Footballers' Wive$ / Serious and Organised

Jessica Hodges

Events at Earl's Park tend to be broadly soap operatic.

Footballers' Wive$

Airtime: Wednesdays 9pm GMT
Cast: Susie Amy, Gary Lucy, Katharine Monaghan, Nathan Constance, Zöe Lucker, Cristian Solimeno, Gillian Taylforth
Network: ITV

Regular airtime: Thursdays 9pm GMT (ITV)
Cast: Martin Kemp, Joe Duttine, Esther Hall

by Jessica Hodges
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The holidays are well and truly over, and we face a long gray winter. To ease this burden, UK audiences will be treated to new episodes of Friends, ER, and (give or take a pregnancy or two) Sex and the City. In addition to these US imports, this year brings a few homegrown dramas, Footballers' Wive$ and Serious and Organised.

Wive$ looks at the sensational lives of professional soccer players and their partners, based at a fictional London football club, Earl's Park. Just like real pro footballers, they drive flashy cars, suffer stalkers, wear designer suits, live in grand houses, and make oodles of cash for scoring goals. They also tend to be a bit rough around the edges, giving the glamour a slightly trashy, nouveau rich slant.

Events at Earl's Park tend to be broadly soap operatic. Last season ended with a kidnapping, an attempted murder, some blackmail, and a ridiculous unwanted pregnancy plot. Jackie Pascoe (Gillian Taylforth), mother of Earl's Park star striker Kyle Pascoe (Gary Lucey), finds herself pregnant after an afternoon romp on her son's pool table with his team captain, Jason Turner (Cristian Solimeno). Married Jason tells Jackie to "get rid of it." Instead, she convinces Kyle and his barren young wife, a model-turned-TV presenter named Chardonnay (Susie Amy), to raise the child as their own.

Is Jackie secretly breast-feeding baby Paddy? Will Jason put two and two together and realize Paddy is his son? Will Jackie have to admit to Kyle that she abused his professional pool table, and with whom? The more interesting question raised by Footballers' Wive$ has to do with its tabloid-inspired storylines. The characters, clothes, sex, and money issues mirror real life celebrities' lives so closely that it is sometimes hard to remember what is fact and what is fiction, as if there's a clear difference.

Unlike American soaps, where one would be hard pressed to find any recognizable characters, Wive$ portrays a "lifestyle" we see illustrated in the papers almost every day. U.K. audiences are used to seeing footballers in the gossip pages, where stories detail their expensive habits, shocking affairs, and bad behaviors.

Footballer's Wive$ takes the gossip pages one step further. The show's writers and designers achieve a perfect balance between the absurdly sensational and the more nearly "realistic," a balance underlined by a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. Last season had Chardonnay and Kyle role-playing "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" for their wedding ceremony, an obvious piss-take of Posh and David Beckham's elaborate "fairytale" wedding. Little Paddy's room features a crib shaped like a football, which swings gently in and out of a goal. The comedy is exacerbated when viewed with the knowledge that the Beckhams reportedly custom-designed their son's room -- with murals of Posh and Becks on the walls.

In addition to providing storylines, the glossy gossip mags make appearances on the show. At least once an episode, some character holds up a paper to complain about the headlines. And all run to the press to comment on their life sagas. When Jason Turner dumps his wife Tanya (Zöe Lucker), she tells her side of the story on Chardonnay's cable talk show. When she has to redeem herself after a dodgy drug bust, her agent arranges for her to be snapped leaving an NA meeting, "just trying to get on with her life."

And when Kyle and Chardonnay hold an elaborate christening ceremony, with a Middle Eastern theme, live animals, and a Pure Spring Water sponsorship, they sell the rights to OK! magazine. Here the lines between the real and the unreal get especially fuzzy. The week before this episode aired, one could find the real OK! magazine, featuring Kyle and Chardonnay at this same christening. Television ads running during prime time that week had Chardonnay inviting viewers to share in their joy by picking up a copy of OK!.

Thus extending tabloid culture, Footballers' Wive$ also has enough sense to make fun of itself. This allows for different types of pleasure. Those viewers who love juicy headlines (like the recent ones accusing England Striker Michael Owen of gambling too much) can love this program, because it is more of the same, only faster. And those who scoff at the tabloids, but secretly sneak peeks at celebrity shots in Heat Magazine, can love the show because they don't feel they're intruding on real lives to get their voyeuristic kick. Footballers' Wive$ is a cleverly calculated, nice bit of rough.

ITV's second most promising offering stars Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet and, more recently, Eastenders fame. Serious and Organised is a sloppy attempt to create a cop show with an edge, like The Shield. Kemp plays DC Jack Finn, of East London's Serious and Organised crime division. Together with his younger brother Tony (Joe Duttine), he zips around town in his (oddly conspicuous) department-issued convertible Audi TT, bringing down bank robbers, drug dealers, and human organ smugglers. At least once an episode, Kemp introduces himself and his brother, usually to a baddie whose plan they have just foiled, by saying, "I'm DC Finn and so is he."

In addition to the weekly crime bust -- usually jeopardized by the brothers' controversial tactics, but eventually successful due to the DCs Finn -- the series includes the melodramatic saga of Tony cheating on his wife Rachel (Esther Hall), with whom Jack Finn is secretly in love. Jack's attention to Rachel displays his softer side, so Kemp gets to play the tough, sexy cop and the caring family man. He is a modern male hero who kicks ass and kisses babies.

But, it is hard to take him seriously, mostly because the show's comedy seems so inadvertent. The opening sequence features slightly speeded up clips from the first and second episodes, showing the Brothers Finn in their toughest cop poses. They jump into their TT, slide over the hood, and try to look hard when pointing their guns. Along with a badly executed aged-film effect, this sequence is more reminiscent of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" than, say, a gritty NYPD Blue episode.

Still, this amateurish and farcical execution, if read as intentional cheese, also makes Serious and Organised somewhat loveable. The plots are slow enough that nothing is missed if one gets carried away making fun of dialogue, plots, or overacting. But this is a gamble: if the weekly crime fighting does not continue to amuse, the show will be relying on the love triangle alone. While Hall is by far the superior actor of the three leads, and seeing more of her would be fine, the show needs a more original approach to keep afloat.

To their credit, both shows deliver self-conscious parody of US series. Footballers' Wive$ allows us to gape at fictional soapy sleaze, while Serious and Organised ridicules cop show clichés. Though the latter is erratic, the embrace of the absurd by Footballers' Wive$ is very good telly indeed.

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