Back in June of 2005, Capital Entertainment released proof positive that, when it came to the wonderfully guilty pleasures of the scandalous nighttime soap opera, nobody does it better than the British. Their hilarious hit Footballer's Wive$ was a purported behind the scenes glimpse at the lives, loves and longings of professional soccer players in the UK. But underneath all the glitz and glamour lies a good old fashioned pot boiler, with more sin, skin and secrets in a single show than in the entire run of an American drama. Over the summer, BBC America started showing the series on cable, and gave us glorious glimpses of a highly scandalous Season 2. Now Capital has granted our misguided wishes and presents all eight episodes of the second series on DVD. And wouldn't you know it - the show is nastier, meaner...and more addictive than the first time around.
When last we left the heroes and honeys of the Earl's Park "Sparks" FC Footballers, several storylines were up in the air. Team icon Jason "JT" Turner and his wife Tanya were trying to cover up a near fatal altercation with big boss man Frank, with Tanya going so far as to pretend to be in love with the oafish owner. Kyle Pascoe and his bimbo model wife Chardonnay were going through a rough patch, especially after they find out that she is NOT pregnant, and that Kyle's matronly mom Jackie is. Plans are being made for the kids to care for the result of mater's delicate condition.
New boy Ian Walmsley and his dreary, doting wife Donna have had the hardest luck. Her slutty sister has arrived and immediately made a groupie b-line for the Earl's Park squad - and JT in particular. He is having a difficult time adjusting to stardom, including learning to deal with a son that he and Donna gave up for adoption early on. An Italian superstar, Salvatori Biagi, also new to the team, is eyeing Ian's missus with bad intent, and if that's not enough, a crazed stalker has kidnapped the couple's daughter.
With the team's season in an uproar both on and off the field, what more can happen? The answer is found in the eight episodes that make up season 2. Here are minor plot summaries:
Episode 1: "Just Can't Give Up" - Five months have passed since the end of Season 1, and Ian and Donna's daughter is still missing. Tanya has accused Frank of rape, and Kyle's mom has gone off to Florida to have her love child.
Episode 2: "The Tie That Binds" - Ian is placed on the transfer list by the team. Jackie and Chardonnay are quickly at odds over the care of the baby. JT thinks the child is his, and Tanya ends up in bed with Hazel, her husband's sports agent.
Episode 3: "Go for the Overkill" - Tanya is arrested for possession of drugs. Ian discovers that Donna is having an affair with Sal. Kyle and Chardonnay have "their" baby christened...and receive an interesting gift from JT.
Episode 4: "...And In with the New" - Ian leaves the Earl's Park team. JT plots to steal Kyle and Chardonnay's baby. Tanya tells the press that her husband is a limp-dicked alcoholic. JT attacks Kyle and takes off with the newborn.
Episode 5: "A Change of Career" - Tanya continues her affair with the team's new teenage phenomenon. She also has a day in court on her drug charges. Donna goes back to Ian, and Sal heads to the bed of the coach's daughter, Frederica.
Episode 6: "Facing the Truth" - JT learns a shocking truth about his "son". The facts finally comes out about the parentage of the child. While serving her community service sentence, Tanya gets a surprise visit from an old "friend".
Episode 7: "Bitter Medicine" - Kyle and JT mix it up. Tanya and JT decide to renew their vows. Frederica cozies up to JT in order to make Sal jealous. Frank tries to find out the truth about what happened to him.
Episode 8: "Fall from Grace" - After several more arguments over the baby, Kyle's mom leaves, child in tow. Tanya's wedding plans face a severe setback. JT falls from a building in a drunken stupor...or was he pushed.
It's been said before, but it really bears repeating now - Footballers Wive$ is one of the best, most outrageous nighttime soaps ever to make it over to this side of the Atlantic. Uproariously wicked, cheekier than a carload of cockneys and about as addictive as a gross of Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs smothered in crack, this UK hit is a homerun of despicable delights. 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 unwanted midlife pregnancies, freaked-out fisticuffs between teammates (and spouses), a christening fashioned after the birth of Jesus (!!!) and enough surprise plot twists and unexpected turns to choke a dozen Peyton Places 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 coils 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 - or personal shame - and like the jaded joy loving fools we are, we gladly gobble it up.
The main difference between Seasons 1 and 2 can be summed up in one simple word - pace. Indeed, the first installments of Footballers Wive$ zoomed by at breakneck speed - and it makes sense, really. The show had to introduce more than a half dozen main characters, an equally large assortment of ancillary individuals, and provide them all with backstory, motivation and a series of chaotic kitchen sink situations just to get the series going. Relationships changed, sometimes in the middle of a scene, and new problems purposely piled on top of others to increase the show's sensationalism. But in Season 2, thinks slow down, if only by a bit. The storyline revolving around JT, Kyle's mother Jackie, and their offspring plays out over almost all the episodes. Donna's dying relationship with Ian is also kept smoldering for several shows. Frank is still trying to figure out what happened to him, and his quest for knowledge is always part of the season's overall parameters. Certainly, the occasional legalities are wrapped up rather quickly (Kyle's suspected guilt in a stalker's death, Tanya's arrest for drug possession) and we do get the occasional walk-on moment that plays out in minutes, not months. But the best bits get time to breath - and bother - our crazed cast.
This looser, languid approach actually does improve the series, making it more biting and bold than ever before. Here, instead of a rollicking run toward the tabloid tale finish line, we have a chance to let the household horrors sink in, to allow the guileless and guilty to wallow in their own iniquity, and the unaffected to breath a little easier before the next unsuspecting storm surges through their connubial calm. It provides for more characterization and fuller depth in the personalities. Super agent (and lesbian) Hazel Bailey becomes more than just a sarcastic Sappho miracle worker, while a major mook like JT gets to go from sod, to proud pop, to disgusted dad all in one seasonal swoop. Such a setup also highlights how this series, unlike other soap operas of its kind, plays out like a competition, true to its sports-oriented title. Footballers Wive$ is as classic as a Super Bowl gridiron battle, or a 3-2 pitch during the bottom of the 9th in the World Series. It is the kind of series that completely engages you, that has you rooting for the bad guys and hissing the goodie two-shoes as the incredibly intricate and often far-fetched plots rise up and cement their shifts. We wait to see who scores with the next revelation and how a couple that's down finds a way to make a last second comeback.
And the plays are positively preposterous - and downright addictive. Whether it's Tanya snorting coke during the Pascoe's christening, or the revelation that the baby is really a hermaphrodite (?!?!) the show never stops striving, giving 110% towards the goal of making you feel fully entertained. Even in the quieter moments, when characters get all contemplative and calm, the show still bubbles with a vitality founded on the notion of possibility. We never know were the series is taking us next and said options are spellbinding. Could be we're at an old folks home as Tanya "does" community service, or in a boozy boudoir where people are contemplating a ménage a trios. With another astonishing cliffhanger at the end of episode eight involving the possible death of a major character (shades of "Who Shot JR?" here) and a wealth of unresolved little mini-dramas all along the way, we are set up for a terrific Season 3. The wait for that DVD package - or a BBC America airing - will be far too long indeed.
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. This means that all the nudity (there is some T&A here, of both the male and female variety) comes across in all its fleshy fineness.
First up - a warning. Britain obviously has looser standards about what can and cannot be said on TV than us over in 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 "dicky tummy" or "mo" 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.
What more needs to be said. This title is about as close to a DVD Talk Collector's Series score as TV on the digital medium can get. However, due to the limited number of episodes (the British believe in very small runs for their shows, and eight seems to be a major improvement over the usual six installments a season) and the dearth of added content, Footballers Wive$: The Complete Second Season can only manage a Highly Recommended ranking. That doesn't mean the show itself is somehow faulty. If anything, this naughty nighttime soap is about as close to campy, kitschy perfection as one can get. You can keep your extravagant Ewings and tell the callous Carrington's to take a hike. The Turners, Pascoes and Walmsley's have them beaten - and not just on the field of play. When the history of the one hour sudser is written, this series will be considered one of the classics.
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