To say that a lot happens in the final four minutes of Love, Lies & Records’ debut episode would be an understatement. First, Kate Dickenson (Ashley Jensen) is on the brink of telling her partner about her office affair, before suddenly changing her mind and proposing to him instead. Then when they go downstairs to announce their engagement to the kids, her colleague turns up in tears because he’s having a personal crisis about his transition from being a man to a woman – and he’s been kicked out by his wife so he needs somewhere to stay. It’s an exhausting whirlwind of a scene, and indicative of how hectic the whole hour is.
Kay Mellor’s new BBC1 series, which follows the adored, almost-messianic registrar Kate as she deals with the daily dramas of births, deaths and marriages, is a fantastic concept for a show. Material for good plot lines is boundless in a registry office, where all of life’s most important moments overlap. But perhaps the wide-ranging opportunities in this setting are also the drama’s curse.
Because Love, Lies & Records is busier than Liverpool Street station at 8am on a Monday. As Kate struggles to maintain the balance between her professional and personal lives, Mellor is juggling five storylines at a time: we’ve got an office affair, a potential sham-marriage, someone coming out as trans, a vengeful colleague and a hospice wedding to digest in the first episode. While a drama’s debut always requires a writer to introduce multiple narratives and sew seeds, the sheer number of storylines here dilutes the potency of each one – and we simply don’t have enough feelings for them all.
That’s not to say that the stories aren’t worth telling. The hospice wedding plot line is an ambitious subject to tackle in a first episode, and Mellor’s depiction is deeply moving. It’s especially interesting because it interweaves the three duties of a registrar: a birth, a marriage and a death. Simon Armitage’s (James Burrows) simultaneous joy and grief is hard to stomach in the scene in which he marries the 27-year-old terminally ill mother of his newborn child. This drama does emotion very well.
Mellor has strived to counterbalance this melancholy with some moments of comedy, and there are a few good laughs (notably when one couple tries to call their child Chlamydia). However, this joke is used as a buffer for a distraught conservation that James McKenzie (Mark Stanley) has with Kate about his fear of coming out as trans to his family. The viewer is catapulted from laughter to sadness, and ultimately left disorientated.
Love, Lies & Records also has a tendency to push the bounds of plausibility. Kate may be a maverick, but it really is unlikely (and unethical) that a registrar would bowl up to the front door of someone she presumes is having a sham marriage – at night. And it seems too much of a coincidence that she happened to be driving along the same road where widowed Simon stepped out in front of a car, with his baby nestled in a papoose. All of that was in the space of one day, finished off by those last, mad four minutes.
I think I need a nap just to digest it all.
Love, Lies & Records continues on Thursday 23rd November at 9pm on BBC1