In March 2003 the best part of 10 million people tuned in to watch Adam, Pete, Jenny, David and Karen scatter Rachel’s ashes in Portmeirion before scattering themselves to TV history. After five series of Cold Feet, writer Mike Bullen had decided enough was enough. Having spent the best part of six years living with his characters, he wanted to end on a high rather than risk going a series too far. As if to underline there really was to be no going back, Bullen and his family upped sticks and emigrated to Australia on the day the final series started filming.
Over the years, the bosses at ITV would periodically check with Bullen to see if he had changed his mind but the answer was always the same: nothing doing. Until last year. So what changed his mind? Was he bullied into submission, offered irresistible sums of money or just fed up at having everything he had written subsequently being always compared to Cold Feet?
Bullen laughs down the phone from his home just north of Sydney. None of the above, he says. What changed was that I felt I had something new to say. The Cold Feet characters had always been at the same stage in life as me and I was consumed with the bringing up of the kids, and I had nothing to say about that. It was just hard work. What interests me are life’s tipping points.
In the first five series, the characters were trying to find their place in life. They were building careers, looking for partners and wondering whether to have kids. Once you’ve done all that, you’re basically stuck in the hard grind of making it all work. Then comes the moment that I’ve reached now, when your career is as sorted as it’s ever going to be, your kids are basically grown up and you’re faced with thinking what the hell you are going to do with the rest of your life. Without getting too existential-bollocks about it all, it’s that ‘What’s it all mean?’ moment.
Without getting too existential-bollocks about it all, it’s that ‘What’s it all mean?’ moment
So Adam, Pete, Jenny, David and Karen – I’m quite sentimental so I did also want to bring Rachel back as a physical presence in people’s memories, Bullen says. But Helen Baxendale wasn’t up for that. And I don’t blame her as she could only have been a bit part. – have returned to our screens 13 years older, if not necessarily any wiser. Relationship comedy drama thrives on exploiting the cracks in people’s lives, and it’s clear from the first episode, in which Adam came back from abroad with a much younger bride, that infidelity, divorce, redundancy and death won’t be far away. Anything to shake their worlds up.
What Bullen was insistent on, though, was that the same characters should remain in the spotlight. In the early drafts I found I was writing their children too far into the centre of the story, he says. Then I realised they were becoming a distraction and that the show was in danger of becoming another Outnumbered. The whole point about grown-up kids is that they have almost no interest in what their parents are doing, so I wanted their presence in the scripts to be mainly texture rather than structure.
In other words, pretty much business as usual. There’s always a danger in revisiting old friends – there’s often a very good reason why you haven’t seen someone for a while – and Bullen knows there will be some viewers who would rather their memories of Cold Feet had been left undisturbed and won’t be happy at the show resurfacing. But for most of us, there is a real excitement in hooking up with Adam and co after such a long absence. Partly because the shows were invariably well-written – the comedy often came with a real edge and even in its soppiest moments never lapsed into sentimental schlock – but mainly because the characters themselves were always such good company.
Adam was everyone’s favourite nightmare – great in small doses but a disaster to live with; Pete and Jenny were razor sharp, seldom giving an inch; while Karen and David were the forgivable face of mindless aspiration. Everyone of a certain age had friends like them. They were as recognisable to British audiences as the cast of Thirty Something were to Americans. So who could resist seeing the Thirty Somethings turn into every-bit-as-complicated Fifty Somethings? Theirs is the generation that was never going to go gently into late middle-age as their parents had done before them. Theirs was the generation that would go down kicking and screaming to the end, still wondering how to grow up even as they contemplate their own mortality. Bring it on. I could do with some answers.
For an in-depth look at this autumn’s must-see television, check out Watch, our one-off guide to the best new shows, exclusively with this Saturday’s Guardian.
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