MPI // 2006 // 170 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // April 22nd, 2009
"This is what being single's all about -- but you have to be drunk. That's how the magic works, that's how you turn a toilet into a tiara."
The daring comedy series from the UK arrives on DVD three years after its first airing on BBC Three. Pulling was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 2007 and co-creator Sharon Horgan won for Best Television Comedy Actress at the 2008 British Comedy Awards. Sadly, BBC Three canceled the series after the second season, but don't let that deter you from enjoying this bawdy and hilarious look at the single life in London.
After calling off her wedding to her dull but dependable fiancé, Donna (Sharon Horgan, Valiant) moves in with her two best friends. Karen (Tanya Franks) is a slutty, alcoholic schoolteacher and Louise (Rebekah Staton, State of Play) is an optimistic, though desperately lonely, waitress. Their adventures living the single life, "pulling" in eligible bachelors, are told on the six half-hour episodes of the The Complete First Season.
* Episode 1:
Donna's friends throw her a hen night celebration, during which the bride-to-be realizes she doesn't want to marry her dull fiancé. Karl (Cavan Clerkin, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman) takes the news badly.
* Episode 2:
Donna learns that she wasn't actually promoted to the position she believes she's been working for the last six months. Karen is suspended from her job at the primary school due to her drunken behavior. Meanwhile, Louise has her sights on Karen's forgotten and discarded date.
* Episode 3:
After a really bad morning, Karl tries to commit suicide. Donna's torn between watching Karl and going to a party with the girls. Louise stalks one of her customers from the café and Karen can't get rid of a persistent pervert.
* Episode 4:
Donna turns 30 and the girls plan a party. Karen tries to collect a debt from a dead man. Louise discovers Internet porn.
* Episode 5:
Donna hits it off with a new guy but she has drunken sex with someone else. Karen tries to take up activities that don't involve alcohol. Sex-starved Louise lowers her expectations when she starts dating the dishwasher from the café.
* Episode 6:
Louise's mother moves in after being dumped by her teenaged lover. Donna tries to make the new relationship with Sam work but something keeps her connected to Karl.
Turning 30 is a bad time because you're forced to come to terms with the fact that you're not young anymore. If you're single and working an unsatisfying job, that just makes it worse. Writers and series co-creators Sharon Horgan and Dennis Kelly milk the depression of working class, single adulthood for big laughs in Pulling: The Complete First Season. Drawing from their own experiences -- Horgan and Kelly admit to being serial dumpers during their young adulthood -- the misadventures of their protagonists are like shockingly funny train wrecks. Donna, Karen and Louise are walking disasters when it comes to their personal and professional lives. What keeps them so recklessly optimistic in their 30s? Well, the lie that they're still in their 20s, of course.
All six episodes are leanly structured with just enough plot threads for each half-hour installment. The overall story arc is also handled well so that we see the gradual development of the characters. After their failed relationship, Donna and Karl endure an awkward bond because neither of them is strong enough to make a clean break. The script is fast and at times filthy. The salty language lends authenticity to the working class neighborhood where the series is set. These ladies use four-letter words like sailors and it packs a funny punch.
The performances are strong among the talented cast. They mostly play it straight, which makes it all the funnier the more pathetic their characters are. Cavan Clerkin deserves credit for making Karl more than the loser ex-boyfriend. There's enough dignity behind his oafish exterior to make us believe he has the potential to better himself. Similarly, Louise could have been a one-dimensional character: the plainer-looking of the trio who can never find a date. However, Rebekah Staton injects the right amount of innocence and horniness so that we're rooting for her to land a lad rather than feeling sorry for her.
Tanya Franks almost steals the show as Karen, the least discrete of the trio. A red-haired force of nature who smokes, drinks and screws a path of destruction through each episode, it's a miracle that Franks makes her seem so down to earth when she threatens to be a caricature.
At the center of this mess is Donna, played by a self-deprecating Sharon Horgan. She wins our sympathy for bailing on a potentially bad marriage, but her inability to move on and her penchant for bad decisions makes Donna an uncomfortable protagonist who can't help but sabotage herself. Horgan's willingness to play the character with all her failings showing is where the heart of the series lies. Donna is unhappy but she doesn't know what will make her happy. She doesn't want the safety of the mundane, even though that's all she knows. "I want electricity," she complains. "It's so depressing being 30 and not being able to watch telly." The scene where Donna admits she may have made a mistake by dumping Karl is a heart breaker.
The technical presentation of Pulling is a little disappointing compared to bigger budget television series on DVD. Colors are strong and the image is clean but the picture lacks sharp detail. The soft picture reminded me of the old days of watching a BBC series broadcast on late night public television but that's probably not an intentional effect. Still, it's not a huge detriment since the sets and locations are meant to give the show a low rent atmosphere and that comes across well enough without needing to linger on background details.
The stereo audio mix works fine for the show. There's no laugh track, so the fast dialogue can be clearly heard. The accents can be thick at times so the optional English subtitles are helpful. There is also a nice selection of British pop tunes that lend both a hip flavor as well as some irony to underscore the action.
Director Tristram Shapeero and producer Phil Bowker join writers Horgan and Kelly on commentary tracks for the first two episodes. It's a fast and entertaining talk about shooting on location and the ideas that ended up on the cutting room floor. The language is also as frank as you'd expect from the people who made a show like this.
The behind the scenes featurette is mostly a montage of the crew at work. You see the planning and rehearsal for a couple of scenes but the piece doesn't have much focus. There are two sets of interviews with the cast filmed in the same editing room. In the first set you hear them talk very positively about the experience and it's always interesting to see the performers behind such colorful personalities when they're not in character. The second set of interviews, subtitled "If you Didn't Like Pulling," has the cast members giving disinterested comments about the show and the work of their colleagues. Unfortunately, it's a lot less funny in execution than it sounds. A few deleted scenes, mildly funny but not essential to the stories, round out the supplemental materials.
Pulling: The Complete First Season is frank, sometimes crude, and very funny. The intelligent writing is honest about the pain of single adulthood, and the winning cast elicits laughter and sympathy from their pathetic situations. The picture could look better so let's hope Season Two is treated to an improved transfer.
The First Season is acquitted, and we're letting MPI off with a warning.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 170 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes