THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 “Episode 2” Review

This Is England '86 (Channel 4) Pilot

THIS IS ENGLAND ’86‘s second episode found Gadget suffering the might of chilli pepper, Lol’s father returning and Shaun actually finding work. It started off with a golf trolley joyride in the middle of the night as the gang serenade Shaun back into their midst but ended on a much more serious series of notes. Daddy-issues galore, it was a high quality soap opera episode. Not that I mind-after all, what is Friday Night Lights if not high quality soap?

Undoubtedly the best thing about This Is England ’86 are the characters and the uniformly excellent acting. The characters in Meadow’s show are living and breathing and flawed and hilarious and tragic. They have to be, really, since there is no plot, so to speak.

Look at Shaun: his mother seems like a perfectly nice lady, trying to do the very best with what she has. She, a single mother, manages to get her lazy son a job in a video store; she manages to keep herself and her son afloat on her own salary in the middle of Thatcher’s England. She appears to have very little in the way of a social life, so when Shaun catches her sleeping with his boss whom she clearly quite likes as she asks him to move in with her, we, the audience, can see she’s not the villain, merely a lonely, middle aged mother who may finally have found solace in a person her own age. But then, further balancing on this tightrope, Meadows shows us that Shaun is not being a complete spoiled brat. He has every right to think his mother got him the job by sleeping with his boss. He is right to be angry about the way he found them, about the deceit and lies. As his boss carries his suitcases out of his mother’s house, pausing only to kiss his mother, it’s like some sort of un-poetic Shakespearean tragedy set in a crumbling estate somewhere in 1986 England as the mother makes the choice between her son and her lover.

Lol’s story is utterly bleak (at least Shaun’s had moments of humor). Woody, unmarried but still in love, has found possibly the ugliest, most rundown apartment for them to spend their lives. He is convinced that it just needs a few licks of paint; she is rather concerned about the previous tenant a druggie who was murdered and whose corpse rotted away in the flat. Life spirals out of control as she finds out her father has returned to her mother. Her little sister, still oblivious as to why Lol should hate her father so much, is treated to a front row confrontation scene. I thought after last week’s episode Lol’s mother could not sink any lower, but after her fight with her daughter, I found myself wondering if the roof just couldn’t come down on top of her. The actress playing Lol’s mother does such a good job of being a hateful, stupid blind, selfish woman I must remember she is acting. The only higher praise I can think of would be that Vicky McClure is so good as Lol she doesn’t need dialogue to express her character’s emotions.

The rest of the characters were featured either moving Lol and Woody in or breaking into a house and throwing a massive party. Who doesn’t love Gadget? His sex scene with an older woman was another hilarious highlight, mellowed by the woman’s son finding them in the middle of the romp, and the revelation that he thinks his father, a former gang member, has not died but actually has “gone to London”. When Lol returns to Woody after sleeping with Milky, the lingering camera on Woody’s face hints he knows exactly how Lol ‘spent the night’.

Halfway through already, I wonder how This Is England ’86 is going to wind up. Combo has not yet returned, and surely things can only get really exciting once he makes an appearance. This episode was bit of a downer from last week’s: the script did not really provide anything original or frankly as interesting as the first episode. Everything seems to be moving at breakneck speed; it’s one of the few times I wish the series was longer just so they would not rush the plot. Hopefully the penultimate will be better, but this episode was still a forehead above mediocrity.

What did you think of This Is England ’86? Do you also wish it could be longer? What direction do you hope the Lol-Woody-Milky triangle will take? Leave your comments below!

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