The Couple Next Door starring Sam Heughan: Wife-swapping under the wisteria, a bifold doors bonkbuster

Aidan Smith's TV week: The Couple Next Door (C4), Doctor Who (BBC1), Obliterated (Netflix)
Eleanor Tomlinson, Jessica De Gouw and Sam Heughan in The Couple Next Door.Eleanor Tomlinson, Jessica De Gouw and Sam Heughan in The Couple Next Door.
Eleanor Tomlinson, Jessica De Gouw and Sam Heughan in The Couple Next Door.

It must be a moment riddled with anxiety. You pass the pampas grass on the front lawn swaying in a gentle but come-hither fashion. You step inside the house and see the bowl reserved not for fruit or potpourri or anything else that’s nice and conventional. And, dangling your keys over the sizable pile, you turn to your other half and gulp: “Darling, are we really doing this?”

Yes, first time at a swingers’ party surely prompts jitters. Of course, madam, you would know about that much better than me. For some, it would hardly be surprising if the awkwardness got too much. That they panicked, turned on their heels and ran. Well, those that lose their nerve shouldn’t beat themselves up. I’m watching The Couple Next Door and wondering if Channel 4 have done similar.

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Heavily trailed as a suburban sex odyssey - polyamory behind the privets, wife-swapping under the wisteria, a bifold doors bonkbuster - the drama can’t quite keep it up. It can’t just be about the two couples and what happens between them and between the sheets, as it would be if it was, say, Scandinavian. No, because it’s British there has to be a crime element. Armed hold-ups, even. Like there isn’t enough of that sort of thing on the box already. Like we need to be reassured by the sight of a policeman every five minutes.

David Tennant is back as Doctor WhoDavid Tennant is back as Doctor Who
David Tennant is back as Doctor Who

So the story so far: Danny (Sam Heughan from Outlander) who is a cop, on a bike, is married to Becka (Jessica De Gouw) and they’re first to welcome the newcomers to their Leeds ’burb - Pete (Alfred Enoch) and Evie (Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson). Pete struggles to budge a dishwasher from the back of the removal van and Danny simply picks it up and carries it into the house. Evie is impressed.

She’s even more impressed by the throbbing power he has between his legs. The bike, madam, the bike. Am I taking The Couple Next Door seriously enough? But how seriously is it taking the subject? Is it a provocative psycho-sexual exploration of desire, as gripping as The Affair?

Well, the scene by the bins would suggest not. Danny and Evie, nightclothes sticking to them in the lashing rain, cast smouldering looks at each other across the trim avenue until they can stand it no more and she leaps right at him for a passionate embrace in the manner of I’m a Celebrity’s Sam Thompson whenever a campmate is near.

I’m thinking: just as well this is Leeds and not Bristol, newly confirmed as the recycling capital of Britain where the houses have 13 different bins, otherwise these two would be grappling among the fish-heads and the cereal boxes every night.

Nick Zano and Shelley Hennig in Obliterated.Nick Zano and Shelley Hennig in Obliterated.
Nick Zano and Shelley Hennig in Obliterated.

Ah, but this is all in Evie’s head (so far, anyway). And The Couple Next Door avoids the hoary cliches of pampas and key pot. There is no party and Danny and Becka are the only swingers on the estate (so far, anyway). They have rules: no friends. Except Becka wants to break them. And Evie, who’s only ever been with Pete, the dependable, predictable man with “puny sperm”, wants to explore her fantasies.

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I’m maybe making it seem like watching this a chore, like putting out the rubbish, but it’s not. Tomlinson and Heughan are sexy actors being sexy and who doesn’t want to see that? Yes, madam, I know you do. In the interests of research I’ve checked next week’s instalments and the action really hots up.

Comebacks in pop happen all the time. There is no band dissolution caused by “musical differences” which cannot be mended by a big, fat fee for a reunion tour. So the singer shuffles up to the microphone and croaks: “Did you miss me, while I was away?” Okay, that’s an unfortunate reference to G*ry Gl*tt*r, but you know what I mean: your favourites are older, wrinklier, can’t reach the high notes anymore, and you rather wish they hadn’t bothered.

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No such problems, though, for David Tennant returning as Doctor Who. Can he still, when presented with a thousand buttons and levers, hit the right ones at high speed, scrambling up the walls for those at the top, and save London? Yes he can. As he would put it: “Allons-y!”

In The Star Beast he barely looks a day older than when he left in 2010, though Catherine Tait, who’s also back as Donna, sneers: “You can wear a suit that tight up to the age of 35, and no further.” This is one of three adventures designed to rev up the franchise for the unveiling of the 15th Doctor on Christmas Day. And revving up has been urgently needed. Some fans reckon storyrunner Chris Chibnall was a darker threat to the Time Lord’s continued well-being than the Daleks et al. So welcome back, too, to Russell T. Davies, who’d wheeled the Tardis out of the dusty props warehouse and re-tooled it for (our) 21st century.

Tennant in Who mode would be too irritatingly hyper to have around your home if you fancied a quiet Saturday evening but he’s perfect for a long-running show - this is the 60th anniversary year in case you’re watching from the planet Mondas on a serious time-lag - which has seen sci-fi rivals on both big screen and small chuck the kitchen sink at their stories and have it explode into a million pieces.

For with Tennant always on the brink of spontaneous combustion there’s also now the bangs for Disney’s bucks and here as a result, non-stop special FX for the tale of a crash-landed gonk who starts out cuddly only to turn evil and surely the stuff of nightmares for any small children watching - hence parents having to rush to remove synthetic fur favourites from their bedrooms.

Still reeling from the new, improved whizz-bangs in Doctor Who I turn to Netflix’s Obliterated where it’s Las Vegas under threat of being nuked. Russian goons are behind the plot but after a monumental shootout a crack US special forces unit reckon they’ve blown them all away.

This is an action comedy from the team behind Cobra Kai and everyone in the elite squad vaguely resembles someone more famous. The guy in the red tracksuit could pass for Brad Pitt. The bomb-disposal expert might be related to Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future mode. Half-closing my eyes I can see Star Trek’s Sulu and Mr T from The A-Team.

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But I don’t think a starrier Obliterated would be more enjoyable than this bawdy bullet-fest, especially when the team decide that especially in Vegas it would be rude not to celebrate mission accomplished. They gatecrash a bachelorette party and get in tow with a camel. Then, massively hungover, they’re summoned onto Zoom by the CIA to be told that the real bomb is still out there and it’s ticking.

I can’t help wondering if the inspiration for the show’s stress-busting, whoop-it-up downtime was Partygate. But were there camels in No 10? We must be told.



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