I managed the best part of five episodes of ITV's new drama Finding Alice, which started this week, before giving up, defeated. I really, really wanted to love this show, because on the face of things, it has a good deal going for it. Wonderful actors, experienced writers, big investment in the production. And there are some great lines, as well as some fine performances.
But in the end, the fundamentally unsatisfactory nature of Finding Alice wore me down. It's one of those six-parters that would be much better as a three- or four-parter. Or perhaps a two-parter, so voluminous is the padding. But it's commonplace at present for shows to be expanded beyond their natural length, for commercial reasons. The real problem with Finding Alice is that it's caught in several minds about what it wants to be.
The premise is that Alice (Keeley Hawes) and her daughter (Isabella Pappas, who is excellent) are just moving in to a new smart house designed by her roguish partner Harry when he falls down the stairs and dies. There seems at first to be some mystery about his death - a visitor came to the house at the time of the tragedy. But this isn't a murder story. The focus is on Alice's experience of bereavement, and the way she copes with a whole host of secrets from Harry's past, as well as his parents (Kenneth Cranham and Gemma Jones - both superb) and her own (Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley - terrific). Lumley gets many of the funniest lines, although as the episodes go on, her character becomes increasingly a caricature.
The writers are Simon Nye (most famous for Men Behaving Badly) and another very capable scriptwriter, Roger Goldby. As far as I can tell, they wanted to focus on a woman's difficulties in experiencing the loss of a loved one, but were also keen to throw in elements of both farce and practical reality. So we get various farcical situations, not least those involving burying Harry in the garden, but also a lot of stuff about tax, selling the house, and various property development shenanigans.
I found the business stuff hopelessly unconvincing, I'm afraid. Alice's dad is a solicitor, admittedly not a genius, but surely even he would wonder whether as a dependent, even in the absence of a will, she'd have a potential claim under the Inheritance Act? And the tax talk made little sense. The same with the property discussions. Such clunkiness wouldn't matter too much if these things weren't dealt with at such length and so repetitively.
One ensemble business discussion came over as a feeble echo of similar scenes in the third, and least satisfactory, Reginald Perrin series. (Simon Nye, perhaps significantly, wrote the remake of Reginald Perrin, and one can see the influence of David Nobbs here.) Alas, the tone of the story wobbles badly in each episode, and even Keeley Hawes at her most hard-working can't quite redeem it. There's a feelgood story in there, straining to get out. But - for me - it gets swamped in the silliness.