Emine Saner There was no mindblowing climax to this examination of sex and marriage, but it came to a satisfying conclusion ★★★ ☆☆
‘We were out of scourers,” says Alan to his lover turned partner Claire – the woman for whom he has left his wife, Joy, the inevitable consequence of the open relationship Joy encouraged in the first place. And, just like that, the shine on their sexy new relationship has gone. A Brillo pad will do that. “Alan, what the fuck?” says Claire, appalled at how he has tidied up her studenty flat with its cigarette ends and used teabags on the side. Teacher Alan (Steven Macintosh) – remember from last week? – is the man who alphabetised his VHS collection, and now he is missing running the vacuum under his kids’ legs and doing companionable washing-up with his therapist wife (Toni Collette). He and Claire (Zawe Ashton) were never going to work – she doesn’t even own an iron.
Wanderlust, a six-part examination of middle-aged marriage and sex, came to a satisfying conclusion, if not exactly a mindblowing climax. What a strange series it has been. On the one hand, the slow-burn pace has felt novel when every other drama is fast and whizzy; on the other, it has sometimes been a bit boring. It feels like an elaborate test of modern attention spans.
Nick Payne’s script – adapted from his play – is often beautiful, and naturalistic, with all its “ums” and “ers” and repetition and pauses in the dialogue. But it can also be too theatrical. “Obviously, I’m in love with you too,” says Claire to Alan, haltingly and exaggerated, “but I’m not sure I know how to do this at the expense of someone else. To me, that doesn’t really feel like love.” People don’t really speak like that, do they? At least, not the people you would want to know in real life. Alan’s response is to recount a dream in which his electric toothbrush had “tiny little hands”, proving that the only thing more tiresome than hearing about other people’s dreams is having to hear about them from a TV character. “Maybe you should see a therapist,” deadpans Claire. The humour has always been the best thing about this show.
It veers from the tediously dramatic – Joy is literally floored by the poignant discovery of her estranged husband’s cufflink in the washing machine – to the mundane. In a drama with pretensions, even the dull bits make you feel as though you are supposed to be seeing profound truths in them. Is it a metaphor for the disconnect in their relationship when the man in Joy’s couples’ counselling session goes on about his drafty sash windows, or is he just a berk? Does Alan’s concern about the boiler and the radiator in the hallway, in a phone call to Joy, signify the enduring warmth between the central couple, or is he genuinely concerned about the heating needs of their unfeasibly large and beautifully decorated house? Is Payne unreasonably preoccupied with home maintenance?
Anyway, the plot is nicely tied up – Alan moves in with Claire, then moves out (he gets to keep the new iron); Joy makes a move on her ex Lawrence, but is rebuffed (he gets to keep his wife); she meets Emily, the widow of one of her clients who killed himself, and that goes well; then she gets back on her bike – literally and, this being Wanderlust, metaphorically – and cycles the route of her accident from the first episode. There is a lot of past being laid to rest. The children’s love lives are all going well, in contrast to the mess their parents have made. But look, Alan and Joy still love each other, so he comes home with a dramatic sigh of relief – he even finds his missing poignant cufflink. Even Joy’s lover Marc-witha-C seems to be getting it on with Claire, so everything is neatly tied up.
Despite it being so mannered and testing of my patience, I have enjoyed Wanderlust. The cast is terrific, it has a wonderful soundtrack and it tackled the themes of loss – of youth, desire, loved ones, opportunities – and what we want from life in a serious, if self-conscious, way. An overwhelming and unashamedly tender feel made up for the staginess. Like most things, I suppose, it helped if you were in the mood for it.
Even the dull bits make you feel as though you are supposed to see profound truths