Puppy Love is a new comedy written by and starring Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Peppardine, the co-creators of the BAFTA nominated Getting On.
Scanlan stars as Nana V, a Wirral based dog trainer, whilst Pepperdine is Naomi Singh, a highly strung charity worker who starts attending Nana’s puppy training classes. Their lives become increasingly entangled as Naomi tries to help Nana’s grandson Eron (Aaron Julius) receive a charitable grant. Eron then gets involved with Naomi’s daughter and the two of them end up living together in Nana V’s caravan.
The two leads play nicely off each other. The brusque and blunt Nana V clashing with the uptight, sourdough-eating, gluten-free obsessive Naomi. There’s a bleak social divide between them – whilst Naomi is hosting dinner parties serving ‘scallops with armeria maritima with confit cod and cockle vinaigrette’ Nana is struggling to keep up with the rent on her caravan and must survive on porridge oats as she tries to fend off the bailiffs. Not that it ever gets mawkish – it’s all played for subtle black laughs.
The blurb from the BBC is that it’s a show celebrating our nation’s love of dogs, but it’s probably likely to make some current dog-owners question the wisdom of their decision. The dogs in this show are unruly, untameable terrors, who piss on the carpet, bark incessantly and generally just make their owners’ lives a constant battle – not least of all Toffee, a King Charles Spaniel/Poodle cross with an embarrassing coprophagous streak. It gives a bit of edge to what might otherwise just be an opportunity to coo over lots of ickle puppies. It’s certainly unlikely to convert any cat-fanciers who are watching.
But then, most of the humans in the show are pretty monstrous too. There’s Tony, played by Simon Fischer-Becker, Nana V’s morbidly obese ex-husband who still lives with her in the caravan. We’re treated to some lovely scenes where Nana V gives him a sponge bath and rubs medicated talc into his ‘creases’. Nana V seems to have slept with almost every single man in the area, and has a panoply of dodgy money making schemes on the go at all times – it costs £2 to get your canine first aid certificate, but this is just to cover the printing costs, and once you’ve paid it’ll be emailed over the next day. And Pepperdine is fantastic as the exquisitely pretentious Naomi, hosting awful dinner parties and filling her home with overpriced ‘ethnic’ art.
It has the naturalistic, semi-improvisatory dialogue and fast pacing of Getting On and The Thick of It (which Scanlan starred in), but it does feel slightly chaotic at times. Scenes and storylines fly by without being fully explored – at times it feels like a first-draft in need of some concise editing.
But, with the likes of Kayvan Novak (Four Lions, Fonejacker) and Phil Cornwell (Alan Partridge, Dead Ringers) guest starring, the cast is strong enough to ease over any weaknesses in the script. It’s an absorbing and occasionally laugh-out-loud character-comedy with warmth and charm. Nicer than The Thick of It, but edgier than Gavin and Stacey, don’t miss Puppy Love when it starts this November.
Puppy Love starts on BBC Four on 13 November 2014.