The second series of BBC Three’s teen comedy Pramface has just begun airing in the UK, prompting me to go back and watch the first series. I missed it at the time, partially because of it’s frankly awful name. It was also partially because it looked like a BBC attempt to ‘deal with issues’ or to identify a market and write specifically towards that, rather than telling a story.
The series opens panning over a hall where a school exam is taking place, focusing in first on a fairly bland and forgettable teenage boy, then another who’s a wild ball of energy, panicking as the exam draws to a close.
After the exam ends, three students meet in the hall to discuss how they performed – the bland teenage boy, the wild guy, and their geeky female friend who clearly has a crush on the bland guy.
The bland guy is of course the main character Jamie (he can’t have too many traits in case some of the characters don’t identify with him), the wacky guy is Mike, the girl is Beth.
There’s a thin line to walk between introducing the characters quickly and being a bit being a bit too obvious – Pramface probably goes a bit too far. Mike and Beth could probably be called Kramer and Hermione and it wouldn’t have been too out of place.
Jamie is the sensible, reasonable, relatively confident, relatively clever, relatively sentimental, relatively awkward every-man, the type more notable for lack of unusual character traits than for any traits in particular.
This cuts quickly to Laura, a bit of a wild child introduced equally as quickly and concisely.
After this though, the story progresses at a natural and compelling pace, the first episode telling the story of a party, thrown by Laura’s friends, and crashed by Jamie and Mike.
The previous paragraph is maybe a bit too critical, all in all – while Pramface doesn’t do anything revolutionary, and the introductions concentrate on their broadest traits, Pramface is well constructed.
The series as a whole is the story of an unplanned teenage pregnancy, between 16-year-old Jamie and 18-year-old Laura.
Pramface avoids the trap of writing a series of gags with nothing to ground them. First and foremost it’s a story, and the characters, despite being a bit obvious, are relatable, their reactions colourful but realistic – becoming more complicated and human the more we see of them.
It really is all very traditional and family friendly – unlike for example, The Inbetweeners, there’s no gross-out humour, nothing that would make the audience wince in embarassment.
Pramface uses traditional sitcom set-ups and ideas – the fact that there’s an overall storyline running strongly through the series, rather than a series of episodic incidents is the only thing that’s even slightly revolutionary.
Traditionally in a sitcom, a group of characters will be introduced, and the stories of the series are a group of incidents that just happened to occur in the lives of these characters. Pramface is more tightly constructed – almost everything ties easily back into the main pregnancy plot, with the exception of two side-plots late in the series.
(For instance, Laura’s parents are in counselling – where they’re amusingly argumental and unpleasant. Her mum gives Laura’s future and law degree as the reason for them staying together.)
While it’s family friendly, there’s plenty of conflict, such as Laura’s contempt for Jamie. They’re all very human, sympathetic. They have clashing but understandable points of view. The characters are in an emotionally heightened situation, and behave as slightly heightened but believable characters.
With the exception of two one-episode love interests that get annoying quite quickly, the main, supporting, and guest characters are all sympathetic and at least mildly amusing. Anna Chancellor and Angus Deayton as Laura’s passively aggressive parents are particularly good, as you’d expect from the two biggest names in the cast.
Despite what I was expecting, there’s no real moralising to the show, and any ‘isn’t it awful you’re pregnant’ sentiment seems to be there purely as a source of humour. It’s a story about people, not a transparent attempt for the producers to get some sort of message across.
Pramface is the kind of show that could either built up into something cooler and edgier than it is, because of the subject matter, or dismissed because it’s not edgy enough.
But it’s a compelling, amusing, well constructed story. Despite having initially dismissed the series, I really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to catching up on series 2.
Verdict: An amusing and compelling sitcom, with a strong central plot.