Lip Service is the BBC Three's best kept secret and one of the best drama's on TV that you're probably not watching. Check out my review on why it's not to be missed.
Remember that show from a few years ago, it was a little drama on Showtime called The L Word? It had that girl from Flashdance in it, what was her name? Oh, yeah that’s right Jennifer Beals! OK, so I kid a bit, it was a huge show; it was a groundbreaking show and by all accounts the one and only lesbian centered drama historically on television. So, why bring this up you might ask? The BBC has been a leading network for the LGBT community and dramas for years now, decades even and because we live in the states we don’t get to see all the quality programming that network produces. It’s quite sad actually, to think we miss out on all of these profound, creative, intriguing and exciting dramas just because we don’t have funny accents and drink tea in the afternoons. Well, no more of that I say! Lip Service is a lesbian centered drama that the BBC has produced for two seasons now and has gained quite the critical acclaim for its intense storylines, dramatic twists, steamy sex scenes and twisted relationships between its characters.
Lip Service, now going into its third season, stars characters, Tess (Fiona Button), Sam (Heather Peace), Sadie (Natasha O’Keeffe), Lexy (Anna Skellern), Frankie (Ruta Gedmintas), and Cat played by Laura Fraser. Their relationships are constant and complex, mixing in the two male straight friends of the group it can sometimes blur the lines of sexuality. The show takes place in a grey dreary Glascow, Scotland and at times the setting is a character all its own, with the beautiful sometimes gothic architecture and downtown nightlife. But, directors John McKay, Harry Bradbeer and Julian Holmes don’t leave out its beautiful green grass and pastured areas either, it’s a trip to Scotland and all its beauty without actually getting on a plane. The hipster vibe provided by the lofts and fashion on the show also adds to twenty-something ,up all night, hit and run sex you’d expect to see on a show featuring mainly all single characters.
The show is written by writers Harriet Braun, who you may know from Mistresses. And finally, Chloe Moss, Julie Gearey and John Jackson round out the writers who for their part make this series the smash that it is. Each episode is thoughtful, provoking, sexy, emotional and intense. You will laugh, you will cry and sometimes you will even find yourself pretty angry at the antics of the characters. I found myself reliving old feelings from ex girlfriends, situations that you thought were behind you, but between the writing and acting of these women you cannot help but feel empathy and sympathy for their situations, their life stories. At times Lip Service can be a rollercoaster of various emotions; a ride that is surely crazy, but when it stops you find yourself craving for more.
Harriet Braun, writer and creator of Lip Service has said, “The idea initially came about because I was approached by Derek Wax at Kudos (executive producer of Lip Service) who wanted to work on an original project with me. I’d seen Queer as Folk and Go Fish years ago and thought I’d love to do something like that. Then The L Word came along, but I figured there was definitely room for another lesbian drama. In my view, lesbians are under-represented on British television – so I thought it was high time we had a series in the UK. And anyway, The L Word was set in California and the weather was much better – it’ll rain a lot more in Lip Service!” Rain it does both, literally and metaphorically, in the reality that Harriet has brought to life on screen.
The L Word, while a valiant effort certainly, in my opinion, did not represent the realistic lesbian lifestyle and in the beginning it may have had good intentions, but fell far too short in the execution and eventual ending. We were constantly flashed with this elaborate lifestyle of money, fashion, sexy women and if you’re a lesbian, well you know we aren’t all a size 6 we don’t all have money and we don’t all get to take home every woman we glare at in the club. The writing was many times inconsistent and the storylines never seemed to connect, even becoming downright silly at times. When asked how she tackled the obstacle of inclusivity, “I wanted to create believable, multi-faceted characters that people can really identify with and also to mix comedy and drama. I wanted it to feel very real and often our most embarrassing moments can end up being very funny in retrospect. There’s also a mystery element to Lip Service that keeps you guessing. It was very important to me to that the lesbian characters in this story feel authentic to a lesbian audience. But I don’t think anyone could attempt to portray every member of a community in a drama – if they tried, they’d fail.”
The L Word, with all its faults, did open a door of sorts for LGBT characters to be more prominent on American television, but also made it fashionable to be a lesbian and living in sunny California. Being from the States and knowing how our television systems work I just know that a type of show like Lip Service, this raw, honest, open type of show would never be made here. Harriet says of the BBC, “The BBC was extremely receptive to the idea of Lip Service. We didn’t meet any resistance at all – in fact, quite the opposite.”
The creation and development of the characters is a fascination of mine; as a writer we always strive for a better way to develop characters in our stories and sometimes it can be difficult to write about a personality that you have no idea what it’s like to be. “As a writer, I’m always most interested in what’s going on under the surface. So, it’s also about secrets. I think most of the characters, in one way or another is hiding their emotions or fears and desires and it’s about the consequences of playing emotional games or not being honest with yourself or others.”
Dig deep she certainly does, the wounds run deep for characters like Frankie whose estranged from her family, cannot emotionally commit to anyone and uses sex to squash the emotional turmoil she feels on a daily basis. Cat, Frankie’s ex-girlfriend and best friend, still emotionally deals with the loss of Frankie when she left her for the states. Cat’s lack of control in her love life leads to being a control freak in everything else she does, including her friendships. Being an architect also allows Cat to control her creations and ensure that everything in her life is in perfect order. Tess, Cat’s flatmate and best friend, an actress, is recovering from the betrayal and break up of her last relationship and deals with always falling for the wrong girl. It’s these three main characters that open the door for Sam, Lexy and Sadie to walk in, further complicating their lives, but bringing some clarity at the same time.
One of my favorite quotes from Harriet Braun is “If you’re a fan of character-led drama with a lot of comedy and suspense, then you should have fun watching Lip Service. You don’t need to be part of a particular ‘group’ to understand the emotions portrayed, be it heartbreak or fear of failure or love. After all, I really enjoyed Six Feet Under and I’m not an undertaker!” Watching Lip Service I expected to be white washed with lesbianism that the whole show would focus on what it was like to be gay, or gay issues and while they do come up from time to time you are mainly focused on the individual stories that play out for the characters. The show isn’t really about lesbians, well it’s about lesbians, but that is a back story to the real drama to the everyday issues that people face. I think that’s why I emotionally connected with this show so deeply, because I saw myself in the situations and at times had to relive and face some very traumatic past issues, like being cheated on. I found myself going back to how it felt, remembering what it was like to find out and all the emotions you go through when you’ve been betrayed that way, lied to by friends; you’re always the last to know right? When a show affects you to the point of tears you know it’s a keeper you know the writing and acting is coming from an emotional place and these women, these directors, writers, etc. have really hit the nail on the head.
If I can tell you to do one thing this summer, while the cable season is slow and pretty horrible, it would be to get yourself onto Netflix or the BBC Three’s homepage to watch the first two seasons of Lip Service. Make sure to email the BBC to demand a season three of the show that’s how confident I am that you’ll love it. If I’m wrong you can always email me hate mail, but that wouldn’t really be nice now would it? I leave you with these wonderful words from Matthew Read, executive producer, BBC Scotland, adds: “Lip Service is a truthful, funny and engaging drama which shows an alternative side of Glasgow that’s seen rarely on our screens. Harriet Braun has created a brilliant set of characters that have been brought to life by an incredibly charismatic cast. BBC Scotland is extremely excited to have been involved in the production alongside Kudos Film and Television.”