DAVID BIANCULLI

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'Last Tango In Halifax': PBS Import is Great New Family Drama
September 6, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 2 comments
 

Here's a new love story about older folks: two widowers, both grandparents, get a second chance when they find each other again, after 60 years, on Facebook.

If you're thinking that sounds sweet but lightweight – little more than a pastry puff for Grandma when she can’t find reruns of Murder She Wrote – don't make the mistake. (And American viewers should mind that this is set in Halifax, West Yorkshire in the UK, not Nova Scotia). Premiering Sunday night, Sept. 8, at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings), Last Tango in Halifax is one of the best family dramas to come along since last year's imported arrival of Call The Midwife. And this new two-time BAFTA winner might well wind up as one of this year's top shows.

That surprise status is due to a charming and brilliant screenplay by Sally Wainwright who has an uncanny knack for storytelling, planting family secrets and embarrassments at the most exquisite turns. While the first hour is slow to launch, that’s the only knock against the six-episode series, with the rest moving well, and sometimes with a riotous tone. I think I actually snorted tea through my nose at the closing line of episode one, it was such a surprise.

The leads here are main characters Alan Buttershaw (Derek Jacobi) and Celia Dawson (Anne Reid) who rekindle a romance that had barely begun as teenagers when they got star-crossed, separated, and settled into adulthood and marriages. (How they lost each other as kids is a surprise plot line, propelling the series along).

Last Tango begins with Alan and Celia living with their adult daughters, each having moved in after their spouse passed away. Celia's daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) is a sometimes dismissive, yet very vulnerable head of a high school. Gillian (Nicola Walker), Alan's daughter, has a small farm in the country, but has to clerk in a local pharmacy to make ends meet.

Lancashire and Walker (left) are often the worthy stars of the series, as they juggle family battles and troubled pasts, including some cloudy circumstances around the death of Gillian's husband ten years before. The pleasing contrast here is that it's the old folks, full with the wisdom of a whole life behind them, who can love wholly and freely – and quickly – while the children are often stuck in their own fears and self-absorption.

Jacobi is a 50-year stage and screen veteran, having played everything from Hamlet to Hitler. A television career highlight was his run as Brother Cadfael, the medieval monk and sleuth in the Cadfael mysteries from the mid-90s.

If there is one, great, benefit to Last Tango, and British comedies like it, is the whip-smart timing, and matter-of-fact sarcasm -- barb-like shots meant to stab, but never meant to kill.

Season Two of Last Tango reportedly started this summer, so fortunately, there will be more of the Buttershaws and Dawsons to come. And though their tongues are sharp, they also revel in the best part of being human – their hearts.
 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Angela
Both my mother and I are enjoying this show a lot. I miss having more of these kinds of TV shows to watch.

I'm a fan of dark shows, (all though I could do without the graphic violence) but it's very nice to have a family drama to watch for a change.

Last Tango in Halifax is everything you said it would be.
Thank you for the recommendation. I'd be lost without TV Worth Watching to guide me to these hidden gems.
Sep 14, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
Angela - Very happy to hear that you enjoyed. –EG
Sep 16, 2013
 
 
 
Noel
So glad you wrote about this -- and so nicely. I would almost certainly have missed the debut, or caught only the last few minutes while waiting for "Silk" to begin. Thanks.
Sep 9, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
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