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Before it first premiered, Coupling was seen as the British version of Friends.  It quickly became apparent that this preconception was entirely wrong. The only real connection to the American sitcom was that each had a cast of three males and three females. Beyond that, they two really couldn't be less alike, and both succeed in their own way with what they try to accomplish. Warner Brothers has released the fourth season of the BBC hit on a two-disc set, and the laughs come fast and furious.

The Series
Five of the six players from season three return to season four, with only the character of Jeff having moved on. He is referred to throughout the season and even makes an appearance in the final episode of the season (although not in a way people might expect). As we begin season four, Steve and Sally are planning the birth of their baby-a plot thread that will run the entire season and culminate in the birth in the sixth and final episode of the season. Patrick and Susan have begun a relationship, but it soon becomes apparent that their individual concepts of what a relationship means is vastly different. Finally, Jane has decided to try and go through a video dating service to meet someone. Into the series comes Oliver, the owner of a science fiction book store. At times geeky, at other times clumsy, still other times neurotic, he is always funny.

As mentioned, there are six episodes in season four. The first introduces Oliver, and relates the same nine and a half minutes from three different perspectives (each of the three couples). A standout episode beautifully written and acted by the entire cast. Other episodes in the series deal with a seemingly unending late night phone call, whether or not Susan should use pain relief during her delivery, the inability of Patrick to ever sleep is in his own bed again, exactly what is inside Oliver's flat, and finally, the birth of Steve's and Susan's baby.

Coupling: The Complete Fourth Season
British series’ tend to run much shorter seasons than their American cousins, and there is both an upside and a downside to this. The upside, at least with this series, is that virtually every line, every scene and every gag is a gem. There is consistent high quality throughout every single episode. There are no filler stories here, everything done is right on target and serves the greater storyline purpose. Things that occurred in previous seasons come back to haunt the characters later (such as when a guest from a dreadful dinner party early in the series makes a reappearance). The downside is, of course, that since the stories and acting are so good, it leaves one wanting much more.

One other big difference is that the British viewer is accustomed to much more explicit sexual dialogue and situations. There is much here that would never make it past the censors in the United States. Thankfully, American censors don't have any power over the DVD release, and Coupling is here in all it's unadulterated sexual glory.

Steven Moffat writes (and has written) every single episode of the series. He gives us very tightly constructed stories that use insinuation and double meanings to their utmost and does not go for any physical gags, for the most part leaving the audience to fill in the punchlines. In his own words, "comedy works best when it involves self-realization.” that is, at the point when the viewer finally realizes what is meant by a certain line or double entendre.

Coupling: The Complete Fourth Season
This is the fourth series for five of the six actors, and they obviously are quite comfortable in their characters. Jack Davenport and Sarah Alexander are just tremendous in their relationship of Steve and Susan. In addition, the pairing of Kate Isitt and Ben Miles as Patrick and Sally provides many laugh-out-loud moments. Gina Bellman continues her slightly sexually ambiguous portrayal of Jane and Richard Mylan quickly wins you over as the newcomer Oliver. The only slight disappointment I found was in a scene where Oliver and Jane meet in a supermarket. If I didn't know better, I could swear that Mylan was channeling the character of David Brent from The Office. It was so apparent to me that it was the first thing on my mind, which is a shame, because Mylan does an outstanding job the remainder of the series.

Video
The series is shot on film and the presentation here is a 16:9 video dub, something rather unusual but most welcome for a sitcom. Normally we would get the standard 4:3 ratio, but here we are given the enhanced 16:9 making full use of the large screen. Being shot on film, as most sitcoms now are, we do not have the grainy presentation like one would with a transfer from video tape. Rather, the video quality is great, with deep palettes and a very clean print. A nice job here.

Coupling: The Complete Fourth Season
Audio
Not much here, but what we have is done well. With only a Stereo 2.0 audio track, it really is all the material needs to succeed. As with most shows of the genre, the audio track really needs only present the dialogue clearly and crisply to do justice to the product, and it does that just fine. There is no need for anything more than 2.0 track here. Dialogue is always very audible, the music over the opening and ending credits is not overpowering but and comes across just fine.

Extras
There are a healthy supply of extras for this season (as compared to the others), including a very interesting 45 minute feature on the process of making a complete episode, from script, to rehearsal, to screen. Moffat and the producer, Sue Vertue, are husband and wife, and since Moffat writes every episode, Virtue is the first to read a script from start to finish. She makes marks on the script at points where she laughed, for reference later if needed. A read through is done next, followed by the blocking of the script, which is the process of setting the actors in the correct place on the set, when they should move and to what marks, etc. This is done quite differently in British sitcoms than it is in America. Since British series only run six to eight episodes, often a scene must be rehearsed and blocked before the set is even up. As American sitcoms are normally twenty to twenty-two episodes, blocking and rehearsal can be done right on the set as they are up much longer. Coupling uses a rehearsal room to do all of their blocking and read throughs, with only minor tweaking done on the physical set itself.

The action then turns to the set and the actual filming of the show. It was interesting how most of the episodes are shot without a dress rehearsal, as much of the other pre-filming routines take longer than expected, and the time is taken from any reserved for a dress rehearsal. The process of the actual filming is interesting as well, as the producer and director relate how they often have to run through a scene several times, and by the time the final scene comes along and is filmed correctly the comedic aspect has been lost, so they will have to edit together a laugh from a previous take with the film from a later. On the opposite side, sometimes a laugh will go on too long for the show, and the editors will have to edit a shorter laugh from a later take with the first scene. For anyone interested in the "behind the scenes" material on shows, this certainly doesn't disappoint.

Coupling: The Complete Fourth Season
Other supplemental material include about eight minutes of deleted scenes, which don't add much and are clear as to why they were cut. In some instances, it is clear that the deleted scene was reworked into something that did make the final cut. There is approximately the same length of clips as there are outtakes, although some of the scenes appear in both sections. These are mostly your standard forgotten lines, flubs, and other various and sundry mistakes. I'm a sucker for bloopers, and most of these are pretty funny.

The final section in the supplemental material is the cast and crew bios. As opposed to some I have seen, these are much more thorough and complete. They offer not only what an actor's other roles have been, but also include what American audiences may recognize the actor from (for instance, did you know that Gina Bellman, "Jane", actually appeared as an extra in a bar in an episode of the dreadfully awful and thankfully short-lived American adaptation of Coupling?). In addition, it gives a background into not only the actor’s screen roles, but also their personal life as well. Very informative.

Coupling: The Complete Fourth Season
Overall
As mentioned, anyone going into this series thinking it is a British Friends will be disappointed it is not, but hopefully will enjoy the series for what it is - an expertly written and acted extremely funny and at time poignant look at relationships through a sexual prism. No, it's not Friends. It doesn't try to be, and the viewers are much better off because of it.


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