Television is such a strange thing sometimes, so slow to catch up with actual real life. Take working women. We’ve been around a long time, doing jobs, maybe we’re even bosses. (Eek! Look behind you, misogynists. We’re here, we’re in charge and we’re angry!)
Yet television doesn’t quite know what to do with us. We are either lovable mavericks who always want to do the right thing, even if it means Not Playing By The Rules. Or we’re nuts, pinwheel-eyed, twisted furies powered by our own sense of embittered entitlement, wreaking emotional havoc as we bend under the weight of our jealousy. This is usually directed towards the lovable maverick. Women, eh, why can’t they just get on with each other?, always seems to be the underlying message.
Kay Mellor’s Love, Lies and Records (Thursday BBC1) has perfect examples of both. Kate Dickenson (Ashley Jensen) is the boss in the registrar’s office at Leeds Town Hall. EVERYONE loves her, apart from her colleague Judy (Rebecca Front), who casts cauterising looks at Kate, while plotting her downfall.
Judy, a Christian churchgoer (I think we are meant to shudder at this), always dodges gay weddings and civil partnerships, is unmarried and despises Kate. She has incriminating, blackmailing CCTV footage of Kate and her colleague Rick having an adulterous Christmas party quickie in the strongroom where all the records are kept. You need to know that the strongroom is local government sacred ground.
Now, I think in any real office my sympathies would be entirely with Judy (apart from the homophobia of course, which I’d hope would go without saying, but these days you never know) because Kate is awful. If she sat near you, you’d ask HR if you could move. She’s one of those I’m-all-over-the-place-but-I-wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve-and-I’m-loveably-scatty television working women who you’re meant to side with.
There are lots of scenes where Kate yells above the din of her household (partner, kids, a transitioning transgender colleague sleeping on the sofa) about meal times and getting to school. I never like these scenes in any dramas; it’s such a routine shorthand for, “Hey, working mums have to do it all. Come on, everyone, breakfast!”
When Kate gets into trouble and her job is under threat, her entire team (apart from evil Judy, who has instigated a dastardly plot) resigns in support. In real life I’d already have signed her leaving card and ordered a sausage roll buffet at the pub round the corner. But I am clearly a bad person.
I love Kay Mellor. She’s a smashing writer with a clear voice, but I think it’s a shame working women in dramas – not just hers – are pitted against each other in such a pantomime way. And why do they always have such dreary romantic interests? Kate’s partner is a dull lummox, while her office squeeze keeps turning up at her side, giving her cow-eyed but, in truth, creepy looks of love. (“Hello, HR, yes, it’s me again…”)
Can’t Kate just be – a person, a someone, not the sum of her character clichés? Like the detective in the French thriller Witnesses (Saturday BBC4), a divorced mother of two with routine childcare problems. But none of this overwhelms her. She does her job, none of her female colleagues is plotting against her, she just is. I like that. It’s refreshing.
Love, Lies and Records is on BBC1 at 9pm on Thursdays