TV: Trouble in ‘The Paradise’: A Complaint

As a rule, give me a period drama and you make me a happy woman. A period drama with a charming, handsome love interest? Well, of course – bonus. Add into the mix a loveable urchin? Extra points for cuteness. A period drama with a charming, handsome love interest and a cute loveable urchin, which happens to be all about SHOPPING? I’m smitten before the first episode of BBC One’s The ParadiseΒ has started.Except now I’ve seen four episodes I’m decidedly un-smitten. In short, our heroine’s too good, our hero too bad. Now, I haven’t yet watched this week’s instalment so forgive me if something dramatic and unexpected has happened to render all this complaining total codswallop (I’m not actually sure how to spell that word but I’ve always wanted to use it…). However, from what I have seen from four episodes, Denise (Joanna Vanderham) is too perfect for me to identify with. The girl does nothing wrong! She is pretty, kind, intelligent, articulate but most of all, really a bit of a suck-up. Not to mention she has the kind of perfect blonde hair which my locks will sadly never resemble. A teacher’s pet and angel all rolled into one. Even when someone does criticise her, she is usually forgiven within half an episode.

Emun Elliott’s Moray, on the other hand is handsome, charming, flattering… Yet he is also shown to be motivated most strongly by money and publicity, and that is not a popular trait in the current climate, whether the show’s set over a century ago or not. I’m sure the show’s writers believe they are making him complex and enigmatic, with his outward attractions, tangled love life, tragically dead wife and dubious morals. Yet whilst he does not seem a particularly ‘good guy’, he is neither exciting nor dangerous enough to occupy the seductive ‘bad boy’ persona either – really he’s just rather irritating. Even more irritatingly, he is slowly making the irritatingly perfect Denise fall in love with him. The show is clearly building up to this irritating romance, but quite honestly the only thing they appear to have in common so far is some sparklingly good sales patter.

There are some solid supporting characters, I will admit. Sam, Pauline, Miss Audrey, Arthur the loveable urchin and even that good looking friend of Mr Moray’s who’s too dull to have a memorable name all fill their roles as sidekicks and figures of comic value satisfactorily. Yet so far even their storylines are a tad predictable. Elaine Cassidy as Katherine Glendenning, chief rival for Moray’s affections, is actually fairly sympathetic when she’s not being mopey or flirtatious (which isn’t actually that often now I think about it….). Moray appears so heartless towards her that she attracts pity rather than any ill-humour for de-smoothing the course of true love.

Of course, it’s not that I require or even prefer characters to fit into a stereotype, and it would be brilliant to see a period drama avoiding what is automatically expected from the genre – if it was done well. Sadly The Paradise, in attempting to create layered and interesting characters to keep you guessing, has simply made its cast of shop workers rather drearily unsatisfying. They neither fit a formula that works, nor do they possess the bright flame of originality.

A BBC period drama set in a department store: it really should be my favourite thing ever. For a show that highlights the tricks of enticing women through the means of thrilling, exquisite, can’t-live-without-them products, this show rather underwhelmingly fails to use these very mantras to its advantage. Instead it simply leaves me feeling rather flat, and all I can hope for is that the scriptwriters pull something out of the bag pretty sharpish.

(And yes, I know I can switch off if I don’t like it. But of course I am still watching, because in this case, I really do want to be proved wrong….)

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