Footballers Wives, a massive hit for Britain’s ITV, is sort of a Desperate Housewives meets North Dallas Forty. Or maybe it’s more like a dramatization of pretty much every possible Posh-n-Becks scenario. Public scrutiny is the name of the game in this series. And while the players and their wives might pretend to loathe the prying by fans, fiends, and photographers, they do little to stop it.
The first episode of the first season, just out on DVD (the U.S. version has only a “Slang Dictionary” feature), invites viewers to think that perhaps there’s an element of reality behind these soapy sagas. (The DVD made available for review only included this first episode.) Kyle (Gary Lucy) and Chardonnay (Susie Amy) are the hot star and model wife, both juggling successful careers, yet also plagued by self-doubt. We meet them as they casually discuss wedding plans, preparing for the day ahead. Tanya (Zoe Lucker) has a coke habit and a severe spotlight addiction, while Jason (Cristian Solimeno) lads about with any cheap slag who’ll have him. He first appears in bed with Tanya, kissing and licking each other like teenagers. The least glitzy of the couples are Ian (Nathan Constance) and Donna (Katherine Monaghan): he likes strippers and money, she likes her familiar domestic life, saving money by buying K-Mart couture and passing it off as Versace. We meet them as they hang with their kids in a backyard outfitted with play area and pool.
Each of these scenarios presents a slice of mundane life alongside fancy cars and Tudor-style mansions. Each relationship appears somehow fragile; the conversations are smart and the development is subtle and surprising, with each character’s disposition clarified as the opening credits fade: Kyle hates his wife’s modeling job, Tanya is afraid Jason’s becoming a has-been, Donna has something to hide. By the end of the first episode, though, it’s hard not to hate pretty much everyone.
Still, because the women are rather well drawn, we end up rooting for Tanya, Donna, and Char a hell of a lot more than their famous partners. “Contemptible” doesn’t begin to describe these footballers. Jason starts the day in Episode One with a wink at his reflection in the mirror as he tells his wife, “I can’t wait until to tomorrow, because I get better looking every day.” Jason epitomizes the smarmy sports star represented by Becks in that text messaging scandal, not to mention Aussie cricket star Shane Warne, who this very second is about to lose his fortune to his scorned missus over a similar phone affair. Jason’s got that swagger. He thinks it’s working for him, we know it’s not. He might get a shag whenever he wants one, but he’s about to lose his wealth and his standing—you’d pity him if he weren’t such a complete twat.
Kyle and Ian fare better in the personality stakes, at least in the first episode. Kyle enjoys spending time with Char, and Ian, too is a surprisingly uncomplicated homebody. But soon their failings become all too apparent. Ian is not happy when Donna tracks down their child, given up for adoption when they were—get this—13. Ian wants nothing to do with his previous life and rejects Donna’s insistence that he at least meet the boy. Stressed by her demands, he winds up in a lusty threesome with some lap dancers at Kyle’s stag party.
Kyle also finds himself pushed to a breaking point (which, in the world of Footballers Wives, means “forced” into a seedy affair) when Char flips out. An attack by loony fans has left her with third degree burns to her meal-ticket chest. She ends up depressed and anti-social (who can blame her?). Kyle tries to help, but not too hard. Keeping their wives happy isn’t a major priority for these guys. They do, however, go to great lengths to lose these mostly longsuffering women. Take this exchange from Episode Five, “All to Play For,” between fed-up-with-football Jason and his colleague, “Big” Ron (Chad Shepherd):
Jason: I know what I need to take my mind of this crap, a nice pair of thighs to get busy with.
Ron: Your missus has got a nice pair.
Jason: Yeah, but her gob comes with ‘em.
The women daily confront their cheating men, the tabloids, and persistent fans calling them names. Fuck the fancy cars: these footballers aren’t worth the trouble.