'Alice & Jack' Premiere: A Rocky Start to a Rough Relationship Saga

Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson as the titular 'Alice & Jack' sitting in a window

Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson as the titular 'Alice & Jack' 


Angsty, depressing, and full of itself, Alice & Jack is a six-episode miniseries from Masterpiece billed as a momentous modern love epic. The first episode attempts gravitas by opening with voiceover narration waxing philosophic; there’s nothing groundbreaking there, but it’s delivered with the conviction of profundity. One of the first things we see upon meeting the titular couple is Jack (Domhnall Gleeson) looking at Alice (Andrea Riseborough) with a mixture of love and desperate longing. This will be a theme, and if it’s one you find irritating, bail now.

Jack: “Love is the best thing we have. Maybe after we strip away all the bullsh*t, it’s the only thing we have.” 

We go back to when Alice and Jack first met. They found each other through a dating app, naturally. Jack joins Alice at a bar they’ve prearranged, and she immediately begins peppering him with questions. She’s direct, confident, intimidating, and sometimes condescending. Jack is confused and nervous; this feels more like an interview than a date. She aims to determine what type of person Jack is, and after a few minutes, she decides to deem him worthy, so she invites him back to her apartment. He’s astonished at the sudden escalation but doesn’t decline.

At her apartment, they share the most awkward first kiss. It’s terribly uncomfortable to watch. Perhaps it’s supposed to read as romantic, but it comes off as weirdly timid, like two preteens learning to kiss. After they sleep together, Alice kicks Jack out in a manner she calls “clear and not rude.” She compliments him highly and asks him not to call her. Seeing a woman be straightforward about her intentions after a one-night stand was refreshing, although she follows this with a series of mixed signals. Leaving her apartment, Jack is already under her spell – puppy dog eyes and all.

Sunil Patel as Paul and Domhnall Gleeson as Jack wander through the streets in 'Alice & Jack'

Sunil Patel as Paul and Domhnall Gleeson as Jack in 'Alice & Jack'


Jack wants to call her, but it’s not clear why he’s instantly hooked. All she’s shown is a propensity for being an enigma. Jack is a scientist, so maybe he’s drawn to solving puzzles, but that’s being very generous to the story. Jack’s friend Paul (Sunil Patel) advises him Alice has been crystal clear and Jack shouldn’t pursue this further. Patel provides needed comic relief and is a genuine spark of joy in an otherwise dreary show. Jack disagrees with Paul’s sound logic and Alice’s direct instructions. “There was something in the subtext,” Jack insists. Let me stop you right there, Jack. As Paul even points out to his friend, this is dangerous thinking. At best, it’s sentimental guff; at worst, it’s rationalization for breaking boundaries. 

In this case, it’s a low-consequence action; Jack pushes the limits by texting Alice. She wants to respond but doesn’t. When we get a glimpse of Alice’s damage, it is alarming. Months later, they reconnect on a second date, and she allows him to stay over this time. We hear her screaming, “How could I be so stupid?” when she thinks he’s ditched her the morning after. She grills him ceaselessly when he returns from getting them coffee about where he’s been and what he’s done. The twinkly guitar soundtrack tries to make this seem cute or even charming, but it feels creepy. This field is littered with red flags. This will be a relationship of misunderstandings, distrust, and agony. Run, Jack!

At a museum later that day, Alice throws a strange tantrum and Jack confronts her for acting childish. This is too much directness; she can’t deal and proceeds to break Jack’s heart by leaving him mid-date. He calls, but she doesn’t answer. She texts him a kiss-off. That should have been the end of it, but implausibly Jack is in love with Alice and can’t let her go. He’s moony and dramatic. It’s been two dates, dude. Get a hold of yourself.

Domhnall Gleeson as Jack, Aisling Bea as Lynn walk through the park in 'Alice & Jack'

Domhnall Gleeson as Jack, Aisling Bea as Lynn in 'Alice & Jack'


We finally meet the best character of the show so far: Lynn, played by the outstanding comedian/actress Aisling Bea. (Tellingly, it’s a while before we learn her name.) In the space of the year and a half that’s passed since Jack last saw Alice, they marry and have a baby. Lynn is adorable, charming, funny, and smart; she’s completely out of Jack’s league. Unfortunately for her, this marriage has doom written all over it, spelled A-L-I-C-E, who disrupts this cozy life Jack has created when she calls him out of the blue. 

Jack doesn’t initially answer. When Lynn asks, he tells her Alice is an ex but does not elaborate. He seems prepared to let Alice go, but she barges back in by showing up at his workplace. She launches herself at Jack and hugs him, and when she pulls back he shows her his wedding ring. They share a moment of profound disappointment for their lost opportunity. That’s supposed to tug at the heartstrings, but it mostly makes you want to smack them. Jack tells Alice the story of how he met Lynn at a film screening. A pregnancy early in their relationship forced a conversation about their future, and when they couldn’t go through with an abortion they decided to get married. 

Jack admits he called Alice and when she didn’t answer, he took it as a sign. (Sure, Jan.) Alice rightly points out the absurdity: “You married someone else because I didn’t answer the phone?” (Riiiight.) Alice apologizes for dropping in on him; she assumed Jack’s life had stood still without her as hers had without him. (Eye roll.) Her mom just died. (Okaaaay?) She can’t imagine having to face her dad without Jack. (I'm sorry?) ....That’s a heavy expectation for someone you’ve had two dates with and very clearly pushed from your life. 

She’s showing some of her trauma cards to be vulnerable, but it’s too little too late. Alice then gets in a cab and leaves him once again, with Jack looking after her like a wounded animal. This is tedious and painful. Lucky for us, there are five more episodes exploring this trainwreck, and I’ll be recapping them all.

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Alice & Jack

Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson star in the new series from writer Victor Levin.
Alice & Jack: show-poster2x3

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A writer since her childhood introduction to Shel Silverstein, Marni adores film, cats, Brits, and the Oxford comma. She studied screenwriting at UARTS and has written movie, TV, and pop culture reviews for Ani-Izzy.com, and Wizards and Whatnot. You can usually catch her watching Hot Fuzz for the thousandth time. Find her very sparse social media presence on Twitter: @CeriseMarni

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