A star rating of 3 out of 5.

There's a lot about Alice & Jack which is unusual.


The way in which it was produced was unusual, in that it was made solely by production companies, without a channel or distributor attached.

The way in which the episodes are paced is unusual, understandable once you know this was once an eight episode series, which has been condensed into six.

And the casting is unusual - it's a Channel 4 show fronted by two Hollywood stars, one coming off the back of an Oscar nomination.

There's innovation in this show's bones, and that's to be applauded. It's clear that everyone involved in this project cares about it deeply, and wanted to make something new, something original.

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In a number of ways, they have succeeded. Alice & Jack feels unique as you watch it, helped along by two phenomenal performances, strong visuals and a dazzling score. It largely feels more like an indie film than a series. Unfortunately, it does have two major factors working against it.

The first is that it comes right as Netflix's One Day is being released, meaning its years-long saga of two people struggling to get it together just doesn't feel quite as unique. The other is that its two central characters are both utterly insufferable.

Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson sat in a field in Alice & Jack
Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson in Alice & Jack. Channel 4

The story is fairly simple, but within in it there are a whole lot of twists and turns. We first meet Alice, played by Andrea Riseborough, and Jack, played by Domhnall Gleeson, when they're in their late 20s, going on a seemingly bad date which still ends in a one-night stand. Jack leaves and Alice asks him not to call her.

Still, Jack is enamoured, and soon Alice finds that, in some strange way, she is too. The series then follows their 'relationship' over the years, with the two briefly dating before splitting apart and going on to routinely pop in and out of each other's lives, often causing devastation in the lives of those around them.

During their first meeting and those opening scenes, it seems that Jack will be the one we're rooting for - he's naive but well-meaning and warm-hearted, the type of loveable sucker audiences crave to root for. Alice is immediately cold, abrupt and condescending, marking herself out to us as the one who is going to break his heart.

However, over time, the dial shifts between the pair, and our allegiances do too.

In many ways, it's good that the series doesn't fall into tropes, that it doesn't provide us with the hero archetype like so many other on-screen love stories.

It's also refreshing that neither is held up as a beacon of moral excellence. There's nothing wrong with a show where we don't necessarily root for, or empathise with, the protagonists - look at the incredible Succession, where there's not a 'good' one in the bunch.

However, the problem is that you do still have to want to spend time watching these people, particularly when the show is so hyper-focused on them and their relationship. Often, Alice & Jack, both the series and the characters, does somewhat tread over this mark.

Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson stood underneath a bridge in Alice & Jack
Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson in Alice & Jack. Channel 4

Both of them have their backstories. They have deep-seated trauma and insecurities which explain the way they behave, even if it doesn't excuse it.

However, throughout the series we watch as they not only do consistent harm to one another, with their inconsistencies and their neuroses, but as they also bulldoze through the lives of others, in a way which becomes, at times, excruciating to watch.

Across 15 years, they never truly seem to learn from their mistakes.

Aisling Bea's character, Lynn, is perhaps the most obvious collateral damage from their toxic dynamic, a woman that Jack meets after his first break-up with Alice, who he starts a relationship with.

The show has a really rather specific take on love, as something intangible, undeniable and unexplainable, rather than an emotional state or connection. The show may present itself as though it's an anti-romantic story, but in actual fact it's hyper-romantic, to the extent that it borders on the absurd.

We're never given a clear reason why these two love each other, what it is about their personalities they each find so entrancing - they just do, like they're under a spell they can't break free from, one which makes them prioritise their own feelings for one another in any one moment above all else.

The series is striving to portray the realistic human behaviour of unintentionally hurting people when you're in love, but the decision-making here just doesn't seem realistic, particularly when they've spent such a brief initial window of time together.

This isn't helped by the show's dialogue, which is at times poetic, at other times clunky. It's all slightly heightened and dream-like, often appearing as an overly sentimental treatise on love, rather than the realistic representation it appears to be going for.

Domhnall Gleeson looking at Aisling Bea, stood in a field in Alice & Jack
Domhnall Gleeson and Aisling Bea in Alice & Jack. Channel 4

This aside, the series is, in many ways, still engaging. A lot of this is down to the performances, which are captivating, and perfectly pitched throughout. You may not like Alice or Jack, but Riseborough and Gleeson still sell you on them as individuals, and excel in the more emotionally charged moments.

Riseborough imbues Alice with a complexity greater than the writing necessarily affords at first glance, and is truly mesmerising in the show's denouement.

Meanwhile, Gleeson excels at the show's earlier comedic scenes, with the pair having a natural rhythm together on-screen as they trade barbs. He similarly excels in the show's later moments, in tough scenes that he brings alive with emotional integrity.

There are also strong supporting turns from Bea, Aimee Lou Wood and Sunil Patel, the latter two of whom play Alice and Jack's work friends, Maya and Paul, respectively. If you're rooting for anyone here, it's for Paul to finally get through to Jack (warning - it's to no avail).

Sunil Patel and Domhnall Gleeson in Alice & Jack walking together in a busy food market
Sunil Patel and Domhnall Gleeson in Alice & Jack. Channel 4

One of the show's biggest selling points is that it charts 15 years, meaning that not only does a lot happen to these characters, but we also do get to see them grow and bed into themselves as individuals.

Their relationship may remain disastrous and all-consuming throughout, but individually we start to witness other events in their lives, each of which are easier to relate to and more compelling than their mutual obsession.

The later episodes are easily the strongest, as the series takes them in unexpected directions and deals with weightier themes. The final two episodes retain the comic sensibilities of the characters in their dynamic together, but as a whole they take on a more emotional quality, and scenes are often heartbreaking.

The emotion here works; it's the best thing about the show from start to finish. When the story allows these characters to explore other aspects of the human experience, rather than just their destructive, self-indulgent love story, is when it comes alive.

It's also worth praising directors Juho Kuosmanen and Hong Khaou, both of whom establish a clear, distinct style and offer up a visually compelling experience, and Stephen Rennicks, whose score is magnetic, distinctive and instantly noteworthy.

Once you've seen the series, then the way it came together makes sense. It's hard to imagine that a broadcaster or streamer wouldn't have wanted the soften the way the characters behave, or harden the behaviour of those around them who they hurt.

You also can't imagine that some of these lines wouldn't have been altered, simply to lend more into the show's otherwise naturalistic aesthetic.

If all of this had been changed, of course, this wouldn't have been writer Victor Levin's original, unvarnished vision, and there's something to be said for a story like this existing in its intended, if somewhat flawed, form.

However, just how many viewers are willing to jump on board and stay with it and its characters remains to be seen.

Alice & Jack will start airing on Channel 4 from Wednesday 14th February at 9pm. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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