As we all know, romantic tales generally end with the wedding. And, as we all know equally well – or at least those who are married do – there are reasons for that. Dylan Moran’s new creation, Stuck (BBC Two), deftly illustrates them all in five short episodes (a quarter of an hour or so each) about the daily lives of Dan (Moran) and Carla (Morgana Robinson).
They are not technically married but have been together long enough to amount to the same thing. He is decidedly middle-aged (“Oh my God!” Carla gasps at one point as she grabs his head. “I’m holding something that was alive in the 70s. Were there dragons?” and his moobs are a matter of horrified fascination to them both), she is – crucially – about a decade younger. She has a zest for life, partly down to age, partly down to temperament. She would like to move to a nicer place – he probably would too, but the flat’s worth nothing – and maybe have a baby, or at least a cat, and is doing well at work. He, by the end of the first outing, has been fired from his job at an ad agency where he appears to have been so dissatisfied that this does not come as a surprise to anyone. “Don’t worry,” he tells her when he breaks the news. “You’ll take care of us.”
It doesn’t have the antic edge or the surreal element of Black Books, but in many ways it is vintage Moran. Dan and Carla’s relationship harks back to the one between Moran and the late, great Charlotte Coleman in their pairing for Simon Nye’s sitcom How Do You Want Me? in the late 90s; curmudgeon Ian trying not to disappoint his ebullient partner Lisa too much, and her accepting him in the round and both of them getting a bit more out of life together than they would separately.
Stuck also has the weary realism of Moran’s standup rather than bookseller Bernard’s enraged eccentricity or Ian’s growing fear of Lisa’s borderline violent family. Such realism of course doesn’t mean it’s not piercingly acute and very, very funny – as anyone who has watched him “ramble” on stage knows.
Naturalistic dialogue is Moran’s forte and Dan and Carla’s rolling conversations unerringly capture the essence of their – of every – long-term relationship. Loving, casual, practical, daft by turns, dipping in and out of rudeness, taking refuge in and telling truths via jokes (“Yeah,” says Dan in answer to the dragon question, “Was tricky putting out the bins.”) – all of human life is here.
Very little happens, apart from everything, save maybe the episode in which Carla’s ex, Maya (Eleanor Fanyinka), gives her and Dan a spliff and they go shoplifting in “the magic forest”. It’s their term for the independent, massively expensive deli nearby (she goes in to hold jars of costly preserves to her face and croon and frankly, I have never felt so seen).
The highest-voltage moments are provided by Carla’s jittery boss Joy (Juliet Cowan), who has built a holistic wellness brand despite finding her lifestyle coach husband unbearable and being unable herself to meditate or relax in any way. “I just want to be left alone and smash my face into a plate of black forest gateau,” she hisses, and maybe it’s then that I’ve never felt so seen.
The surrounding tale, as Dan’s unemployment and Carla’s success continues and Maya returns to the latter’s life, is of the toll unfair labour-sharing can take on a relationship. It speaks of the constant navigating that must go on between all but the very luckiest of soulmates, how you can grow apart (for a while?) and together again (for a while?), the temptations we face, the weaknesses we have and how much life is made up of compromises rather than dramatic moments or striking out for the hills. And how difficult it is to get pills out of a doctor, even if he is an old friend and willing enough to try to double your severance pay at the gaming tables after work.
If muted palettes aren’t your thing, you might not find much to get stuck into Stuck. But for those of us who love nothing more than comedy vignettes into which both the fleeting pleasures of life and its enduring melancholy have been distilled – well, you’re going to want to smash your face into it as if it were a plateful of deliciously moist cake.