Coupling was a British Sitcom from 2000 to 2004 about a circle of friends and their complicated sex lives. Written by Steven Moffat, produced by his wife Sue Vertue, and based very loosely on their early relationship. (The Word of God is that Steve and Susan went on to make a sitcom about their lives, and Steve is now working on "some old kids' show they recently pulled out of mothballs".)
The series was notable for its meticulously-crafted plots, revolving around lies and misunderstandings in the "Fawlty Towers" Plot and Three Is Company veins, and hilarious cases of Digging Yourself Deeper. Each episode was very detailed and expansive on matters such as impotence, masturbation, pornography and lesbianism. It's different to other 'traditional' British comedy and certainly isn't anything like Blackadder or Father Ted.
The characters are intended to represent a spectrum of confidence and paranoia in relationships among men and women. They are:
- Steve Taylor: A nice, if somewhat neurotic everyman, who starts dating Susan after breaking up with Jane.
- Susan Walker: A snarky and practical blonde with the occasional mean streak, who starts dating Steve after breaking up with Patrick.
- Jeff Murdock: Steve's best friend. A paranoid Manchild obsessed with women's bits who provides the show's most awkward moments.
- Sally Harper: Susan's beauty-obsessed best friend. Although originally written as a one-note character, she gets plenty of serious character development after the first series.
- Patrick Maitland: Susan's ex, a laid-back casanova who does have his heart in the right place on occasion. He is also very well-endowed (a "tripod", apparently). Although he's not too bright, he has his serious moments.
- Jane Christie: Steve's ex. A walking mess of crazy with many hidden layers of even more crazy, although hidden underneath all of that crazy, she seems to be a very sweet, very scared woman.
- Oliver Morris: The final series' replacement of Jeff. Owns a fantasy/sci-fi store and is worse with the opposite gender than the rest of the cast combined. Notably, even Jane thinks he's crazy.
It had a US remake that lasted for only four episodes in the U.S.(though ironically the season of 13 episodes was broadcast in the U.K.). (The Greek version ran for a whole series.)
Came fifty-fourth in Britain's Best Sitcom.
There are some commented out Zero-Context Examples.
This show provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc: Jeff and Jane were implied to have an interest in each other at the end of series 3, but Richard Coyle left the show and this was never mentioned again.
- This was, however, salvaged for Oliver in the fourth series.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Discussed several times, naturally.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: We do not talk about the Melty Man!Jeff: All of us, in our time, are visited by the Melty Man.
Patrick: The what?
Jeff: Don't say his name, Patrick! Don't even think his name! Or he will rise from the shadow dimensions to do his evil work inside your terrified pants.
Patrick: (scoffing) Terrified pants?!
Steve: (gravely) There's nothing funny about the Melty Man, Patrick!
Patrick: You know about the Melty Man, too?
Steve: We all know the Melty Man.
Patrick: Who is he?
Steve: The arch-enemy of trouser confidence.
Jeff: Professor Moriarty, in groin form.
Steve: Darth Vader.
Jeff: Without the helmet!
- We do talk about Captain Subtext, but only when we mean something else...
- Author Avatar: Steve. Susan is an example of that more rarely seen species, the Producer Avatar.
- The Baby Trap:
Jane: Where are we going wrong? Are we supposed to hang around bars, shag every man in sight, get ourselves pregnant and then trap some poor loser into a lifetime of misery and heartbreak?
- Discussed by Jane in "Gotcha":
Sally: Of course not.
Jane: Okay, you suggest something!
"We never really got 'round to organizing a wedding. Thought maybe a whole human being would be easier."
- Susan attempts this with Steve:
- Bad Liar: Patrick has this problem, leaving him unable to keep secret the fact that he slept with Jane.Susan: Did you tape that woman over me?Patrick: I can explain. Yes, I did.
- Bait-and-Switch Comparison: Part of Susan's snarky repertoire.
Susan: Jeff, Jeff! Listen to me! Women want someone with command, with confidence, someone who won't take no for an answer. We want somebody arrogant and gorgeous with a terrifying sexual appetite and an amazing range of sexual technique. But when it comes right down to it, d'you know what? We'll settle for a man!
- From "The Girl With Two Breasts":
Steve: (after Jeff leaves) So have you settled for me, then?
Susan: Oh, don't be paranoid, Steve. (beat) Of course I have!
Sally: What am I doing?
- Susan even does this in Sally's head in "The Melty Man Cometh":
(Susan and Jane appear behind her)
Jane: Well, you're about to attempt sex with a close friend.
Susan: He's so worried his erection will fail again.
Jane: Which will destroy one of the most important relationships in his life.
Susan: And his relationship with you!
Jane: Oh, it's pretty easy to get a response out of Steve as long as you hit the right notes. It's like... snake-charming.
- She gives a very mean-spirited one in "Gotcha", in response to Jane seemingly implying that she's better at turning Steve on than her. Even the audience reacts at her retort:
Susan: Well, personally speaking, I'm not in the habit of charming snakes... I just try to be polite to you. (walks out of the salon)
Jane: Well. I think I got out of that okay.
- Becoming the Mask: According to Jane, this is how she got the way she is. She went on holiday, pretended to be her own imaginary insane twin sister, and eventually it just stuck.Jane: D'you know, I could get away with anything when I was my crazy twin Jane.
Sally: But you are Jane.
- Better as Friends: Susan and Patrick only saw each other once a week while they were dating, and Susan wasnt even being faithful. They get along quite famously after separating.
- Better Than Sex: Jeff once said this in "The Cupboard of Patrick's Love" of a childhood activity that involved writing the word "naked" hundreds of times on a sheet of paper and rubbing his face in it.
- Big Brother Mentor: Jeff tries to be this to Steve, even though they're the same age and Jeff is presented as pretty incompetent in his encounters with women.
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: Patrick, so much so that a former girlfriend used him as a model for a sex aid—without his knowledge.Steve: I think you may have been had, mate.
Jeff: And a lot more often than you realized!
- In his personal opinion, he's also "got technique". His ex Jane disagrees, advising him that, when kissing, he should stop considering the epiglottis at the back of the throat a target and that he should stop trying to make nipples revolve like the knobs on an etch-a-sketch.
- Big "NO!": In "Faithless", Jane lets one out when she realizes that the guy she likes is against premarital sex.
- Bilingual Bonus: "The Girl With Two Breasts" plays with this, the latter half showing the same conversation twice: once from Jeff's perspective, then again from his Israeli crush's.
- Birds of a Feather: As the pairing develops: Only Sane Man Susan and Steve, shallow and vain Sally and Patrick, Cloudcuckoolander Jane and Jeff/Oliver.
- Birthday Suit Surprise Party: Happens in the aptly-titled episode "Naked". Oh, Jeffrey.
- Bi the Way: Jane mentions early in the show that she's bisexual, and mentions it often, but Susan thinks she isn't bisexual at all. At one point in "Size Matters" she claims that being bi means she can go out with gay men, and simply won't believe the gay man in question when he tries to put her straight. However, in the episode "Nine and a Half Minutes", when Susan snogs her in order to turn on Steve, Jane is very obviously affected by it.
- Later in the series though, in the episode "The Naked Living Room", Oliver points out to Jane how these claims are all part of her tendency to do anything to get attention. When she denies it, he shows her a foldout from a lads mag and she squeals and turns away in horror.
- Played straight in the U.S. version, in one episode it's strongly implied that Jane slept with weather girl Connie.
- Later in the series though, in the episode "The Naked Living Room", Oliver points out to Jane how these claims are all part of her tendency to do anything to get attention. When she denies it, he shows her a foldout from a lads mag and she squeals and turns away in horror.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Susan, Jane, Sally.
- Bondage Is Bad: Averted in the episode "The Freckle, the Key, and the Couple Who Weren't". Jeff and his girlfriend are shown to take part in bondage as part of their relationship and it is shown as part of a loving consensual relationship... or would be if Jeff weren't so bad at it.
- Brick Joke: In most episodes, there's often a particular joke that keeps coming up at the first half, and is then set aside until the near-end of the episode. Sometimes, jokes even reoccur in later episodes, and often when you least expect them.
Susan: So is it absolutely necessary to think about somebody else?
- In "Size Matters", Jeff rambles on about celebrities hooking up because all the people who are currently having sex and fantasizing about each of them create a kind of psychic charge. At the end of the episode, when Susan sleeps with Steve, the scene cuts to Angus Deayton and Mariella Frostrup meeting each other, being the objects of both Susan's and Steve's fantasies respectively.
Jeff: Well, everybody does. That's why there are so many celebrity marriages.
Sally: I'm sorry?
Jeff: Well you know, if you fantasize about someone else during sex, and so does your partner, and you know, those two people that you're fantasizing about happen to meet while you're still doing it, you know, they're bound to sense something, aren't they? Because, you know, they're connecting on like a virtual plane! So can you imagine what it was like when Posh first met Beckham? They were the epicenter of a non-stop, nationwide, virtual shag! I mean, it's no wonder she got pregnant!
Susan: I'm sorry.
- After Jeff explains the "unflushable" concept in "Flushed", it doesn't come up again until the season 1 finale, where Steve gets dumped and Jeff asks how he feels. He simply answers, "Flushed."
- In "Split", Susan constantly remarks that hearing Jane's voice makes her grind her teeth. At the end of the episode, she sees Steve asleep on her bed, and performs oral sex on him. Meanwhile, the phone rings, and as the answerphone picks up the call, Jane's voice plays, after which Steve immediately sits up and screams.
Steve: I'll be fine...
Susan: It's just Jane's voice... doesn't it set your teeth on edge?
Steve: It will now...
- "Faithless" has Jeff overreacting over saying "Hi" to a colleague at work, complaining that there are very few ways to end an "H" sound. The last word he can think of is "Hippo". Later in the episode, flustered by said colleague's casual admission that she's also in a relationship but still wants to date Jeff, he ends up saying "Hippo." In the season 3 finale, Steve says "Hippo" when he reacts awkwardly to Susan's revelation that she's pregnant.
- Brit Com
- British Brevity: Four series, and a total of 28 episodes, just barely more than a single American season of 22.
- Butt-Monkey: Steve and Jeff take turns in this role — Oliver too, when Jeff leaves.
- Cannot Talk to Women: This is one of Jeff's defining characteristics.
- Can't Act Perverted Toward a Love Interest: In "The Melty Man Cometh", Patrick doesn't succeed getting an erection during a hookup with Sally because he was falling in love with her.
- Category Traitor: In "Size Matters", Sally accuses a gay man of being a traitor because he supports the Conservatives.Howard: Maggie Thatcher, in my opinion...
Sally: Now listen to this, Patrick, this is the voice of an oppressed minority!
Howard: Maggie Thatcher, in my opinion, is THE best Prime Minister we've ever had.
Sally: You can't say that! You're gay, you're on our side!
- Cerebus Syndrome: Started rearing its head in series 3 with the increasing Patrick/Sally tension, but became more noticeable after Jeff left.
- Jeff himself was going through this just before he left, especially in his last conversation with Jane - it's filled with plenty of jokes but it slowly becomes clear just how lonely and deeply unhappy they both are, especially when they get onto talking about their love interests who are supposedly 'exploring their feelings' which as Jeff sadly points out means they are actually being dumped.
- Character Filibuster: Steve, about Once A Series - topics include pornography ("Inferno"), the pointlessness of cushions ("Her Best Friend's Bottom"), and the sanctity of the toilet ("The Girl With One Heart").
Jill: How could you possibly enjoy a film like that?
- From "Inferno", when Steve is forced to justify owning a VCR tape of lesbian porn:
Steve: (exasperated) Oh, because it's got naked women in it! Look, I like naked women! I'm a bloke, we're supposed to like them, we're born like that! We like naked women as soon as we're pulled out of one! Halfway down the birth canal, we're already enjoying the view! Look, it is the four pillars of the male heterosexual psyche; we like: naked women, stockings, lesbians and Sean Connery best as James Bond, because that is what being a boy is! And if you don't like it darling, join a film collective! I want to spend the rest of my life with the woman at the end of that table there (gestures at Susan) but that does not stop me wanting to see several thousand more naked bottoms before I die! Because that's what being a bloke is! When man invented fire, he didn't say, "Hey, let's cook!" He said, "Great! Now we can see naked bottoms in the dark!" As soon as Caxton invented the printing press, we were using it to make pictures of, hey, naked bottoms! We've turned the Internet into an enormous international database of... naked bottoms! So, you see, the story of male achievement through the ages, feeble though it may have been, has been the story of our struggle to get a better look at your bottoms. Frankly, girls, I'm not sure how insulted you really ought to be.
Susan: Okay. You know what's really getting me mad? My boyfriend, my fiancé, the man who, against all my better judgment, I actually love, chatted up a woman in a bar. And on the very same day, the very same day, I chatted up a man. Do you see? Do you get it? I'm equally at fault. How can I ever forgive him for that? Well, of course, I'm not going to forgive him, because men, and I don't mean to generalize, are crap! They're the human race's only failed gender! Who needs them? And why are they so difficult to keep hold of? Do you think they realize, that were it not for the genetic imperative to populate the earth, they wouldn't get a date? That's one hell of an inducement: "No pressure, girls, but shag one of these or it's curtains for all humankind!" That's harassment! But you know what? Do you know what's even more crap than men? We are more crap than men! All those stupid books you guys have, and... and these magazines! A hundred pages of "men are useless bastards" and an article about why you should wake him up with a blowjob! Am I alone in spotting the inconsistency here? And these places! (referring to the salon) Because, for God's sake, don't let them see what we really look like! Just let them enjoy the results, don't let them see how it all happens!
- Even Susan has one in "Split":
Jane: You know, I went out with Steve for six years, and—
Susan: No, you didn't! You went out with him for four years, I checked!
Jane: Oh. Well, it seemed longer.
Susan: Yeah. Yeah! Of course it seemed longer! I myself have been going out with him since the 12th century! Or possibly since last week, it's hard to keep track. Because how are you supposed to measure time with the one you want to spend the rest of your life with? What would make sense? Centuries? Nanoseconds?
- Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: The finale of series 3 had Patrick and Sally finally getting together, and series 4 gave Jane a love interest in the form of Jeff's Suspiciously Similar Substitute Oliver.
- Cliffhanger: Every series ends this way.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Sally and Patrick have their moments when the Rule of Funny demands, but Jeff and Jane have bought a 2-bedroom maisonette in Cloud Cuckoo Land and only return to reality once a month to collect their mail.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Sally's reaction to discovering Patrick's engagement ring in the series finale.Sally: Fuck... Fuck... Fuckity-fuck...
Patrick: Was that a yes?
- Comically Missing the Point: A large part of Jane's character.
- Completely Missing the Point: From the episode "Gotcha": "Lesbians don't eat people, Susan!"
- Corpsing: Thanks to Jeff introducing the concept of the Giggle Loop, the other guys start having this problem at Jane's aunt's funeral.
- Country Matters: When Susan is in labor in the series finale, she wants to have a natural birth, but tells Steve to ask her three times if she wants the drugs. Midway through, though, she changes her mind about this:Nurse: She said "you can't."
Steve: Yeah, trust me, the word wasn't "can't."
- Cross-Referenced Titles: Stephen Moffat is rather fond of this trope, hence...
- "The Girl With Two Breasts", "The Man With Two Legs" and "The Girl With One Heart".
- Two consecutive episodes titled "Naked" and "Dressed".
- The final series begins with "9 And A Half Minutes" and ends with "9 And A Half Months".
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Unsurprisingly discussed often, given the nature of the show.
Jeff: What's wrong?
- Lampshaded throughout the episode "My Dinner in Hell" with Steve's "whistling".
- Implied in "Dressed" with Jeff:
Steve: It's Jane. She's stuck naked in someone else's flat!
Steve: Yeah, she's only got her coat!
Jeff: Can I speak to her? (Steve hands him the phone) Hi Jane, it's Jeff!
Jane: Hi Jeff!
Jeff: (returns the phone to Steve) Thanks.
Steve: Oh, he's gone to the loo. Might be some time.
Jeff: I am a prison for sperms. Those poor little tadpoles have been sentenced to life in Jeff Murdock's groin. And let me tell you, that can be a pretty lonely place.
- Discussed in "Naked":
Steve: I'm sure you could always... "lend a hand".
Jeff: Yeah, there's that, but uh... you know, that's not what the boys are wanting, is it? See, they wanna think they're going somewhere when they go. I keep thinking about my brave lads all excited on the launch pad and suddenly it's, "Oh, no, daylight!"
- Depth Deception: Jeff being dragged up to the miniature guillotine.
- Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Happens to Sally quite often.
Sally: Facial - Wednesday evening.
- From "Flushed":
Susan: Well, just don't count every time you find a wrinkle.
Sally: Do I do that out loud?
Susan: You have a running tally in my file!
Sally: I bet she doesn't lie on her back and fill her armpits. Hah!
- In "The Girl With Two Breasts", when the girls look jealously at the Israeli woman at the bar:
Susan: Sally. In case you didn't realize, you just said that out loud.
Sally: No, not Jeff...
Sally: But she's not meant for a guy like Jeff. He's supposed to have someone plump and organized. Healthy-looking, but mottled. Probably called Joan or Frieda, all chunky jackets and hill-walking and they'll get married and she'll age badly, and I'll just seem prettier and prettier.
Susan: Sally. Still out loud.
- Digging Yourself Deeper: Jeff, in spades - the trope was formerly named for Jeff's epic "Bucket of Ears" speech in "The Girl With Two Breasts". Steve has his moments, too.
- Distracted by the Sexy: The reason for Steve's five failed attempts to break up with Jane.
- Drama Bomb Finale: A rare Happy Ending version of the trope.
- Dramatic Irony: Used masterfully for comedic effect in "The Girl with Two Breasts."
- Drama Queen: Steve, with his hypochondria and his passionate speeches about everyday annoyances.
- Early Installment Weirdness : in the pilot Susan's implied to be more of the player that Patrick eventually became, whereas Patrick is totally into his monogamous relation with Susan, even "saving up" for Susan instead of masturbating.
- Earpiece Conversation: Jeff gets talked through a possibly-a-date with a co-worker in the consecutive episodes "Faithless" and "Unconditional Sex".
- Everything Sounds Sexier in French: In "The End of the Line", it's mentioned that Susan has a bad weakness for an Aussie accent. According to Sally, when they were visiting Australia, they always knew it was time to leave town when a new bar was named after her. As the episode plays out, it turns out that the French woman that Susan was talking to at the start of the episode was Julia invoking this trope on who she thought was Jeff.
- Extreme Doormat: Steve "It's up to you" Taylor, at least where women are concerned. Can't say no to girls in bars, can't stand up to his girlfriend, and couldn't break up with his ex without assistance.
- "Fawlty Towers" Plot
- Fidelity Test
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Jane is Steve's ex; Susan seems to genuinely loathe her, Steve is uncomfortable around her and no-one else seems to particularly like her, but she continues to hang out with them apparently out of sheer obliviousness to how they feel.
- Freudian Excuse: Jeff's mental stability is largely a result of the way his mother raised him.
- Freudian Slip: Lampshaded with Captain Subtext in "Her Best Friend's Bottom".
Susan: When I say "dinner", I mean dinner.
- From "Size Matters", after a discussion about when "dinner" really means "sex";
Steve: I know that, absolutely.
Susan: Plain, ordinary cooking.
Steve: Well, I wasn't expecting a fish course. (Jeff cracks up)
Susan: (noticing the wedding invitation) What's that?
- Occurs frequently in "Gotcha":
Steve: Ah, just a final demand— I mean, a wedding invitation!
Susan: Sorry I'm late.
Steve: That's okay...
Susan: Should've called.
Steve: They took my phone away. It's at the front desk.
Susan: Oh, really?
Steve: Well, you know, phones can be a bit irritating when you're trying to eat a bra— A meal! Not a bra, a meal! Did I say "bra"?
Jane: So what's the guy like?
- Susan makes one in "The End of the Line":
Susan: I'm with Steve now.
Jane: Yeah, but if you had a night off from Steve, is he the kind of guy you'd go for?
Susan: There's nobody I'd go for. Absolutely nobody. Nobody at all. Or an Australian.
Susan: (embarrassed) Sorry... I don't know where that came from.
Sally: Australians are her weakness.
- Freudian Slippery Slope:
Steve: Okay. Anyone want another drink?
- Patrick gets stuck in one in the episode "Her Best Friend's Bottom":
Patrick: Better not. Came in my penis. I'm taking it to the garage; been having a lot of trouble with it lately, it just won't start.
Steve: Your car?
Patrick: I said "penis" there, didn't I?
Jeff: So. Having a bit of "car" trouble, are we?
Steve: Anything you wanna share with us?
Jeff: Any of your "motoring" difficulties?
Patrick: Hey, hey! Now look, you guys, you two may have subconsciouses but let me tell you, there's nothing going on in my head!
Jeff: All right, only joking...
Steve: Just kidding, Patrick!
Patrick: Anyway, it was your fault. You started talking about traitors in the first place. Penises! Not traitors, penises!
Jane: I do not say "penis" when I mean penis! I mean, penis! Penis, car, penis, car...
- Happens to Jane in "Faithless":
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Jane, at first.
- Full-Name Ultimatum: Jeff's mother's reaction to the (very many) times she caught him doing something embarrassing was always "Oh, Geoffrey..."
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": The "Giggle Loop"; also the memorable "Will you three stop playing Reservoir Dogs?" As well as Jane's very snarky (living) aunt.
- Gay Conservative: Howard, Jane's "date" in "Size Matters".
- Gender-Equal Ensemble: Three guys (Steve, Patrick and Jeff) and three gals (Sally, Susan and Jane).
- Gilligan Cut: When Jane tries to invite her therapist to a dinner party;Jill: ...and now you're doing what you always do, which is try to manipulate me by emphasising your vulnerability. It's what we call 'passive-aggressive' and it doesn't work on me, because I'm a professional.[cut]Jane: Hiya Susan! This is my friend, Jill.
Jill: [sourly] ...Hello.
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Noted by every main male character, Steve in particular.
Susan: Told you I could fix anything with one snog.
- So crucial is lesbianism to Steve's (ahem) solo sex life that he finds himself unable to give a sample at a clinic until Jeff fetches some porn from home to supplement the material provided.
- In "Nine and a Half Minutes", when Susan complains that Steve doesn't find her attractive anymore after becoming pregnant, she kisses Jane in front of him.
- A God Am I: Jane has a strange moment like this in "Faithless" in discussing her job as a morning traffic reporter riding a helicopter.
- Granola Girl: Jane, though it's debatable though in how far this is just another mask she uses to manipulate the people around her.Jane: Vegetarianism, for me, is about saying yes to things. Even meat.
- Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: As shown in "Remember This", Jeff is clean-shaven in the present, but in a flashback to about two years earlier he has a goatee and shorter hair. He also has 5000 fewer synonyms for 'breasts' in his collection.
- Handsome Lech: Patrick. He gets better.
- Happy Place: In "Circus of the Epidurals", when Susan tries to talk to her birth partner Sally about the possibility of the doctors having to make "an incision", we cut to Sally sipping champagne in a white room, looking serene as a string quartet play Madame Butterfly. Susan's voice calling her then starts to fade in, then the scene cuts back to Susan shaking her awake. "Sorry... I went to my safe place."
- Hidden Depths: Jane. Compared to Susan she's still pretty shallow but she's actually less insane and more sensitive to others' feelings than she appears to be. She is, however, still an Attention Whore.
- Susan, on the other hand, is actually more shallow than she appears to be.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Jeff.
- Hypocritical Humor: Sally's punchline to this speech in "Size Matters":Jeff: If you're gay, see... if you're gay, masturbation is practice. Y'know, you can have a good old practice on your own, and then later, when you're ready, when you've got the hang of it, you have a go on someone else's. It's a piece of piss... See, it's different... it's different when you're a straight bloke. When we finally get our hands on the gear, let me tell you, it's not a drill. Gays have their own practice kit, but you don't get any practice women. We're supposed to fly those babies the first time we get in 'em!
Howard: That's a very good point, actually.
Sally: No it's not, it's homophobic, you stupid queen!
- I Am Spartacus: From "The End of the Line": "I'm Giselle!"
- "In that case, I'm Dick Darlington!"
- I Call Him "Mr. Happy": In "My Dinner in Hell", he calls it "Junior Patrick".
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: There were several episodes titled "The [Man/Girl] With [X] [Body part]", such as:
- "The Girl With Two Breasts"
- "Her Best Friend's Bottom"
- If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: According to Jeff in "Flushed", "porn buddies" are a variation in which the surviving buddy has to retrieve all the porn from the dead one's flat before their family goes through their effects, to spare the dead man's post-mortem embarrassment and help the survivor through the grieving process.
- Ironic Echo:
- From "The Girl With Two Breasts":
Jeff: But she won't understand a word I'm saying!
Susan: Yeah, but on the plus side, she won't understand a word you're saying!
Jeff: I hadn't thought of that...
- "Where are you going" and "up to you" in Season 2's finale, "The End of the Line." Steve feels like he's constantly being asked, "Where are you going?" while Susan is annoyed at Steve's indecisiveness, answering "It's up to you" whenever he's asked to express an opinion. This is Played for Laughs until the end of the episode, where Susan is left uncertain of their commitment to one another and leaves Steve's apartment. Steve asks her, "Where are you going?" to which she replies, "It's up to you."
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Patrick, in the series 3 finale. It's epic. And a subversion.Patrick: Sally, you need someone who'll love you forever, properly. You're my friend, Sally, and I wanna see you with the best. You need Mister Amazing, Mister Incredibly-Superbly-Fantastic... ness. And in your heart, I'm sure you know I'm right.
Sally: I don't want Mister Incredibly-Superbly-Fantastic-ness, you stupid, stupid arse. I want you.
Patrick: Oh, for God's sake, Sally...
Patrick: ...I was talking about me!
- Kavorka Man: Plenty of women have slept with Patrick despite finding him intellectually, politically and/or personally repellent, if not physically unattractive, apparently just because he's so well hung. He's even described as not being great in bed.
- Ladykiller in Love: Patrick with Sally.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the episode "Split", during Steve's unsuccessful attempts to call Susan after they broke up, the characters realize that they can confirm that Steve is the one phoning Susan by dialing 1471. Before they come to that realization, Sally asks, "Shall we say it together?", after which even the men say it with Sally and Susan.
- Life Embellished: Moffat calls the series "my life as told by a drunk".
- In a specific example, he says that he wrote "Inferno" based on a similar situation where he was caught with porn in his VCR; however, he admits to adding the "spanking" part because it made the whole things just a little more twisted.
- Magnetic Girlfriend: When Jeff gets a girlfriend, he is offered a hookup on a silver platter.
- Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast: Plot and humour both tend to rely heavily on this, particularly Steve's Character Filibusters.
- Master of the Mixed Message: Played with; one episode revolves around Jeff, who has a girlfriend, being convinced a work colleague is one of these, when she's really very up-front about the fact that she wants to have an affair with him. Gets to the point where the whole gang, sitting on the other end of an Earpiece Conversation (with the women there to "translate"), hear the following;Wilma: OK, before we go any further it's cards-on-the-table time. I fancy you like mad, and I think you fancy me. Am I right?
Susan: [listening in] Need any help translating that one?
- Messy Hair: Jeff. Lampshaded in "The Cupboard of Patrick's Love", when Jeff reminisces about his obsession with the television:Jeff: One day, I lost control in front of my whole family during Songs Of Praise!
Steve: Lost control?
Jeff: Completely wrote off the television!
Steve: So you're telling us that as a young child, and despite the obvious electrical dangers, you sexually assaulted the television set? During Songs Of Praise?
Patrick: Is... is that what happened to your hair?
- Metaphorgotten: Some of the humorous bits of the show are of this nature:
Steve: This pause is just expanding and expanding like, this out-of-control... thing!
- From "Size Matters":
Jeff: Yeah, like in The Blob!
Steve: Yes, like in— What?
Jeff: The Blob! Fifties horror movie. This Blob comes from outer space and just keeps growing and growing.
Steve: Right, thanks...
Jeff: It eats people. And in the end they kill it by electrocution. (beat) But that bit really doesn't apply here.
Steve: Well, if music be the food of love, then masturbation is just a snack between meals!
- Steve himself gives one in "My Dinner in Hell":
Steve: You keep bringing it up! I can't get it out of my head... it's expanding!
- Happens twice in "Her Best Friend's Bottom" after Steve inadvertently sees Sally naked, and she insists he stop thinking about her bottom:
Steve: Like... space jelly!
Sally: What's space jelly?
Steve: I don't know!
Sally: My bottom is not expanding space jelly! I'm just big-boned! (shows Steve her breasts)
Steve: Oh, great! Now I've got breasts!
** Later in the same conversation:Sally: As Susan's best friend, I am, to you, a bit like Australia.
Sally: Very distant, largely uninhabitable, and with areas of great danger.
Steve: Oh, right! I see!
Steve: I thought it was about having a lot of convicts. [winces]
Sally: I was trying to say, Steve, that there are very few areas of me where you can go in safety.
Steve: Right, good, yes. Very delicate way of putting it.
Sally: Thank you.
Steve: You mean, I can visit your Sydney, or your Melbourne...
Steve: But I'm not welcome in your bush.
Patrick: Thing is, Ivan, I don't share my woman. It's like finding the right tennis racket. Once you've got one you really like using, you keep on using it until it falls apart and you have to get a new one... only more emotional.
- Patrick makes a strange one in "Dressed":
Susan: It just seems like a needy thing to do. I don't do needy.
- Sally gives one in "Split":
Sally: You're a woman. Needy is our golf!
Susan: What does that mean?
Sally: I don't know. I didn't think it through...
- Miss Conception: Jane apparently believed that you couldn't get pregnant 'if you didn't really know the man'.
- Mistaken for Gay: Sally, by Patrick's girlfriend, probably because Patrick told her "that Sally is the sort of woman who...is a lesbian." She is oblivious to this, however, and it leads to a wacky misunderstanding, of course. See One Dialogue, Two Conversations.
- Happens earlier in "Inferno" when the gang mistakes Jane's therapist for her lesbian lover and the therapist mistakes Patrick for gay due to his haircut.
- Mood Whiplash: Pretty much Susan's specialty. She frequently goes from faking outrage (as an impish prank) to genuine outrage, which is especially awkward when the thing that she's now actually angry about turns out not to be the case and she's angry for no reason, but stays angry. Several of the series finales end with one of the couples seeming to break up for real (killing the comedic atmosphere) only to have them come back together with such speed and ferocity that it can make your head spin.
- Mushroom Samba: Jane on the "paracetamol" in Jane & The Truth Snake.
- Musical Pastiche: In the intro to Jane & Oliver's segment of the episode "Nine and a Half Minutes", shortly after Steve elaborates on "the John Hurt scene", the show's jazzy score quotes the eerie, echoing, siren-like Leitmotif from Alien.
- Must Make Amends: Steve does this a lot. He's actually pretty good at it; even while drunk, as seen in "Split".
- Naked People Are Funny: Jeff. To a lesser extent, Oliver.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: The Melty Man, who holds his Evil Gloating speech to Patrick, not knowing that Patrick hasn't realized his feelings for Sally yet.
- Noodle Incident: Jane's "long story" about her crazy twin in the season 2 finale.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Moffat loves this trope. There's dozens of little tidbits in this and other scribblings that rely on One Dialogue, Two Conversations; here it's used to cement the "Fawlty Towers" Plot.
- The award-winning episode "The Girl With Two Breasts" is a variation, showing Jeff's cross-linguistic conversation with an Israeli woman from each of their perspectives.
- Occurs somewhat literally with Jeff in "Faithless" when his co-worker asks him if he fancies her, while Julia asks him on the phone if he loves her. He simply answers, "Yes."
- Happens in "The Girl with One Heart" to Sally with Patrick's Girl of the Week Jennifer - Sally thinks Jennifer was fooling around with Jeff, but that she's aware that Sally is in love with Patrick. Jennifer thinks Sally is a lesbian and is coming on to her. Which is something she's totally okay with.
- One-Hour Work Week: Neatly averted, as most episodes either take place in the pub where the characters meet in the evening after work, or (more rarely) in one of their workplaces.
- One-Word Title:
- The show itself, about couples becoming couples.
- Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Jeff when he talks to any woman always inserts two feet and then some.
- Over and Under the Top: Steve and Susan are an Everyman couple, and their relationship is the focus of the series. Jeff and Sally are far too neurotic about relationships while Jane and Patrick are overly casual.
- Person as Verb:
Sally: This isn't fair! I was gonna have Patrick!
- From "The Cupboard of Patrick's Love", when Sally complains about being the only woman who hasn't slept with Patrick yet:
Susan: Sally, please—
Sally: (to Jane) Now you're having Patrick! (gesturing to Susan) And she's had Patrick lots of times! I'll be the only one who hasn't been Patricked!
Jane: You're the only one who hasn't been Steved!
Sally: Oh, Jane. Steve's nice. But Patrick's enormous!
Jeff: Did she ask? You know, ask...
- Jeff does this in "My Dinner in Hell", and Patrick follows suit after Jeff explains:
Patrick: If you still... you know...
Jeff: Yeah, Steve's whole fantasy life revolves around Mariella Frostrup.
Steve: Jeff, please...
Jeff: If he ever meets Mariella Frostrup in person, his right hand will shout, "Mother!"
Jeff: It'd be like, you know, the end of E.T. when he saw the spaceship. There'll be organ music, you know...
Steve: Thank you for clearing that up, Jeff.
Jeff: Hey! Organ music!
Steve: Yes, Jeff...
Patrick: (to Steve) So did she ask, about your, you know, um... Frostrupping?
- Pizza Boy Special Delivery: In the season 3 finale, Jane does this in Jeff's flat.Jane: He works in pizza delivery, which just answers all your prayers, doesn't it? Man, motorbike, has own food.
- Porn Without Plot: Discussed at length in "Inferno" when Steve is grilled by the women over the discovery of a tape of lesbian porn in his possession.
- Powerwalk: Parodied in "Sex, Death and Nudity": "Stop playing Reservoir Dogs!"
- Put on a Bus: Jeff is Put On A Plane... to Lesbos.
- Quote Overdosed: Case in point: this very page.
- Rant Comedy: When Steve is allowed to break out of Deadpan Snarker mode, get ready to Pass the Popcorn.
- Rant-Inducing Slight: Steve has at least one of these per series. See Character Filibuster.Susan: [following Steve's rant] ...would you like me to put the lock back on the bathroom door, dear?
Steve: Would you mind?
- The Rashomon: Several times.
- "The End of the Line" is divided into several sections: "The End of the Line", where Susan tells off her French client Giselle and hears that there's a bar named after her owned by an Australian; "The Other End of the Line", where the Australian that Susan talks to is revealed to be Steve; "The Beginning of the Line", where it turns out that the Frenchwoman Susan was talking to in the beginning was actually Jeff's girlfriend Julia; and "The End", where all the misunderstandings of the episode are finally clarified for everyone.
- "Remember This" elaborates on the story of Patrick and Sally's first meeting (and first kiss) at a party in Susan's office:
- From Patrick's recollection of the story:
Patrick: BMW M3. Midnight blue. Nought to 60 in five seconds, on to 100 in another six. Sequential semiautomatic gear box, traction control, and black leather seats.
- From Sally's recollection of the story:
- "Nine and a Half Minutes" tells a nine-and-a-half-minute-long story from three different perspectives: Sally and Patrick, Susan and Steve, and Jane and Oliver.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: The girls react this way when they nitpick at the appearance of the Israeli woman in "The Girl With Two Breasts":Susan: (referring to the woman's breasts) Yeah, but the point is, are they fake?
Sally: Of course they're fake; they're so realistic.
Jane: Yeah, they're so pert and firm. Are we supposed to believe that?
- Real Person Cameo: Mariella Frostrup and Angus Deayton appear in a weird, possibly imaginary sequence in "Size Matters"; Mariella appears in a later episode ("My Dinner in Hell") for real. Later, Mariella reappears in another dream of Steve's in "Split".
- Real Song Theme Tune: Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.
- Reality Has No Subtitles: Played With in the episode "The Woman with Two Breasts". The Israeli woman that Jeff is talking to speaks no English, and no subtitles are provided because he, like we, has no real idea what she's saying. Then, in the second half, when the whole sequence is run again with her speaking English and Jeff speaking nonsense, we again get no subtitles, and have to rely on our memories of what his side of the conversation was. Plus, we get to find out that some of his assumptions about what she was saying were... less than accurate. "I was looking for Shadayim."
- Retargeted Lust: Jane doles out (possibly fictitious) stories of her past encounters with women in order to interest men.
- Right Through the Wall: From "Her Best Friend's Bottom":Sally: I hate having sex at home. I've got a listening flatmate.
Jane: Oh no, I hate those. Do you have to be really quiet for her?
Sally: No. I have to be really loud, we're very competitive.
- Scenery Censor: Used by Steve in "Sex, Death and Nudity" to hide his erection when Jane starts talking suggestively about threesomes during her aunt's funeral.
- Serious Business: The Sock Gap, as explained by Jeff in "Size Matters":Jeff: Okay. Have you thought through your foreplay yet?
Sally: (overhearing, to Susan) They know about that?
(Susan and Sally hide from the men)
Steve: What do you mean, foreplay?
Jeff: What do you think I mean? I mean, when exactly do you take your socks off? My advice is to get them off right after your shoes, and before your trousers. That's the Sock Gap! Miss it... and suddenly you're a naked man in socks. No self-respecting woman will ever let a naked man in socks do the squelchy with her!
(Susan and Sally nod to each other)
Patrick: That's your foreplay tip? Socks?
Jeff: (turning to Patrick with a grave expression) Many men have fallen through the Sock Gap, Patrick. Under the sexual arena of earthly delight, there lurks a deadly pit of socks.
- Shameless Fanservice Girl: When Jane and Oliver finally open up to each other and Jane suggests that they watch some porn, while he's looking for something to watch she announces that she'll go and make tea, and leaves the room. When she returns, she stands in the doorway completely naked, and he is temporarily robbed of the power of comprehension. She talks to him casually for a couple of minutes, inviting him to her flat the following day, and when he's recovered his wits she smirks at him and saunters out to get dressed and go home, saying "You didn't have any nice tea anyway."
- Shirtless Scene: Every male lead gets at least one, though Steve's are rather conservative.
Steve: But Susan, Sally, Jane, this... is a sofa. It is designed by clever scientists in such a way so is to shield the unprotected user from the way of skin abrasions, serious head trauma, and of course - [he collapses behind the sofa and reemerges] - Daleks!
- Steve Taylor almost shares a name with Steven Taylor, a companion on Doctor Who. Oliver also has Doctor Who merchandise in his bookshop, and when going to a dinner with the gang in "Bed Time", wears a sweater reading "Bring Back Doctor Who" on the back.
- From "Her Best Friend's Bottom":
Patrick: Melty Man!
- The Melty Man in "The Melty Man Cometh" is referred to as "Darth Vader without the helmet." In an imaginary scene with Patrick, another more specific Star Wars reference turns up:
Melty Man: Join me.
Patrick: Never! You killed my erection!
Melty Man: No, Patrick. I am your erection!
- The whole show is laden with these, all highlighting Moffat's geeky nature: Steve describing the deep meaning of Alien to men everywhere, the Melty Man being shown as a Darth Vader parody, as well as various references to comic book superheroes.
- Single Malt Vision: Subtly done in one of the many sequences involving a Perspective Flip; Sally is at a party and some people, especially Patrick, are acting in an odd or annoying fashion. However, it's eventually revealed that Sally is actually completely trolleyed and Patrick and his friend are actually the same person.
- Six Student Clique:
- The main character: Steve
- The Muscle: Patrick
- The Quirk: Jeff/Oliver
- The Pretty One: Sally
- The Smart One: Susan
- The Wild One: Jane
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: In "Sex, Death and Nudity", Sally gets into this with an old woman who claims that Sally looked like her when she got married:Sally: And look at my neck. Look at the under-hang of my jaw. No way is that a forty-year-old under-hang.
Old lady: It's getting a bit... segmented.
Sally: What do you mean?
Old lady: That's how it starts, you know. (reaches out to touch Sally's neck)
Sally: (recoils in terror) Don't touch me! I'm full of moisturizer, you might drain it all off!
Old lady: What?
Sally: It'd be like rain on a desert; it would all get sucked away. You'd probably reflate.
Old lady: Forty-five.
Old lady: I was forty-five when I got married, when I looked just like you.
Sally: And what age are you now?
Old lady: Ninety-two.
Sally: You must be pretty nervous then.
Old lady: Nervous?
Sally: Let's be honest. This has got to be your last funeral standing up.
Old lady: You use a lot of face cream, don't you?
Old lady: So did I.
- Spit Take: Both the women and the men in "The Naked Living Room" when Jane/Oliver tells them Jane and Oliver were taking a stroll toward Oliver's apartment and Jane asked: "Can I come up?"
- Splash of Color: In "Faithless", Jane has a black-and-white flashback to the first time she saw James, in which he's driving a bright red, very phallic convertible into a very tight parking space. Freud Was Right; Jane intends her ice-breaker to refer to his car, but instead, this happens:Jane: You've got a fantastic penis.
- Split Screen: Done beautifully in the episode titled, well, "Split". The two screens follow the women and the men, managing to keep the conversation and the story going on both sides even while focusing on only one group at a time. In the latter part of the episode, the split screens follow Steve and Susan an hour apart at the same place.
- Stop Being Stereotypical: In "Size Matters", Sally gets mad when Howard, a gay friend (whom Jane believes to be her boyfriend) agrees with Jeff's bizarre views on homosexuality, and exclaims "That's homophobic, you stupid queen!"
- In fairness, the above alluded view on homosexuality was Jeff suggesting that: (paraphrased) "Sex is easier for gay men, because all of the masturbating men do in their lives turns out to be practice. All the while they have a 'practice kit' for the real thing, but straight men don't get any practice women". While this certainly IS a somewhat bizarre view, its perhaps not as offensive as it seems without details (and he certainly wouldn't be the first person to say something to that effect.) It's also worth noting that this was supposed to be a drunken conversation, after a dozen pints very late in the evening and both of the guys are visibly drunk acting. Howard may well have been winding Sally up anyway, because she got really snarky about him being a Tory earlier in the scene.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial:
Steve: I don't know, Patrick - I don't keep some sort of self-abuse diary.Jeff: Well, neither do I.
- Jeff has many, the funniest of which is:
Susan: How exactly did you pass your driving test?
- A non-verbal variant is explained by Jeff in "Her Best Friend's Bottom" with "the prickles, the blurts, and the head laugh".
- Patrick and Sally once spent over a minute explaining to Jane's boyfriend how they weren't a couple. The comment that prompted this? 'Hello'.
- Also this, from "Unconditional Sex":
- Swallow the Key: Done accidentally in "The Freckle, The Key, and The Couple Who Weren't", when Jeff Murdock holds the key to his girlfriend's handcuffs in his mouth and then does his best Darth Vader impression. He spends the episode trying to find a way to get it out before she realizes what's gone wrong.Jeff: (on laxatives) If I take all of them at once, do you think there's a danger of liftoff?
- That Came Out Wrong: Some of the humor in the series comes from the characters falling into this trope.
Susan: God! What is it with you lot? Why do you all have this desperate desire to see me naked?
- From "The Cupboard of Patrick's Love":
Steve: Oh Susan, no one wants to see you naked! (beat) Okay, that came out wrong.
Susan: Okay. So Steve saw your bottom, so what?
- Happens to Sally in "Her Best Friend's Bottom":
Sally: So? My relationship with your boyfriend has been thrown completely off-balance by the weight of my bottom! (beat) Can I please rephrase that?
- The Cast Show Off: In the U.S. version, Chris Moynihan showcases his juggling and balancing talents in one episode.
- The Tell:
Susan: Well, there's a useful clue!
- Steve, to Susan; "You only say 'apparently' when you're annoyed about something."
- In "Her Best Friend's Bottom", Jeff discusses the pattern when someone is lying; "The prickles, the blurts, and the head laugh."
- Unexpected Positive: In the season 3 finale, Sally buys three pregnancy tests because she doesn't know what a negative test looks like and asks Susan and Jane to take one each. The entire episode builds up to the reveal of whose test is positive.
- Unexplained Accent: Richard Coyle (Jeff) doesn't have a Welsh accent, and he was never asked to do one for the show. His mother has a very RP English accent, though we never meet his father. According to Steve Moffat in one of the commentaries, Coyle simply showed up on set doing the accent, and since he wasn't a well known actor no-one noticed for ages until they got to know him better, by which point the first episode had been filmed and there was nothing they could do. Most likely Rule of Funny - while it's pretty authentic and so isn't really a 'comedy accent', there is no denying it gives a certain something to Jeff's bizarre sexual metaphors.
- Unusual Euphemism: Jeff has one for everything sex-related. In the first episode ("Flushed") he introduces "The Boyfriend Zone"note and "Unflushable"note in the opening five minutes.
- There's also the Sock Gapnote , the Nudity Buffernote and the (non-sex-related) Giggle Loopnote .
- The others got in on it, too. Susan explains "The Fuck-me Fork"note in the episode "Unconditional Sex".
- In "My Dinner in Hell", due to Steve's very awkward reaction to a BBC show explaining how men continue masturbating even while in a relationship, the characters refer to his habit as "whistling".
- Verbed Title: The episode, "Flushed."
- Waking Non Sequitur: In "Circus of the Epidurals", when Susan attempts to have a frank conversation with Sally about how the doctors may need to make an incision to facilitate her giving birth, Sally tries to retreat to her Happy Place. A giant scalpel intrudes on her serenity, and she snaps out of it screaming, "Mummy, I'll be good!"
- Your Little Dismissive Diminutive: Sally has a tendency to use this a lot.
- Susan does this a few times, usually when annoyed at Steve talking about something with his friends.