The Couple Next Door review: This unappetising stew of mystery-thriller cliches makes a mockery of us viewers
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Yes, Mock the Week's Hugh Dennis was in The Couple Next Door (Channel 4, Mon/Tues, 9pm) – a pot-boiling new drama in the vein of other mystery-thrillers with titles combining a person or group of people with the location in which you'd regularly find them.
You know the thing – The Girl on the Train, The Woman in the Window, The Woman in Cabin 10 – in which curtains twitch, unreliable narrators abound and there's something rotten in the heart of suburbia.
The Couple Next Door starts with gunshots, a fleeing woman in a nightie and wooden cabin in the woods.
Center Parcs holidays can be an ordeal, but before you start sympathising with whoever was wielding the gun, we're immediately flashing back to a scene of suburban heaven, all lawn sprinklers, block-paved driveways and neatly-trimmed shrubs.
Starting with a TV thriller cliché like a flashback doesn't augur well for The Couple Next Door, and the slightly odd look of the thing doesn't help either.
Supposedly set in Leeds, the architecture of this particular corner of the West Yorkshire metropolis looks wrong – wooden shingles, clapboard construction and palm trees gently waving in the breeze aren't exactly Pennine vernacular.
Then there is the newspaper office where Pete (Alfred Enoch) works. Quiet, almost library-like, it seems to be a cupboard where there are no stacks of council agendas permanently teetering on the edges of desks, no mugs stained with decades of Nescafe and no large screens festooned with sticky note.
Pete had grandiose ideas of in-depth investigations into council corruption which – in a nod to believability – his editor rubbishes, saying: “I don't have the resources for this kind of nonsense.”
This being a TV drama, however, Pete ignores his entreaties and with a photographer/fellow reporter in tow, spends hours following people around to various meeting places where briefcases are exchanged and dodgy deals are struck.
Back in suburban not-Leeds, Pete's wife Evie (Eleanor Tomlinson) is making eyes at their hunky neighbour Danny (Sam Heughan) – a motorcycle cop with a penchant for taking the bins out in the pouring rain dressed in a tight white T-shirt.
While it makes a difference in a TV drama to have a man as the object of a woman's desire, you can't help thinking he'll catch his death if he carries on like that.
The final component of The Couple Next Door's friendly neighbourhood spider's web is Danny's other half Becka (Jessica de Gouw). A yoga instructor with a VIP account at Sweaty Betty, she doesn't believe in monogamy and is the kind of sexual free spirit that apparently is explained by the fact that her mum was a hippie.
White wine is quaffed in prodigious quantities, Danny and Becka's unconventional nature is demonstrated by the way they fire up a spliff at every opportunity, and there a lingering glances, smouldering pouts and innuendoes all over the shop.
Added into this heady mix are armed gangs, suspicion of major drug dealing and swinging sexual encounters.
In stewing together this casserole of mystery-thriller cliches, however, they forgot to make it in any way believable.
A van used for imports and exports, for example, helpfully has 'Import Export' written on the side. Meanwhile, it's the kind of drama where the maxim 'show, don't tell' is ignored in favour of wooden dialogue like “I need to tell you something, and I'm dreading it”.
Pervy neighbour Alan is Hugh Dennis's milk-loving weirdo from the Mary Whitehouse Experience with a telescope and laptop instead of a pinta, while Danny is a one-dimensional hunk who can pick up a dishwasher in one hand and Pete is a weedy drip who likes to talk about his feelings.
One of the only things that rings true is a day-trip to the beach, which takes place under lowering skies, with a gale whipping sand into the cast's faces as they struggle to barbecue and enjoy a tequila.
The Couple Next Door aims to be a sexy, complex psychological thriller, but ends making a mockery of it.