Thursday 23 March 2017

Can't Cope review: The same big flaws we’ve seen in countless previous RTE misfires

Pat Stacey

Nika McGuigan and Seana Kerslake in Can't Cope Won't Cope. Pic: RTE
Nika McGuigan and Seana Kerslake in Can't Cope Won't Cope. Pic: RTE
Nika McGuigan and Seana Kerslake in Can't Cope Won't Cope. Pic: RTE

Sorry, I’m just not feeling it. I’ve given it the old college try — six times, in fact — but it’s simply not there. The love for Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, I mean.

There’s quite a bit of love around already, mind you, for Stefanie Preissner’s six-part comedy-drama, which wound down on RTE2 on Monday, and a fair amount of it seems to be emanating from The Irish Times.

Before the finale, Kevin Courtney, who I don’t think I’ve ever met (although I’m sure we have a number of mutual friends), but whose stuff I’ve always enjoyed reading, described it as “a very watchable drama with moments of pure comedy”.

Was I looking at the same series as Kevin, I wonder?

(L to R) Seana Kerslake and Nika McGuigan in RTE Two dramedy Can't Cope Won't Cope
(L to R) Seana Kerslake and Nika McGuigan in RTE Two dramedy Can't Cope Won't Cope

Writing in the same newspaper after the event, Niamh Towey hailed it as “one of RTE2’s finest moments” (we can only speculate what the less than fine moments were), adding: “A series so well written and at times so convincing that it was hard to watch.”

I’d agree with one part of that comment: I found Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope hard to watch too — but for radically different reasons.

RTE has developed a slightly sinister little trait of late. Whenever a critic who’s not in his or her 20s negatively reviews a series featuring characters in their 20s, the standard response is, “Oh, but you’re not the target audience.”

This is cynical crap, the chancer’s get-out clause, as smug, self-serving, arrogant, disingenuous and patently stupid as it is patronising and insulting.

Nika McGuigan and Seana Kerslake in Can't Cope Won't Cope. Pic: RTE
Nika McGuigan and Seana Kerslake in Can't Cope Won't Cope. Pic: RTE

I doubt I was the target audience of Freaks & Geeks, The Inbetweeners, Misfits, Being Human, The Fades, In the Flesh or Fleabag either, yet I consider all of them first-rate television series.

Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope had two things in its favour: young leads Seána Kerslake and Nika McGuigan as, respectively, Aisling and Danielle, who have a seemingly irreparable falling-out when Aisling’s behaviour drives a wedge between them.

In the charismatic Kerslake, who’s drawn deservedly rave reviews for her performance in director Darren Thornton’s excellent debut feature A Date for Mad Mary, a star is born. But in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, she’s a born star who’s starring as a bore.

There was a moment in Monday night’s final episode when an exasperated garda tells Aisling, “It would appear you are a remarkably juvenile 26-year-old.” The line perfectly sums up the character.

Seana Kerslake and Amy Huberman in Can't Cope Won't Cope
Seana Kerslake and Amy Huberman in Can't Cope Won't Cope

She’s a permanently infantilised, terminally needy overgrown child. The living, breathing, binge-drinking, self-pitying poster girl for Generation Entitlement.

She never takes responsibility for her actions; everything bad that happens is someone else’s fault, never her own.

And yet, in the last scene of the finale, when Danielle finally abandons Aisling during another booze-fuelled night in Copper Face Jack’s, we’re supposed to feel a bit sorry for her.

You don’t have to particularly like a character to find them compelling. Some of the most popular characters in television history — from panto villain JR Ewing in Dallas and the Underwoods in House of Cards, to Don Draper in Mad Men and Tony Soprano in The Sopranos — have been absolute shitheels.

(L to R) Seana Kerslake and Nika McGuigan in RTE Two dramedy Can't Cope Won't Cope
(L to R) Seana Kerslake and Nika McGuigan in RTE Two dramedy Can't Cope Won't Cope

Aisling, on the other hand, is just tiresome and charmless. If she were real, you’d avoid her like the plague. Not that anything about Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope felt remotely real.

The big flaws here were the same big flaws we’ve seen in countless RTE misfires over the years: half-baked characters, poor pacing, a script that read like a rough first draft and a wildly inconsistent tone.

We’re supposed to believe an idiot like Aisling can hold down a job as a fund adviser who handles clients with multimillion euro contracts, even while turning up for work most mornings semi-drunk and stinking of booze. In what world?

The late transformation of art student Danielle into a disapproving moral conscience was equally unconvincing, since she’d spent most of the series behaving much the same way as Aisling.

The other characters — the boyfriends, Aisling’s indulgent boss (played by a hammy Amy Humberman) and comedy parents, and that irritating woman who bounced on her chair all the time (what was that all about?) — were barely sketched in.

Whether you’re in your 20s or your 50s, life really is too short to waste on this stuff.

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