrative arc throughout that kicks off in episode one, when Donna dumps her fiance, Karl, and moves in with her two best failing-at-life friends.
Karen is a foul-mouthed, depressed, and perpetually intoxicated kindergarten teacher who shags indiscriminately. Actress Tanya Franks has perfected Karen’s bitch-face and aggressive drunken stagger to hilariously terrifiying effect. Louise, played by Rebekah Staton, functions as Karen’s softer counterpart; hardly working in a local café, Louise eagerly pursues strings of uninterested men. Her round face and sweet demeanor barely mask what has developed into a sort of crazed stalker persona.
Donna is a woman with hopes for something better in her life, and an all-to-often realized sense of inadequacy. She doesn’t know exactly what that better thing that she’s looking for is, or quite how to achieve it, which makes her instantly relatable. After a disastrous hen night before her wedding to Karl, a sweet-natured bore, she calls off the marriage and accepts Karen and Louise’s offer to move into their spare room (called “the shit room,” as it’s that place in the house they dump all the shit that nobody wants).
I think what’s appealing about this program, as with similar British shows, is that is focuses on the dreary mediocrity of young adulthood. No one has a flashy job in the media, or lives in an outlandishly large and sun-dappled apartment. The actors are talented and average in appearance – they look like people you know. However heightened some of the situations might be for comedic effect, it all rings true. Like the better sitcoms of today, there’s no laugh track; the humor comes from the sense of recognition you feel while viewing it, and the cringing, empathetic familiarity experienced watching a character beg for her job back after a previous, ill-advised “fuck you!” to her boss.
To give you some flavor, I’ve extracted the dialogue from a few scenes in Season One and clips from Season Two.
(ED NOTE: NOW WITH UPDATED CLIPS FOR YOUSE NOT IN THE UK.)
Donna, Karen, and Louise are discussing whether Donna should leave Karl. Struggling for something nice to say, Louise intimates that Karl’s very dull, but that’s a good thing. The conversation devolves from there. Louise attempts a final stab at rescuing the situation.
Louise: The other nice thing about Karl is that he’d never hit you.
Karen is trying to convince Donna to attend a big party, immediately after Donna’s found Karl attempting to hang himself. Donna, Karen, and Louise are in the kitchen, debating the wisdom of leaving Karl alone for the night, while he mopes in the next room.
Donna: Karen, he tried to kill himself!
Karen: Well, come on, who hasn’t!?
Karen: What…? Not even with pills?
(Cue Karl playing “The Smiths” in the other room).
Donna is having a terrible thirtieth birthday and trying to come to terms with the single life she’s chosen, which isn’t living up to her expectations.
Karen: You’re single now, Donna! They’re only off-limits if they’re family or fourteen.
Karen: It’s not pedophilia if you’re a woman.
At the birthday party.
Karen: What’s the matter with you? This is what being single’s all about!
Karen: BUT – You have to be drunk. That’s how the magic works.
Louise’s mum, an even bigger “filthy slag” than Karen, has come to visit after breaking up with her boyfriend. In a rare act of charity, Karen has taken the older woman out to their regular club, the Marquis.
Karen: You alright, Louise?
Louise: This is a nightmare. It’s not psychologically healthy to have your mum do lesbian dancing with you to attract men.
Karen: She’s gonna do more dancing now. I just seen her slip an E up her arse.
Louise: …I want to go home.
Karen: Well, maybe she’s just letting off steam. I mean, she just split up with her fella, so it’s only natural for her to… Oh, my God! Did I just see her drink her sick back out of that glass?
Louise: Oh no, not the never-ending pint!
Karen: (Horrified). They’ll chuck us out for that!
And some more genius advice from Karen, to Donna (if you watch this, I defy you to not make Karen your favorite character).
Karen: I’ve been thinking about the hen night, and I have one word for you: Spitroast.
Karen: If God didn’t want you to get drunk on a Saturday, Donna, he wouldn’t have invented the morning-after pill.
Disappointingly, Pulling was canceled after only two seasons, although an hour-long special is scheduled for April of this year. ABC is reportedly creating an American pilot – if it can do justice to the original and stay true to Pulling‘s edgy and de-glamorized sensibilities, here’s hoping this new incarnation has a longer run.
Karen bumps into an old friend:
Donna and Injustice:
Karen struggles with a home pregnancy test:
Updated clips from Season One, Episode One:
Updated clips from Season One, Episode Two: