NEW YORK (CNS) — Despite a stellar cast, the tiresome, overwrought “Girlfriends” is a misfire for the usually laudable streaming service Acorn.
Created by British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award-winning screenwriter Kay Mellor, the first episode of “Girlfriends” was released Monday, Jan. 29.
Each of the remaining five episodes will be released Mondays through March 5. The entire series will be available to stream thereafter.
“Girlfriends” contains strong language, sexual content, a violent crime, gratuitous animal cruelty, and themes of dementia, murder, suicide, mental illness, drug addiction and adultery.
Catholic viewers will find two plot lines especially problematic. The first concerns Andrew (Philip Cumbus), the adult gay son of Sue (Miranda Richardson), one of the titular pals. Andrew has had two children with a woman named Natalie (Thaila Zucchi), who’s involved in a lesbian relationship with Kerry (Rachel Dale). They, Andrew, and his partner, Rob (Nav Sidhu), are raising the children together.
When Andrew belatedly tells Sue about the grandchildren she didn’t know she had, she is thrilled, and doesn’t question the couples’ unusual household arrangement or its impact on the children.
Similarly, when Tom (Matthew Lewis), son of girlfriend Gail (Zoe Wanamaker), impregnates Ruby (Daisy Head), the unmarried daughter of the third amigo, Linda (Phyllis Logan), all in their extended circle are delighted for the couple.
Their decision to keep the baby is, of course, admirable. But neither Gail nor Linda expresses what would be understandable reservations or concerns about the couple not being married — or about the fact that Tom is under supervised parole for stealing cars.
These situations may accurately reflect the messy and complicated nature of some contemporary people’s lives. But Mellor’s presentation of them implies that both her characters and the audience are bound to approve of all freely chosen lifestyles or be branded intolerant.
This underlying agenda — as well as the specious and tendentious arguments used to advance it — detract from the storytelling. They also suggest that the suitable audience for “Girlfriends” is restricted to discerning adults able and willing to weigh the series’ propositions carefully.
As the series opens, Ruby and her brother Ryan (Chris Fountain) have paid for their parents, Linda and Micky (Steve Evets), to go on an anniversary cruise off the coast of Spain on a ship called the Aztec, aboard which Ruby and Ryan are employed as entertainers.
One evening at dinner, having forgotten his reading glasses, a tipsy Micky returns to his cabin to retrieve them. After Micky’s prolonged absence raises concern, Linda discovers that her husband has fallen overboard.
Did Micky commit suicide? Or was he murdered? These questions are at the crux of the series’ drama, which tests the friendships of the trio. They’re working-class “women of a certain age,” from the city of York in the north of England who have been friends for more than 40 years, since they sang in a band when they were kids.
Magazine editor Sue and school crossing guard Gail zealously protect and defend the haggard and shell-shocked Linda, who frets about making her mortgage. Though Linda’s friends become suspicious when she appears to have had motives to kill Micky, they are relieved when she subsequently appears to be in the clear.
Still, Sue and Gail become incredulous when they discover that their friend isn’t the person they thought she was. Linda’s crisis, which precipitates the shifts in perceptions and emotions, roiling the long-standing relationships, would have been story enough to hold viewers’ attention.
But Mellor’s layer upon layer of subplots, which seem intended to touch on every social issue within reach, finally undoes “Girlfriends.”
Thus, with Andrew’s help, Sue is suing her business partner, and Andrew’s father, John (Anthony Head), for ageism, because he feels she’s “no longer relevant” to the youthful bridal magazine world. Sue has also been carrying on a long-term affair with John.
But Sue’s life appears relatively straightforward compared to Gail’s. Soon to be divorced, and trying to cope with her son’s status as an ex-offender, Gail also doesn’t know what to do for her mom, Edna (Valerie Lilley), who has dementia and is prone to wandering off.
All manner of calamities and indignities beset the girlfriends: house fires, custody disputes, cars being towed. As the action becomes progressively more melodramatic and less plausible, even viewers doughty enough to take on the challenging material discussed above will likely weary of “Girlfriends” altogether.
Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.