Catterford (or, as it is better known in the UK, "Jam & Jerusalem")

I first heard of Clatterford (or, Jam & Jerusalem, as they first called it in the UK) from my friend, Kelly. We were both excited about the show (though she saw it long before I did) because it was another collaboration of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (of AbFab and Vicar of Dibley fame). Kelly's initial feelings about the show were not all that positive, but I can understand that coming off of AbFab. I waited a long time to watch it, but finally had a chance back in April...and I have been hooked ever since.

There are some very familiar faces in the series...


Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, and, of course, Dawn French. These three actresses usually dominate every series, but, for the most part, they only appear rarely in this series (though French's role really takes off towards the end of season one and into season two). I was disappointed at first (and I think that this is what drove Kelly away), but the more I really watched the show, I fell in love with it.
Of course, the show takes place in England in a made up town called Clatterford. There are all kinds of characters, but the main ones are the women. During season one, there are basically the women in the church's women's guild and those who aren't (really, only Sal and Tib...see below). However, God and the church are at a distance in this series...but occasionally they sneek in, but only in ways that stand in for basic human morality.

Clatterford poses as a comedy (and, yes, there are plenty of funny moments), but the real story is about Sal, the woman in the nurse's uniform in the photo above. Her husband, the town doctor, dies in the first episode and the rest of the series is really about her and the women of the town.

This brings me to the real reason I am so sad that BBC dissolved the French and Saunders team. I think that these two women did more for women on television (in the UK, but also worldwide), than most people realize. Their shows have always emphasized the roles of women, funny and otherwise.

Clatterford
is no different. I love that we get to see a more mature protagonist in Sal and her best friend, Tib (who plays the receptionist at the doctor's office). I get the feeling that Sal and her husband enjoyed one another, but their first love and the bonding agent between them was the job. Tib loves the time at the office because it allows her to be female and gossipy, while at home she helps (though loudly complains about it) her farmer husband do very taxing jobs. You can tell that Tib loves her husband and, even though she complains, she really loves being able to live out the rough-and-tumble side of her personality on the farm, as well. I like Tib, because she has a sweet husband and she is capable of doing just about anything. What you see is what you get...and, yet, she is just as uncomfortable in her own skin about some things as everyone else is.

Sal has two children, James and Tash. James has come back with his wife to be the new town doctor and his wife, who is scared of all things carrying germs and blood, is the new clinic nurse. Tash is a free spirit who has never settled down, in spite of the fact that she has a child. There are some really complicated dynamics here. I find myself not really caring that much about James or his wife, though I do like them in the series. But Tash is a different story. She is completely frustrating and unlikeable to the viewer at first because she is such a child...even though she is 36. She wants to be taken care of so badly, and this makes Sal's character even more complex. She loves Tash, has kept her in this position in many ways, but I get the feeling that this really only took place when Tash became an adult. I am not sure that Sal or her husband were that interested in their children early on, perhaps letting them run wild. Tash wants to portray the free spirit, yet she desperately clings to home and the irresponsible behavior of a teenager.

Then there is Rosie, who for the first season and a half I really thought was only there for comic relief. Rosie, played by French, is taken care of by the entire town, but especially by the church's women's guild. Now, this series has a silent character in the women's guild, and the guild is what circulates throughout. It symbolizes tradition and seemingly oppression, and the guild constantly tries to envelop Sal and Tib, though they resist fiercely. They see the guild as something old-fashioned and stodgy. However, the guild comes to be a bonding place for all kinds of women (the rich Caroline and her friend Susie, the new-age Kate who proclaims that she doesn't even believe in God, the attention starved Eileen, and, Rosie, the mentally disabled). Note: there are other members, but these are my favorites.

Anyway, Rosie has two personalities: Rosie, who is chidlike; and, Margaret, who is her alter ego and only comes out when things are really bad. Margaret tries to hurt Rosie as well. Like I said, these moments work as comic relief until season 2...and I really loved how the moment of truth came out. I won't give it away, but the series can turn from comedy to drama on a dime.

Watching all of these women communicate and interact, even if the only place they come together sometimes is within the guild meeting, is fascinating. Sal's character is refreshingly modern and there is a lot about her that is both uplifting and depressing. I haven't seen season 3 (not on DVD yet), but I did see a bit of the first episode on YouTube and Sal is in quite a state...something I have been expecting for a long time.

Even though the series takes place in a town that looks like it is stuck in time and tradition (i.e. the women's guild, too), this is the most accurate series to capture modern life (esp. the 21st century woman) in a long time. It is smart in ways that Sex and the City was smart in the beginning of its run. If you have some time, check it out.

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