When it comes to great TV dramas you need look no further than whatever’s playing on BBC. This year alone has seen some fine family dramas: the turbulent The Split, Eccelston starring Come Home, and Agatha Christie adaptation Ordeal by Innocence to begin with. Then comes Age Before Beauty, written by Poldark screenwriter Debbie Horsfield and set to follow the dysfunctional Regan family who juggles running a beauty salon with dealing with one mans plot to tear the marriage of Wesley (James Murray) and Bel (Polly Walker) Regan apart and to take her for his own. Sounds promising, right?
Right. And episode one started off so well in delivering on that; you’re introduced to the larger than life characters of the Regan family including the ditzy and dark sisters Heidi (Victoria Myers) and Tina (Lisa Reiley) respectively as well as the fourth sister, the irritatingly shallow Leanne (Kelly Harrison) and her wealthy but dull accountant husband, Teddy, (Robson Green). These characters are ones who could only ever exist in a TV drama, and the plot is the same, which is fine and, frankly, entertaining.
But it all starts heading downhill after the episode’s final moments when it is revealed that it is Teddy who’s been pulling all the strings to nudge Wes into having an affair with the lovely Lorelei (Madeline Mantock); these strings consist of a surprise son (Amir El-Masry) desperate enough to gain his new-found father’s love that he’ll find a cute girl to pimp out, even paying Wes to fit out a new kitchen for Lorelei so that they’ll spend time together and, obviously, then fall in love. Thus begins the most convoluted and coincidence-relying narrative to ever befall the BBC.
With every episode, the story becomes more and more unbelievable, twisting itself up until it is barely recognisable as a family drama. Characters make decisions that are devoid of any real motivations or logic; when footballer Leon asks Heidi if her child, Disney, is his she tells him no, despite the fact she’s cried numerous times over the fact he didn’t recognise them before. What’s more is that every character seems to hate everybody else and barely a handful are given redeeming qualities. Leanne is a perfect example for this; her narcissism leaves her thinking that without her the salon would collapse and constantly berates her family for not taking her seriously, but when she sits down to come up with a business plan we see her notebook full of childish-doodles, a ‘LEANNE’ in big pink hearts. Yet we’re still meant to take her seriously?
What makes this even more disappointing is that the performances all round are brilliant; Walker’s angered confusion at having her world shattered by a man she “thought she knew” is compelling and Mantock’s depiction of Loreli as a woman truly in love despite her better judgment is such an honest one and one that is sure to keep her in the public eye. The show has an all-round stellar cast and they do a great job for what’s given to them; clunky and clichéd dialogue doesn’t sound quite as bad when spoken by Walker and Murray. Still, it’s such a missed opportunity and such a shame to see a wonderful cast, in the words of Lexie and Tyler Regan, “get shafted”.
Speaking to TV Times about the series finale and a potential second series Walker said: “It has a very unconventional ending…Trust me, you won’t guess it! I’d be up for doing another series. There’s potential for things to go all over the place!” However, this isn’t shocking to anyone who has followed the show; the news that an unpredictable and knotty story will end unpredictably with a knotty second series will be met with rolling-eyes not surprise.
Age Before Beauty is ridiculous, with a baffling narrative, thoroughly detestable characters, and melodrama coursing through every scene. However, when you’re sitting down for a night with the Regans, you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for and, admittedly, there’s a lot of fun to be found shouting at fictional characters via your TV screen. Which is probably why we all kept going, despite our better judgment.