I have a confession to make: I've never seen The A Word.
It's not that I've purposefully avoided the BBC drama, which debuted in 2016 and focused on the family of a boy diagnosed with autism. It just, quite simply, passed me by.
That is, until now. It's fair to say that after watching all six episodes of its joyful, warm and consistently funny spin-off series Ralph & Katie, I will be gleefully diving straight into all three seasons of its predecessor.
Ralph & Katie stars Leon Harrop and Sarah Gordy as the titular married couple, whose wedding took place at the end of The A Word's third season. They are now starting out on married life together, going through the same trials as tribulations as most couples and attempting to reach that ever-evasive 'wedded bliss'.
From this set-up, the plots of each episode are self-contained and recognisable. There's a guest who outstays their welcome, a jealous squabble about exes, even a Christmas mix-up where each family thinks the couple will be visiting them for the day. The only added note is that in this series, the couple both have Down's syndrome.
The series has been written entirely by a group of emerging disabled writers and the benefits of their lived experience is clear. The series's exploration of experiences specific to disabled people feels authentic, sensitive and perceptive, but it's important to stress this is not a show about the characters' disabilities.
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On the whole, it is an affectionate and gentle, yet insightful, depiction of the married life of these two individuals - which also manages to be incredibly witty.
One major difference from The A Word is the series's format. While that was an hour-long drama with a sprawling cast list, this is tight-knit, half-hour, character-based comedy-drama which often leans fully into the sitcom. Each episode clips along at a pace and the jokes come thick and fast, particularly in the show's opener.
As with almost all comedy-dramas, there is occasionally a tension between the genres as they jostle for dominance in each episode. Those which lean heavier on the comedy worked better for me - it's the lightness of touch which makes this series stand apart, and the show is at its best when the characters are having fun together and getting into light-hearted mishaps.
This brings us to the stars of the series: Leon Harrop and Sarah Gordy. The pair are absolutely delightful on screen, selling both the emotional moments and the comedy completely. A series like this lives and dies on the chemistry of its leads, and it's fair to say that, on that basis, this one thrives.
As with most sitcom couples, Ralph and Katie at first fall into types. He's the impetuous and stubborn one, she's more sensible and emotionally intuitive. But as the series progresses, both characters are fleshed out and we understand each of them separately as much as we do them as a couple.
The supporting cast all put in strong performances too, particularly Pooky Quesnel as Ralph's mum Louise, returning from The A Word, and Dylan Brady as Danny, the couples' new support worker after they fire their previous one.
Ralph and Danny's friendship is a real highlight of the series, recalling previous sitcom duos where a meeting between the pair is almost certain to lead to disaster.
But ultimately, it's the central, sweet relationship that will keep viewers coming back for more, and the simple warmth which exudes from each episode. The plots are rarely high-stakes - they largely revolve around a small row between the pair, who then come to an understanding and reconcile by the end of each episode.
But that's exactly what slice-of-life TV should be. There's a place for exploration of tougher subject matter and themes, and Ralph & Katie doesn't shy away from reality. It just chooses to embrace the optimism to be found in the everyday.
It's also exactly why this series could run and run. It feels like we've just scratched the surface of the couple's life together and there's so many more stories to be told.
As much as the series lends its focus to relatable situations and tried and tested relationship comedy, it is also important to recognise that shows with this level of on- and off-screen diversity should be cherished - they don't come along all that often.
And when they're this charming, this funny and this heartfelt, that's really not a hard thing to do.
Ralph & Katie will begin airing on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Wednesday 5th October at 9pm and 9:30pm. Check out our Drama hub for more news, interviews and features or find something to watch with our TV Guide.
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