Sex, scandal, sin and seduction - nothing says nighttime soap opera better than the Big "S"'s of excess, those predominant aspects of potboiler melodrama. Of course, there are all kinds of combinations that can be added to the alliterative mix - subterfuge, sauce (as in liquor), secrets - even STDs. Everyone, from Peyton Place and Dallas, to Dynasty and Desperate Housewives have followed their formulas, and as long as the mix was ripe, randy, and filled with redolence, audiences accepted even the most disgracefully delicious acts. Equilibrium is the key. Too much malfeasance and you're bound for some backlash. Not enough contemptibility and things grow quickly dull and derivative.
That is why Footballers' Wive$, a UK drama making its Region 1 DVD debut with a new two disc First Series set, is so phenomenal. It does nothing but push buttons, bust taboos and flaunt its illicit invitations with more seedy sensationalism than a stripper wearing a copy of the National Enquirer as a thong. Though it purports to be a look behind the scenes at Britain's booming football obsession, it's really nothing more than Melrose Place with 'say wot' accents. But unlike its American predecessors, Footballers' Wive$ takes advantage of its post-millennial position to really pour on the depravity. Indeed, this is one show so vile in its variables that you'll feel the need for a deep soul cleansing once you've lurched through its eight offerings of overindulgence overkill. But my oh my, it feels so good while you're drowning in it.
Footballers' Wive$ centers on the Earl's Park FC Footballers and their incredibly high maintenance spouses. Over the course of the first season we are introduced to team owner Frank Laslett, manager Stefan Houser and three complicated couples, each with a particular problem - or more like SET of problems - to deal with.
Jason and Tanya Turner are longtime marrieds whose relationship is rocky at best, nuclear when it melts down, which is very, very frequently. Though he's a star, Jason - or JT as he's known to his fans - is getting old, and team manager, Stefan, wants to replace him. Ever the macho meathead, Jason takes out his frustration on everyone he knows - including the Missus. Tanya is used to being neglected and abused, but she likes her mother hen position among the other ladies too much to give up on her man. Besides the money and all its tempting trappings is pretty sweet solace.
Another star among the Earl's Park boys is Kyle Pascoe. Devilishly handsome, yet still tied to his matronly momma's irritating apron strings, he's engaged to be married to high profile model Chardonnay Lane. Mom is none too happy with sonny's choice of life chum, since her future daughter-in-law is a massive media darling, taking any opportunity she can to show off her assets - usually topless. Still, a fairytale wedding is in the works, and The Press just adores this perfect, pretty couple - for now.
New to the club - and its resulting mega pay raise - is Ian Walmsley and his wife Donna. Unlike their horrible early years in Bolton, joining Earl's Park has been a heavenly answer to all their feelings of inferiority and financial worries. But these seemingly simple outsiders aren't prepared for life in the limelight. Fame, and fortune begin to take their toll almost immediately, proving that money can't buy happiness - or solve long simmering problems from the past.
Over the course of the eight episodes in Series 1 of Footballers' Wive$, we specifically deal with Jason's anger over the arrival of his replacement, Salvatore Biagi, Kyle and Chardonnay's wobbly start to married life, and the Walmsleys' difficulty in adjusting to wealth and media scrutiny. Specifically, some of the events that occur in each installment are as follows (proceed with caution, as there are minor spoilers inside each episode description):
Episode 1: Getting a Result - Ian Walmsley joins the Earl's Park first team, much to his wife's mixed emotions. Current star Jason "JT" Turner feels threatened by the signing of Italian sensation Salvatore Biagi. A violent run in with team owner Frank Laslett has dire consequences for the Turners.
Episode 2: Take Each Game as It Comes - with Frank in a coma, the Turners appear off the hook. Donna goes looking for the son she and Ian gave up nine years before. Chardonnay has a 'fiery' confrontation with some drunken idiots on her pre-wedding hen night.
Episode 3: On the Ball - despite the accident, Kyle and Chardonnay get married. The adoptive mother of Ian and Donna's son confronts the couple about the child's whereabouts. The club supports the legal battle for the boy, which all may be for naught when a scandalous photo of Ian appears in the paper.
Episode 4: A Funny Old Game - worried that Frank may pull through, Tanya starts getting friendly with his nurse Mrs. Dunkley. Depressed over her attack, Chardonnay cuts off her hair. Donna kicks Ian out of the house, but soon learns that Earl's Park doesn't care to help the ex-wives of players with their custody cases.
Episode 5: All to Play For - Ian returns home, and brings Biagi with him. After catching Dunkley doing "naughty" things to Frank, Tanya blackmails the woman into suggesting euthanasia to Frank's family. JT gets in trouble with the club, while Chardonnay sells her story to the tabloids.
Episode 6: Winning the Double - JT is benched, and asks for a transfer. Tanya tries to pick up the pieces after Frank's "miraculous" recovery. Jackie gets some shocking news, while Chardonnay and Kyle try to rekindle their romance with a secret sexy holiday. A strange young woman comes on to Kyle at practice.
Episode 7: All Credit to the Lads - Chardonnay thinks she's pregnant; after all, there is a positive test result for a member of the Pascoe family. Believing they had an affair before his accident, Frank comes on to Tanya. She uses her influence to get Jason a new agent, who gets the footballer back on the Earl's Park team.
Episode 8: They Think It's All Over - The Pascoes discuss Jackie's delicate condition. Tanya works with Jason's agent to get out of the "relationship" with Frank. Biagi makes a play for Donna. While in bed with Jason, Donna's sister Marie fails to pick up the Walmsley's daughter, Holly. The child is kidnapped.
Uproariously wicked, cheekier than a carload of cockneys and about as addictive as a gross of Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs smothered in crack, Footballers' Wive$ is one of the best, most outrageous nighttime soaps ever to make it over to this side of the Atlantic. A huge hit in the UK, where Series 4 is already making devoted fans' jaws drop, this Region 1 release of the 2002 initial run of eight shows is America's first taste of this saucy sensation. And what an over the top treat it is. It is nearly impossible to hate a show that features hedonistic sports heroes humping everything in sight while their brash and brazen brides do a good bit of balling - both financial and sexual - while the big boys are out 'playing'. Top it off with a little kidnapping, a bout of matron maternity and a psychotic nurse who likes to have sex with her comatose patients, and you've got a winning combination that can't help but be immediately engrossing.
There is no pretense of authenticity here, no attempt to paint football (soccer, for all you American sods) as a career with any connection to reality. Instead, this is a perverted fairytale, a gratuitous Brothers Grimm where contracts come with some manner of carnal binder and groupies graduate to spouses overnight. Doing what this genre of the hour long drama does best, Footballers' Wive$ sets up several sensational storylines, each one more unseemly than the next, and then twists up the tawdriness with wit, spit and just the right about of British comeuppance. The result crackles like diamonds on glass. And just when you think that the show can't get any more extreme, when you imagine the boundaries of taste and believability have been pushed to the brink, the writers devise another, even more amazing slice of delectable vice, and like the shameful joy loving fools we are, we gladly gobble it up.
Now, there will be those who find this all a bit much to take at one time. After all, Footballers' Wive$ doesn't give us a single paragon of virtue to tie our moral anchor to. No one here is doing the right thing, and it's never for the right reasons. Indeed, there is frankly not a single redeemable, personable individual in the show. Everyone, from the pool man to the owner of the team is just an individual gradient of asshole. Some just shine their shit-eating grin more superbly than others.
If a dynamic is supposed to be derived from the series, it's that men are pussy-hunting pigs, women are money mad slags who can't wait to shag (unless there's a sale on) and all others our out to exploit the two. The series makes it very clear that the UK public treat their sports stars like a commodity, easily bought and sold and marketed with as much or as little skill as the agents and owners are willing to pay for. Pampered is not a good word for what these spoiled brats are - they're like tainted veal, raised in a vacuum of human disconnect that makes them aliens on Earth. And yet we are also made to pseudo-sympathize with the way the press and the tabloids relentlessly hound and harass them. In some ways, it's the only way Footballers' Wive$ tries to make its corrupt couples halfway likeable.
Clearly the stars of Series 1 are Jason and Tanya Turner. They're the old guard, the 'been around the block a few times' tricksters who always seem to be both simultaneously two steps ahead AND one step behind everyone else. Cigarette (she and bottle (he) permanently in hand, their lazy, luxuriant lifestyle a drunken debauched haze filled with indoor swimming pools, expensive clothing and casual copulation is metaphysical skin of the teeth scraping at its most mesmerizing. Like every good soap, they are combinations of the most crooked ideals. They are villains and ethical vagabonds, schemers and self-deluded dreamers, believing that everything they do is for the right, self-serving reasons - even if it requires adultery, blackmail or even attempted murder. As played by Zoe Lucker (Mrs.) and Christian Solimeno (Mr.) we get desperation on top of domination for a completely lethal and lovingly sleazy combination. You can't wait for the next time that either one of them - or both - is on the screen. The series lights up with a kind of scrumptious evil whenever they take center stage.
On the opposite end are Ian and Donna Walmsley. A country rube couple from Bolton - which surely makes the residents of that English burg blush with humiliated indignity, considering how unbelievably galling these dunderheads can be - Footballers' Wive$ sets them up to be the innocents: naive young things ready to be soiled, the babes in the woods who aren't aware of the grizzlies, rattlers and other animalistic aspects of the professional sports jungle. They are the people ruined by fame, the dimwits so desperate to get out of the sticks that they're blind to the mass media fray they are about to enter. Of the two, Donna is the worst, a foolish fawn that can't figure out why people would want to ridicule and judge her. All she wants is a simple life. What she got instead is a simpleton of a man. Ian is a complete and utter jock, in love with the sport he is playing to the detriment of everything else around him. Myopic to a fault, and always too late to see the obvious writing on the wall, he takes defeat too personally, triumph too proudly, to survive in the far more grayer area of athletics.
Stuck somewhere in the middle of all this first season shuck and jive are Kyle and Chardonnay, the glamour couple obviously modeled after David Beckham and his Posh Spice wife Victoria. A shining star on the team, with a Page Three trophy wife hanging off his hubris, you'd expect them to be the most "mainstream" of the pairings. And for the most part, you'd be right. They don't get involved in roadside revenge plots or illogical legal battles. No, their troubles are more of the traditional kitchen sink kind - like being set on fire by rabid fans, or masturbating over softcore skin spreads of your spouse. Between anorexia, the problems in the boudoir, and the readily roving eye of the momma's boy as wounded alpha male, the Pascoes provide the balancing balderdash of the Footballers' Wive$ universe. Without them, all we'd have is liquored up louts plotting more miscreant acts while the wimpy Walmsley's sob in the sullied sanctity.
Yet no continuing series would be complete without its collection of crazy ancillary characters, and Footballers' Wive$ has cornered the market with some genuine whoppers. Jackie, Kyle's mum, has got to be the most meddling, mean-spirited sow ever to sully an estate. When she's not pampering her son, she's denigrating her daughter-in-law. Naturally, this makes her eventual enciente that much more satisfying. Frank Laslett is a letch inside a lumbering oxen's body, and it's a hoot to see him hit on Tanya again and again (even if the eventually bedroom scene is rather nauseating in its blubber bellied explicitness).
Nurse Dunkley is a whole other set of issues all together. Her meek, mousy personality hides a lustful appetite that she just can't wait to take out on her unconscious patients. And Marie, Donna's incredibly slutty sister, can't seem to keep her panties on, something every nighttime soap needs - especially one that doesn't shy away from showing breasts, man butt and sizzle sequences of sexual congress. Sure, Stefan is about as interesting as a Teutonic test pattern, and Biagi is a limp bit of linguini undermined by a poorly developed backstory (in the world of Footballers' Wive$, missing your homeland is not a good enough motivational foundation). But they don't detract from what has to be one of the best potboiler casts ever created for a TV series.
Put them all into the ultra-obsessive world of professional football, stir in some pecuniary surrealism, and sprinkle liberally with lies, deception and several large gin and tonics and its Fourth of July fireworks mixed with the flash of paparazzi flashbulbs all around. Though it walks a tightrope of tackiness so recklessly that one can easily imagine it going from guilty pleasure to unwatchable abomination in a single scene, the Series 1 version of Footballers' Wive$ is a true television wonder, something that immediately draws you in, glues you down, and gets you so intricately involved that all you can do is beg for more. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here. The crazy cliffhanger at the end of Episode 8 has a nice back to normal/never be the same kind of vibe, and with so many miserable issues left unresolved, the show can only get spicier. American soaps can learn a lesson from their wicked British cousin. As long as you keep the corruption front and center, audiences will follow you like the sleaze loving zombies we are.
Capital Entertainment preserves Footballers' Wive$ original 1.85:1 broadcast aspect ratio, offering a nice, nearly flawless anamorphic image. The transfer is terrific, with lots of flash and color correct brashness. And since the direction is excellent, with inventive camera angles and artistically satisfying compositions, it's great that we have the complete picture presentation in all its brand new broadcast glory.
First up - a warning. Britain obviously has looser standards about what can and cannot be said on TV than the Colonies. So don't expect Footballers' Wive$ to be a vestal virgin when it comes to dirty, dishy dialogue. The English love the epithet "shit" and use it every chance they get - and in as many variations as possible. The "F" word even makes an appearance, though it's hard to image it went out over the airwaves (or coaxial cable) without an obligatory 'bleep'.
Secondly, the UK also regales in its tired, trite techno-funk, and Footballers' Wive$ is absolutely full of it. The Dolby Digital Stereo captures each bitmap beat with clarity and precision, while the subwoofer suffers through bass-heavy hooey that grows old very quickly. Thankfully, everything else we watch television for - easy to understand dialogue, crystal clear conversations, aurally appropriate sound effects - is also preserved by the sonic situation here.
The only downside to this DVD release (aside from not having more episodes to relish in) is the fact that we get very few bonus features. In fact, both discs offer the same exact pair - a slang dictionary and a photo gallery. While it's helpful to discover what "bollocks" or "slapper" means, it would have been nice to have some character information, or an interview featurette with members of the cast. Unknown titles like Footballers' Wive$ need complimentary material to amplify their marketability. Offering a few text screens and some images from the series does not help merchandising matters at all.
There must be something inherently wrong with getting so much elation out of the fictional misery of others. Like laughing at a car accident, or whistling past a graveyard, such celebration of human wretchedness - make-believe or not - just seems so...reprehensible. Perhaps this is why Footballers' Wive$ is such a tantalizing treat. It's forbidden fruit frapped up into a decadent cocktail of callousness and dishonesty. It's a chance to look down your prying nose at people supposedly better than you, and laugh at their pain, their panic, and all their seemingly predestined predicaments. If all serial sudsers where this impious, this filled to the rafters with raunch, the Church would have made them a mortal sin a long time ago. Indeed, any show that savors child endangerment, that mocks the vows of matrimony and offers up more sluts and slags than Paris Hilton's personal phone book can't be good for you. But honestly, we wouldn't want it any other way. Footballers' Wive$ is killer kitsch mixed with corrupt camp at its most memorable. It's a highly recommended romp and one of the best example of the Big "S"'s of excess ever to stain a TV set.
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