This Christ­mas, fol­low the stars to Jerusalem

It was a cun­ning move to sched­ule the de­but dur­ing the post- Christ­mas week

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

ANY se­ries that fea­tures the comedic tal­ents of Jen­nifer Saun­ders, Joanna Lum­ley and Dawn French will usu­ally cap­ture my at­ten­tion, but add to them the likes of Sue John­ston ( The Royle Fam­ily ), Pauline McLynn ( Fa­ther Ted ) and Mag­gie Steed ( Pie in the Sky ), hav­ing their way with a Saun­ders script, and the re­sult is well­nigh ir­re­sistible.

All play char­ac­ters in this ensem­ble piece built around the story of John­ston’s sud­denly wid­owed Sal Vine, set in the West Coun­try town of Clat­ter­ford, one of those ec­cen­tric, warm­hearted Bri­tish vil­lages we have grown so familiar with and which seem im­mune to satire.

Things are seen through the eyes of the mem­bers of the Women’s Guild presided over by Eileen Pike ( Steed) with mag­is­te­rial in­ep­ti­tude (‘‘ Have we ever got one of our speak­ers to come?’’ or ‘‘ Do we have a back- up speaker?’’ are per­sis­tent cries among guild mem­bers).

Sal’s life tilts for­ever when her hus­band, the town’s some­what surly and slovenly doc­tor, dies at his desk.

The scene in which Sal and fel­low re­cep­tion­ist at the prac­tice, Tippi Had­dem ( McLynn, whose Ir­ish ac­cent is all that re­mains of the id­iot house­keeper she played in Fa­ther Ted ), un­cover this fact as they play a drunken prac­ti­cal joke on him with a pros­thetic arm, is a corker.

Typ­i­cal Saun­ders, in fact, mix­ing pathos and farce with be­wil­der­ing fa­cil­ity, a skill she gave a thor­ough work­out in Ab­so­lutely Fab­u­lous .

Jam and Jerusalem doesn’t match that stan­dard, but few se­ries do. What it does have, how­ever, that Ab Fab lacks, is a star turn by French as Rosie. It’s a dan­ger­ous move to play a comic char­ac­ter with men­tal ill­ness, but French has al­ways thrived on dan­ger, and her Rosie is a tri­umph, hi­lar­i­ous with­out be­ing de­mean­ing, and al­ways with that lit­tle Saun­ders touch of pathos.

Lum­ley is un­recog­nis­able as Delilah Stagg, and Saun­ders plays the type of huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ up­per­class twit she can do in her sleep, hav­ing but a few lines in each episode, but all of them mem­o­rable.

Tonight’s, for in­stance, con­cerns her son’s rock ( not pop, she cor­rects her friend) band’s suc­cess, which led to a week­end at Madonna’s, where all went well un­til Sting pulled out his lute.

It was a cun­ning move by the ABC to sched­ule the de­but of Jam and Jerusalem dur­ing the post- Christ­mas week, usu­ally a pe­riod when the television set is best left off; its wry sur­re­al­ism and hu­mane char­ac­ters will come as blessed re­lief from the tripe served up else­where.

Stel­lar line- up: Jen­nifer Saun­ders’s wry wit en­livens Jam and Jerusalem

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