This is the second in a series of posts detailing my favorite episodes from the British sitcom As Time Goes By. For some general information and thoughts about the show, along with my favorites from the first series, click here.
During the first series, long-lost lovers Jean and Lionel found themselves the objects of youthful infatuations, creating some funny moments. While their romance was not rekindled by the end of the series, a friendship started based on memories of shared moments and the realization that they like each other now, in the present. Not exactly a house on fire but a suitable start to a blossoming relationship. At the end of the last episode, they kiss, setting up some changes for the next series.
As series two opens the crushes are a thing of the past, and Jean and Lionel embark on their journey together. Lionel is preoccupied with his book launch, and his protestations of Alistair’s efforts to market the book and the author reveal more about Lionel and provide some funny moments.
Both of my favorite episodes in this series uncover the protagonists’ pasts and their vulnerabilities, but until I started writing this post, I didn’t realize their common theme. Of course there are myriad other charms to recommend both episodes, including the introduction of four irrepressible supporting characters; Lionel’s father and father’s housekeeper, and Jean’s sister-in-law (her dead husband’s sister) and husband. These four characters are perfect foils for Lionel and Jean, and quite fun people in their own right! They also reveal hidden vulnerabilities and foibles in both Jean and Lionel. So-on to the episodes.
Series 2 episode 3-Visiting Rocky
Lionel and Jean travel to the Hardcastle family home in a Hampshire village to visit Mr. Hardcastle Sr. The head of the house is clearly housekeeper Mrs. Bale, a bold and beautiful straight back chair with a heart of gold (not really apparent in this episode, not yet anyway). Rocky is a charming older gentleman with pinball machines and a jukebox in the parlor who warms to Jean immediately, and the feeling is mutual. He certainly has a way of putting people at ease, and Jean remarks that she makes him feel about 20.
Although Lionel is comfortable in the house and clearly adored (in her way) by Mrs. Bale, the contrast between Lionel and Rocky is startling; in a way one starts to understand one reason why Lionel moved away-competing with his father’s charm and ease could not have been easy. The contrast is heightened when Rocky reveals some startlingly wonderful news that prompts Lionel to call his father “crackers”; Jean is surprised but heartened by the news and Rocky’s zest for life, and frankly finds Lionel’s constant carping about the aches and pains of old age rather tiresome in comparison. She says “Rocky doesn’t talk about the things he can’t do, only the things he can”, and clearly admires the older man’s exuberance.
The visit concludes with Rocky admonishing his son to “brighten up and marry the girl”. Jean overhears and her hopes get a lift, but she is sadly disappointed at the end of the day. She understands more about Lionel after the trip; much more-but the one bit she longs to decipher is left unsaid. A stellar episode, full of laughs and somber moments in its turn, that opens the field not only to a lovely country home, but to a bit about Lionel, bumps and all.
Series 2 episode 5-Misunderstandings
If episode 2 revealed Lionel’s insecurities and vulnerabilities, well this episode smacks us (in a lovely funny way of course) with some of Jean’s! In spite of Jean’s best efforts to hide from her, Jean and Lionel run into Jean’s husband’s sister Penny in a record shop. Over tea at Jean’s house, Penny invites the couple to visit, and even after privately instructing Lionel to refuse, Jean accepts the invitation. Penny and Stephen are quite a pair! Penny is a nosy meddling soul who can’t stop feeling sorry for Jean and her widowhood, even these many years later. (It isn’t clear just when Jean’s husband died, but it seems it’s been quite a while.) Penny calls her “poor Jean” and is very patronizing in a bull-in-a-china-shop kind of way, and this takes Jean back to those frightening days after her husband’s death when she was forced to open and run a business and bring up a daughter on her own after spending her marriage staying home. Never mind that Jean’s business is successful as she is a hard-as-nails negotiator and shrewd survivor of a man’s world; when Penny is around all that falls into dust and ashes. Lionel is a bit frustrated, and wonders why she continues to let Penny affect her this way, but he agrees to accompany her to Penny and Stephen’s house.
At the start of the visit we meet Stephen and witness an exchange with Penny that sums up their relationship in a nutshell. Stephen seems a bit of a dolt, but as the show progresses his true self (still bumbling but not quite stupid) is revealed. However, at this point Penny dominates the conversation, complaining openly that Stephen’s occupation, dentistry, bores her to tears. Of course Penny wants to know all about Lionel-how they met, what he does for a living, and because Jean can’t answer one of these questions truthfully, and Lionel doesn’t want to answer the other, they create two enormous fictions that they immediately regret.
Later on, Penny gets under Jean’s skin by suggesting that Jean’s relationship with Lionel is strictly platonic, saying that companionship is a wonderful thing, and Jean rises to the bait by setting things straight-neglecting to mention that the intimacy happened 38 years before, and hasn’t since! This prompts Penny to do some rearranging, Lionel to put his foot down, and their relationship to move on to another level.
As well as moving the plot forward and providing many funny and heart-warming bits, this episode reveals a side of Jean not displayed before, and helps all of us understand more about her story.
Thanks for reading. Next post-series 3. My favorite episodes include a happy occasion and two trips abroad!
Series 2 on Amazon Instant Video here.