‘Stephen and Mia’ was an utterly misleading title for this episode of Dates, as Ben Chaplin returned as the shady Stephen but Oona Chaplin did not appear in person at all – she was merely heard on the phone for no longer than a minute.
The reason we heard Mia’s voice was because she called Stephen to tell him that she had ‘met someone’ and therefore wouldn’t be coming on a second date with him. So, feeling stood-up and humiliated, Stephen decided to mingle with a conference group and take advantage of the free champagne on offer. To do this, he posed as the apparently high-profile Matthew Binney and, after an initial tiff, managed to woo Heidi Greenholm (Sian Breckin), with whom he swiftly moved to a more dimly-lit and discreet part of the bar, complete with a pool.
After talking about themselves, “Matthew” and the married Heidi went from a swim – and I got the impression that trouble was brewing from the moment that they bombed in together.
Sadly, however, I was wrong as, after the pair kissed and cuddled, the episode ended on a whimper, with Heidi finding out that “Matthew” was in fact Stephen, miraculously managing to get dry, despite their appearing to be no towels to hand, and slapped him.
‘IT THREATENED BOREDOM’
I have reviewed every episode of Dates and, while I have favourites, I have said that they have all been to a brilliant standard and were thoroughly enjoyable to watch. In fact, last night I wrote of the sixth episode, ‘What else could I have been expecting but another brilliant episode of Dates.’ That was of course before I watched tonight’s instalment, which was such a slow-burner that it threatened boredom.
This episode simply didn’t hook and engage me like the others have, which is a shame as I was really looking forward to it, following the conclusion of last Wednesday’s episode (which saw Mia and her first date, David, be passionately reunited). I was anxious to discover how Mia would break the news to Stephen – or whether she would just carry on dating him while also secretly sleeping with David. We got no drama, though, and we got no huge revelation. What we did get, on the other hand, was a meagre 38 second phone conversation (yes, I timed it) which seemed like an eleventh hour brainwave on the writer’s part to keep Mia out of the picture and introduce a new character.
Surely it would have been better to have had Mia meet Stephen and be totally unapologetic about her returning to David, therefore exposing her callousness (a trait of hers, the extent of which was intriguing to see) and perhaps showing a more vulnerable side to the normally hardheaded Stephen.
Furthermore, I know I would have preferred to have seen Stephen’s identity be revealed by the real Matthew Binney arriving. Granted, that’s a situation which has been written many times and is perhaps more at home in the land of sitcom but it would have been a damn sight better than what we were given.
THE PITFALLS OF WRITING
I don’t like writing critical reviews. That’s why I prefer to call myself ‘a reviewer’, rather than ‘a critic’, as I think the latter has negative connotations, as if the person it describes watches TV and sets out to only find faults, rather than celebrate its achievements. And that’s exactly what I’ve done with Dates so far: celebrate its achievements. I just can’t help expressing my disappointment with this episode, though.
I know that scriptwriting can be hard. I began a script over two weeks ago, have written around 14 minutes of material and am dreading going back to it as I’m not sure if it’s funny enough, dramatic enough, authentic enough, engaging enough… What is often underestimated is the difficulty of writing – you must constantly have the interests of your plots, subplots, characters and – perhaps most importantly – audience on your mind, and are therefore highly likely to churn out the odd dud episode every now and again. It can happen to even the best writers – I can name episodes of Father Ted, The Royle Family, One Foot in the Grave and even Only Fools and Horses which don’t quite meet the standard to which we as viewers have become accustomed. However, I can’t even use this as an excuse for my disappointment as each episode of Dates has had a different writer, so Bryan Elsley has only had to pen two of the seven episodes so far. I just couldn’t believe that he was responsible for this episode, as in Dates he has created an otherwise fantastic series.
I understood the purpose of the other episodes – they had great conclusions, be they cliffhangers or the beginning or end of a relationship. ‘Stephen and Mia’, though? It slightly baffled me and, for the first time, it crossed my mind to switch over to Big Brother.
I’m looking forward to seeing Sheridan Smith return as Jenny next week, though. Hopefully Nancy Harris’s script will get the series back on track.
Dates will be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:00pm on Channel 4
What did you think of Dates? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.
You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.