Last Tango in Halifax is finally back! After an almost three-year absence from our screens here in the U.S., the Buttershaws and their clan have returned as delightful and dysfunctional as ever.
When last we saw them at Christmas 2017, Caroline had moved house and changed jobs, Gillian’s guilt over the death of her husband Eddie had consequences for her relationship with Robbie and Celia and an initially hesitant Alan saved the local amateur dramatics society performance of Blithe Spirit. And while time may have passed, not that much has changed really.
A sweeping flyover shot of Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia’s (Anne Reid) new bungalow lands us smack dab in the couple’s lovely conservatory with a view of the impressive gardens and hills beyond. Alan is engrossed with filling out a “form,” which he sarcastically teases is an application for the position of Chairman of the United Nations. Celia supposes he should be good at that " with all your namby-pamby left-wing claptrap." And we’re off!
Living with Alan for the past seven years obviously has not swayed Celia’s attitudes. And as the episode progresses, we discover the couple’s differences are more personal than a debate over politics. In the meantime, Alan receives an email from his brother informing them that he's flying in from New Zealand this weekend for a visit. Alan’s form abandoned for the moment, Celia insists they pop off to Halifax to kit out the guest room properly
Whilst en route to the shops, Alan admits he was applying for a position at a supermarket, just something part-time to keep himself busy. Upon hearing the news, Celia goes sort of "Hyacinth Bucket" on him, looking like she’s had something rotten wafted under her nose.
She relates their ensuing martial row to Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) who has stopped by to pick up Flora (Issacah Hatzer). (Wasn’t she just an infant yesterday?) Celia grouses about the impracticalities of the situation ranging from Alan taking a bus to work to his heart condition. Caroline reckons Celia's perceived respectability of the job is a factor in her stance against his supermarket aspirations. But after seeing how frivolously his wife wields her credit card, could it be Alan is experiencing some anxiety over their financial security?
Meanwhile Alan's pleading his case to a rather distracted Gillian (Nicola Walker) as she tends to her flock of sheep on her newly expanded acreage. Not only is she in charge of this year’s step-sister dinner (you may recall she and Caroline were born on the same day) but as per usual, Gillian's finances are in the red. A costly woodworm infestation upstairs threatens to collapse the roof. Alan has the financial dilemma of paying halves on Celia's new dream kitchen but promises to see what he can do to help his daughter out with the farmhouse.
In a quick catch-up scene with Raff (Josh Bolt) and Ellie (Katherine Rose Morley), we learn they are expecting a new baby soon. Raff is in the midst of his teacher’s training. He’s having a tough go of it at his current placement. No matter, his grandad is very proud of him and encourages him to stay the course!
Back at Caroline’s place, her noticeably disheveled ex, John (Tony Gardner) has come round for a meal and a chat. Caroline wants to talk about their younger son Lawrence (Louis Greatorex) who is basically freeloading with no plans to return to college or find a job. John, however, has come with a friendly warning about his girlfriend. In recent years, Judith (Ronni Ancona) has written a series of phenomenally popular children’s books. Caroline has invited her to speak as part of an Inspiring Women series at her school. But John confides that Judith has struggled with her sobriety recently and suggests Caroline should be prepared with alternate arrangements in case she fails to make a good showing at the event.
Once John returns home, we see for ourselves what an unhappy co-existence has developed. Judith is openly contemptuous of John, who in turn is frustrated with his layabout son. Add to that the dynamic of Judith’s vigilant live-in assistant Laura (Anna Leong Brophy) and it’s a recipe for misery.
Question: Bored with her sobriety, Judith asks John to marry her at the end of the episode. How many of you were screaming at the TV, “Don’t do it, John!”
The day of Alan's interview arrives and he's dressing for success. Celia can’t be bothered to wish him luck as she’s busy schmoozing on the phone with the craftsman who is renovating their kitchen. He arrives at the supermarket, but before he can make it out of the parking lot, Alan becomes entangled with an unkempt young boy attempting to outrun store security. Under his coat, he had concealed the makings of a very modest meal. Harrison (Liam McCheyne) is evidently a familiar face around the store and when they all end up in the manager's office, Alan has to clarify why he’s there.
Later, Alan meets up for a pint with his friend Harry (Paul Copley) and we get to hear the rest of the incident. After a promising interview, Alan offered to pay for Harrison's pilfered food and drives him home in hopes of having a chat with the boy’s parents. They had a pleasant enough time and Alan took note of Harrison's impressive vocabulary. But once they got out of the car, the boy bolted, leaving Alan in the dust. Alan’s concern for the boy's well being reminds him of a lad he knew from school who was similarly neglected. It still weighs on his conscience that wasn't kinder to his classmate.
After John’s alarm about Judith, Caroline pulls one of her teaching staff aside to discuss a backup plan for the author’s visit. Apparently, Ruth (Lu Corfield) is a big fan of Judith’s books and is supremely flattered when Caroline suggests she do the Q&A. This would allow Caroline to concentrate on damage control if Judith's visit needed to be cut short. And then Caroline shows her hand (to us anyway) and by inviting Ruth to her house for a meal and an interview prep session.
Their conversation is interrupted by a call from Celia all in a tizzy, but Caroline barely registers what her mother is saying as Ruth walks off.
Just then Alan drives up and Celia rings off with Caroline to tell him the news from New Zealand. His brother Ted apparently sold his house for a hefty sum. Then he asked his cleaning lady to book a flight back to England with a stopover in Hong Kong. Now he’s gone without a word to his family. Dementia is supposedly involved and so naturally Ted’s daughter, Nadine, is overcome with worry.
Finally, we end with the dual birthday party of Caroline and Gillian (#53 I think they said). We’re treated to a champagne toast and a hearty rendition of the birthday song before the fireworks go off…
Ellie innocently brings up their problem with woodworm upstairs and Gillian and Alan frantically start pulling faces at one another. Celia sees something is afoot so Alan has to fess up that he’s agreed to loan his daughter more than £5000 to repair the damage. This means the kitchen remodel is on hold which makes Celia go coldly quiet.
The discussion moves on to what Caroline’s son Lawrence has been up to. What Gillian understood to be short documentaries turn out to be YouTube “content” for his channel, LADS: Lawrence and Angus Do Stuff. They review dead flies, used teabags, and, possibly sheep, in hopes of monetizing their videos.
Celia sits stewing as this trivial conversation swirls around her. But as soon as she senses a lull, Mrs. Buttershaw has her say and she doesn’t mince words. She accuses Gillian, she who never plans or thinks ahead, of manipulating Alan. Celia has saved all her life so she could have some nice things now and she’s tired of bailing Gillian out. True perhaps, but a bit harsh!
After a short pause, Alan steps in to correct his wife. It would be HIS money that goes to Gillian, not Celia's. She points out that since her percentage of the kitchen budget will increase to cover his shortfall, Celia is paying nonetheless. Gillian insists Alan forget it. She’ll find another way to cover the repairs. And like that, a celebratory event becomes an extremely awkward memory for the family album.
Just then, Ted calls from Hong Kong. Alan finds his brother to be very much himself and is happy for the distraction. During their conversation, Ted apparently calls Celia "a handful" and has no desire for Alan to put her on the line. I think Gillian may have enjoyed that comment a little too much.
So ends the first of this season's episodes of Last Tango in Halifax. How did you feel about the debut installment? Do you think Celia is "running circles" around Alan? Is he rueing the day he reconnected with his less than empathetic childhood sweetheart? Is Alan right to bail out Gillian again? And is Caroline’s new love interest a good thing? Let’s get chatting!