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Joe Winkler

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Pulling -- The Best TV Show We Forgot to Watch

Posted: 02/ 9/2012 2:51 pm

With a little help from my friends, I found the best TV show I didn't even know existed. It's called Pulling, the equivalent of the American slang term "hooking up" and it aired on BBC from 2006 to 2008. It lasted two seasons, before it went the way of too many ahead-of-its-time shows into the world of cult fandom. It's the type of series that you can place on your list of things to cheer you up. You know you will fall in love with all the characters, and you know it will engender happiness, and yes, that is weird, but also true, and why should TV deserve such different treatment than literature, in which we positively love Elizabeth Bennett and her brand of feminism? The same applies here, just this show displays considerably more courage than most other cultural outputs I've experienced in a while.

The show, a simple concept, relies less on the novelty of the plot as much as the daring writing in the reactions to the plot. The story, well-tread in numerous forms, serves as fodder for the outstanding performances of the actors. Their deep humanity, their display of serious flaws is honest, and real, and true, and just brutally gorgeous. It's also a sheer joy to write out the plot; you get to partake in its simple genius.

Donna wakes up one day and realizes the man she agreed to marry, and the marriage institution itself, is just not for her, at least for now. She realizes the selfishness of the act, the pain it will cause her fiance, the financial loss and familial embarrassment caused to his parents, but she believes in something as genuine and perhaps cliched, almost embarrassing to say out loud, as living with integrity and principles i.e. that we should never feel forced into something less than ideal simply because of ease, or comfort, or not to hurt other people (and yet, despite this initial glimpse of courage on Donna's part, she turns out to be a narcissist. Brilliant.)

Karl, her fiance, reacts with horror. In a sequence lasting 30 seconds, before our eyes, we watch a mediocre man, who seconds before dripped corn flakes down his shirt, crumble, beg, and just react in complete despair. (The scene ends with him running into a door.) It's raw and painful, but oddly hilarious. From there, Karl pleads with Donna to act, at least for the pre-wedding party, taking place in a chain restaurant by the way, which Donna simply described as "shit" to Karl's mom, as if nothing changed, which she does. Hilarity and discomfort, obviously, ensue.

The whole thing is simply comic/tragedy brilliance. It's over the top, but not cartoonish. It's too sad for that Arrested Development flavor because the consequences always matter. It's unparalleled in American TV, though it does entail an interesting mix of different American shows, with some clear British spice. Think of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and with that model, and that sense of insanity, think of all these awful new TV shows of two women doing stuff. Love the idea, hate the execution, but here, they get it right. It's raunchy as hell, but never just relies on the raunchiness. In fact the vulgarity fits so perfectly with the humanity that the show never feels grotesque, just spot on, exactly what these normal people will do. (In a sense, it's most like the sadly cancelled Party Down, but even more daring, and considerably less absurd in the situations encountered.)

The show evinces a refreshing lack of irony and an embrace of genuineness, both in the vulgarity and the parts of immense loneliness and sadness of modern life. It will make you uncomfortable, but in the way that challenging art, yes art, makes us uncomfortable. The show loves reveling in the characters' flaws, bad life choices, again and again, and then turns its stare at us to beg the question, what do you think, why are you laughing so much, do you really think you are so different from these people? It's an interrogation of sorts, but a gorgeous, ferocious interrogation, one you want to lose.

As an American, I don't fully understand how something so funny can also be as sad, because in general, we separate these two categories. Tragedy demands tears, and humor elicits laughs. In America, the genres have begun to bleed together, but it remains easy to see which genre stands as the foundational genre of a piece. But here's a show so full of intense pathos, such an influx of mediocrity, idiocy, narcissism, pain, the suffering of life that it's funny in the way that something extreme strikes us as funny. But it doesn't hide the sadness, it's ultimately one of the saddest shows on TV, but it's not sentimental with its sadness, it doesn't feel the need to pat itself on the back with its insight of arbitrariness of life; it just is. The show lacks cynicism, or a jadedness of any sort, it displays clear and consistent vision of the general shittiness of life, but how despite that fact, all we can do after we clear some of the debris of life away, after that good cry, then the endless cry, is to laugh, to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

It really does one of the best jobs I've ever seen of painting what it's like to live life, day in and day out, with the boredom, the small joys, the disappointment, the mediocrity, the grossness we live with, the apathy, the narcissism, our desperate need for love and status, our addictions, but all with a view to the humor in the absurd, in the freedom of choice, in the joy of failing on your own terms. It's strangely life affirming, despite its coat of ostensible grime. It just bares our souls for all to see and inevitably, because life entails such humor, or because you can choose to see it that way, it falls upon humor. That's the amazing aspect of this show. It doesn't need to intend its humor; the humor happens as a by product of pitch perfect storytelling, and in that sense, I can think of nothing else in the world of TV that accomplishes this feat so effortlessly. This is a real punch to the gut, a show that dispenses with any semblance of a veil, straight from the beginning. None of this mentions the uniqueness of a show made mostly by women about women, or how the lack of beautiful actors actually enhances the show. Either way, check it out on Netflix, or the interweb.

 

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