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Six London school kids are best friends. Gorgeous Alex is academically gifted, comes from a good home, has the fine taste of a classy gay boy and proves able to date good catches, including a cop who could have been the love of his life if he hadn't lied about being a minor. Jamie Collier is the clown of the pack, a hopeless optimist, bragger and unreliable, but he means well and tries hard to please. Robert 'Rob' Conway is the most serious one, coming from a broken home with an abusive father, and has to work as a waiter in the gang's favorite pub. Finally there are three neurotic girls they hang out with: pushy Nicki Sutton, hippie rebel Suzanne 'Sooz' Lee and spoiled colored Sasha Williams, as well as a long list of boy- and girlfriends who come and go, although some have definite long-term potential, such as Alex's gay cop friend Dan Parker who sadly can't risk being find out legally 'raping' a willing minor. Written by
'As If' is the first British show to tackle what being a teenager in the Naughties is actually about. Rather like 'My So-Called Life' in the 1990s, we are presented with a mindset and production which are particularly adolescent - but unlike 'Grange Hill' or 'HollyOaks' we find young people who are intelligent - who have opinions, who in ways they don't quite understand themselves know their place in the world.
The required format of all ensemble shows is fulfilled (three girls, three guys). Anyone familiar with 'The Breakfast Club' will know the stereotypes. Jamie is the cocky one always trying to do that good turn; Sooz is his confident, hard as nails, closet romantic; Alex a gay character who for once seems comfortable with himself; Nikki is the naïve fashion victim with a lot to learn about friendship; Rob tries hard to help everyone, even though his home life isn't perfect and Sasha, a girl destined to be half a relationship - any relationship. On paper this doesn't seem too special - but as with all of these shows, it's in the execution.
Everything is immediately subverted by making each character a focus for a particular episode, and filtering the story and subplot through their eyes. In earlier episodes, this coloured the action to a great degree. The first shows were a maniac mix of editing and hyper-reality that was at times difficult to follow. Many of the techniques Oliver Stone has used for his 'big idea' films were employed here. Perhaps in line with the constraints of the production, this has been toned down for later episodes, but not to the detriment of the show. It's just that in these newer silences to get to know the characters better.
The plotting is just as fractured, the clichés of the genre forever turned on their head. As was shown in 'Dawson's Creek' its always the gay character who ends up estranged from his parents - here it's the supposed Adonis. The 'goth' is more successful with men than the serial dater. The hopeless romantic became the conquest of the older woman.
We wouldn't want to know the characters if the playing wasn't so exemplary, considering the time constraints (two episodes are filmed a week). As with all of these types of shows, its difficult to single anyone in particular out, but special word should be given to Emily Corrie's Sooz, offering one of the most multi-layered and intelligent performance I've seen since Clare Dane in 'My So-Called Life'. It's obvious she understands the type of person she's playing - seemingly unshockable and hard as nails but in many ways even more vulnerable for it. Word also for the putty like complexity of Paul Checker, the central pillar of the show whose performance, whilst brash, presents the vagaries of friendship. Watch as his attitude changes in moments between the passion of his life Nikki and Rob is nearly best friend. Again, Orlando Wells' Alex (unlike Warren, his antecedent in 'This Life') is quiet certain of his sexuality, but never feels the need to camp-it-up which afflicts other actors in his position (witness 'Queer as Folk'), his work heartbreaking during the recent plot involving his love for the wrong man. At first Jemima Rooper seemed a little brusk, playing as she had to the distant object of affection. But over successive episodes her work has developed into something of the emotional cornerstone of the show. Rob could have been a one note character but Ben Waters offers a mess of pent up anger and passion which feels like it could explode at any second. Then there's Sasha the hardest character to get a grip on. Unfortunately, for the first few weeks, Caroline Chikezie has to watch from the sidelines, being by turns the friend and lover. Given her own time eventually she distinguishes herself with much sharp work to the point that we wish we'd known her better from the beginning.
The final character in the piece is the music. Taking a cue from George Lucas in 'American Graffitti' each scene seems to span the length of a track, each episode offering an eclectic but satisfying mix of chart hits and well selected album tracks. See the moment when Jamie is blown off by the older woman and how the words of the song fitted his moments of rejection. This is filmic work, found on a half hour 'teen' show.
Which sums up the entire production. What could have been something we've all seen on TV before, we are given something we've never seen anywhere before, despite the influences. Currently broadcast at Six in the slot formerly home to 'Friends' and with a further series currently ready for production. Now, this can go one of two ways. Either the show follows through, gets a cult following and in fifteen years we'll all be watching 'I Love 2001' and complaining because Stuart Maconie hasn't mentioned 'As if'. Or everyone reading these words now will tune in and make the show the success it deserves to be. Believe me you'll be as tingly as I was, and you'll actually feel like you were there at the start of something which could change how television is made for years to come.
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