I’ve watched three episodes of Frankie and after every one I felt as if I’d been trampled almost to death by Care Bears. Or repeatedly kicked by a My Little Pony. It’s the saccharine central character in Lucy Gannon’s drama (tonight BBC1), the kind of woman about whom people with no imagination use those deadly words “sassy” and “feisty”.
Frankie is a district nurse and she CARES. Oh does she CARE. About everyone, about every single patient, which is of course completely admirable but Frankie is a TV district nurse, so she has to Break the Rules. She has no truck with authority (I’m boring myself just writing this) and lives her life with the volume turned up to 12.
Frankie lives loud. She dances with abandon round her house to Beyoncé and Chumbawamba, she drives her natty red sports car and howls along to songs on the radio as little old ladies tut, then smile fondly, at traffic lights. She’s awful. If you worked with her you’d ask for a transfer. If that didn’t come through, you’d be first through the doors of HR on Monday morning, demanding she be walled up inside her own office.
I’m baffled why anyone would go to the trouble of creating Frankie (played by Torchwood’s Eve Myles); she’s moulded from every worn-out cliché of fictional womanhood (see all the above). I blame Bridget Jones, what with all that crying to her booming stereo and the chardonnay and the being her ditsy self because people loved her just the way she was.
What’s truly ridiculous is effervescent Frankie’s fraught relationship with hatchet-faced Dr Zoe Evans, a thankless role played by Jemma Redgrave. She believes in The Rules and thinks Frankie gets too emotionally involved with her patients. Chilly Dr Evans makes trouble for Frankie, who is loved by everyone and who believes the end justifies the means if it helps her patients. (As a colleague says with fond exasperation, “Everyone knows where to draw the line but Frankie Maddox.” Bleurgh.) But no one likes Dr Evans and everyone sides with salt-of-the-earth Frankie.
Thus we had the hilarious juxtaposition in last week’s episode of popular Frankie eating fish and chips out of paper with her mates at the practice while Dr Evans stared into the blank window of the microwave oven in her beautiful, expensive, empty kitchen. “She has nothing, Frankie has everything” was the message. It’s those two poles of womanhood that I thought we’d grown out of in TV dramas, women being either empathetic to the point of derangement or flinty cows. Just look at Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) in The Fall. Now there’s a proper, nuanced, highly unusual TV drama woman: clever, focused, in charge of her own life.
Naturally, Frankie’s love life is a mess. Her boyfriend cheated on her, quite rightly in my view, after she missed the birthday/engagement party he’d organised, to stay, pointlessly, in her party frock with a birthing mother until her soldier husband made it back from Afghanistan (he burst through the maternity-room doors just as tearful mum cuddled her sticky newborn). But never mind, there’s a cute male nurse at Frankie’s practice, so I don’t think any of us will lose money betting they’ll cop off with one another before the end of the series.
This view of chaotic saintly womanhood is almost as pernicious as setting women up endlessly as picturesque victims of serial killers. I can imagine district nurses throughout the country sighing as they get on with their jobs then go home for tea without breaking the rules or taking every patient’s problem personally to the point of narcissism. It’s out-moded and it’s tiresome.