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'The Trouble With Maggie Cole' Explores the Impact of Gossip on a Small Town
October 18, 2020  | By David Hinckley

The show is called The Trouble With Maggie Cole, and it's tempting to say the trouble is Maggie Cole.

That wouldn't be entirely fair since there are frequent sprinkles of charm in The Trouble With Maggie Cole, which launches Sunday at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings).

It's the latest Brit import with which Masterpiece is filling its fall schedule in these days of COVID.

Maggie Cole (Dawn French, top) is a gift shop owner and the self-designated historian of Thurlbury, a totally charming small town by England's Cornwall coast.

Outwardly it looks remarkably like Portwenn, the picturesque setting for Doc Martin. Nor is the character setup entirely dissimilar.

Like Portwenn, Thurlbury has a central area with charming little shops and restaurants. It has a lovely waterfront, and adorable homes line the winding, narrow, uphill streets that lead away from the water and up into the residential section.

It has a schoolhouse and a fistful of quirky characters, including Maggie.

The crucial difference is that where the Doc Martin characters can be exasperating in an amusing way, the Maggie Cole characters sometimes cross the line to annoying.

Or rather, Maggie herself sometimes crosses that line, and while French plays her nicely, Maggie can, at times, be tough to watch.

While friendly enough and not devious or conniving, Maggie is self-obsessed. When she's asked to do an interview on the local radio station about an upcoming anniversary for Thurlbury, she begins talking it up as if she'd been asked to take over the BBC.

She's a bit given to babbling anyway, and when the bored radio interviewer successfully gets Maggie tipsy, she spends the taping not talking about the glorious past of Thurlbury but spilling dirt on and making unkind remarks about a half dozen of her friends.

When the taping is done, she remembers none of what she said. So she blithely continues to promote the interview, meaning the whole town tunes in to hear Maggie breezily talk about affairs and loose morals and shady financial dealings, casually identifying all the perps by name.

After the airing, she manages to remain slightly annoying as she tries a brief bout of denial. But when her patient husband, Peter (Mark Heap), finds her crying in the bathroom, we know that she recognizes how badly she screwed up, and our wish is granted: She must spend enough time being contrite that she has less time to be annoying.

This setup takes the first episode. The next five will be devoted to the fallout, which doesn't all blow exactly where we think it might.

There is her best friend or maybe ex-best friend Jill (Julie Hesmondhalgh), who is in line to take over from Peter as the headmaster of the village school. There's Carol (Chetna Pandya), whose husband was one of Maggie's drunken targets. We walk alongside Maggie through the 2.0 version of these and other relationships.

No spoilers here, but as Maggie tries to figure out how she can make amends, she does learn a couple of things.  Like, for instance, the impact of a news report that is only half accurate.

The Trouble With Maggie Cole is billed as a dramedy, and as it moves along, it becomes that. The question for viewers is whether they want to stick around until it all becomes less uncomfortable.

For them as well as for Maggie Cole.

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