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This Life (1996-97)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of This Life (1996-97)
World Productions for BBC, 18/3/1996-7/8/1997
32 x 50 min in 2 series, colour
Directors includeSallie Aprahamian
 Morag Fullerton
ProducerJane Fallon
Writers includeAmy Jenkins
 Richard Zajdlic

Cast: Miles (Jack Davenport); Milly (Amita Dhiri); Warren (Jason Hughes); Egg (Andrew Lincoln); Anna (Daniela Nardini); Ferdy (Ramon Tikaram)

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A group of five aspiring lawyers share a house in London.

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When This Life was first broadcast on BBC 2 in 1996, critics balked at its depiction of the casual sex, casual drugs and binge-drinking that made up the lives of a group of young lawyers sharing a South London house. They called it self-indulgent, verging on pointlessness and marred by flashy shaky camera work. The Daily Mirror complained, "The show looks as if the cameraman suffers from the shakes or has watched too many episodes of Hill Street Blues and E.R."

But critics can be wrong, and the notoriously hard-to-please twentysomething audience was soon hooked. "It's quite an interesting age group because it's very disillusioned," said producer Jane Fallon. "These are people whose parents were around in the '60s and were optimistic, yet who spawned a generation of people who are quite cynical and finding it difficult to make their way in the world."

This Life follows a group of graduates as they struggle to climb the ladder in the legal profession while juggling a complex sex and social life. Miles, is arrogant, obnoxious and a little too pleased with his good looks; Anna is a hard-smoking, hard-drinking, independent loudmouth; Warren is a gay solicitor with an addiction to therapy and an inability to find love; and Milly and Egg appear the perfect couple ("Do you think there's something wrong with us," quips Milly. "Eternally monogamous. Abnormal freaks.")

On the face of it, This Life was a very cynical look at these young people's lives in a post-modern world where success and happiness seem ever more elusive. However, underpinning this cynicism is a continuing sense of hope, which fuels the characters' actions and gives them the strength to overcome obstacles. It's a cunning mix of melodrama, comedy and style, with smart dialogue that comes thick, fast and crude:

Egg: How was your day at work?
Milly: Fine. Up to my neck in sperm samples.
Warren: Some people have all the luck.

By the end of series two, This Life was a genuine cult show. However, the filmmakers resisted the temptation to produce endless episodes, and ended the programme at its peak. Fresh, funny and frank - with an unusually ambivalent portrayal of drug use and perhaps the most explicit gay sex then seen on British television - This Life set a standard and style that was much copied but never bettered.

Paul Clarke

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Video Clips
1. Jerry and Anna (3:19)
2. Anna's mess (2:17)
3. A gesture of commitment (1:47)
4. Avoiding Jerry (1:58)
Complete episode: 'Let's Get it On' (37:56)
Production stills
BBC2 (1964-)
Legal Drama