‘Ralph & Katie’: TV Review

The Israeli comedy-drama “Yellow Peppers,” about a chaotic family grappling with a diagnosis of autism, has never aired on British television but has had a significant impact on British television programming over the past decade. First up was Peter Bowker’s direct adaptation The A Word, which took several of its predecessor’s storylines to a scenic Lake District setting over three seasons and achieved the holy grail combination of rave reviews and high ratings for the BBC before embarking on a transatlantic found home on Sundance TV.

Now, The A Word generates its own twist in Ralph & Katie, a six-part spin-off that follows the continued adventures of football-mad Ralph (Leon Harrop) and his baker lover, Katie (Sarah Gordy). Notable as characters with Down Syndrome played by actors with Down Syndrome, these lovebirds first won hearts during a series three subplot to “The A Word” when they moved in together against the advice of their overprotective, micromanaging guardians. Now they’re attempting an even more difficult transition: from B-plots to A-plots, from supporting players to leads.

Some of the pressure has been reduced. Where “The A Word” took up a full hour of prime time, “Ralph & Katie” – which is beginning to feel like a mini “A Word” – comes in half-hour chapters, with Bowker writing the opener before passing the baton to a new one writing team. A few familiar A-words provide continuity, notably Sherry Baines and Nigel Betts as Katie’s silently concerned parents and Pooky Quesnel as Ralph’s perpetually nervous mother, Louise. And when the crisis hits, director Jordan Hogg knows that rotating his cameras towards the lake will always fill a frame or two.

However, what’s going on front and center reflects the outlier that the show portrays — it’s a push for coveted space in schedules, like in Ralph’s and Katie’s lives. While engaging throughout, the show is only semi-successful in that goal. “Ralph & Katie” proves much gentler than its memorably lively source, at times feeling like it was written and directed with kid gloves, and forever threatening to overdose on fairy lights. A cross-stitch in the lovers’ house — which reads “Good Vibes Only” — serves both as a mission statement and as a reminder of a caveat.

“The A Word” was TV show that mingled with the nightly “EastEnders” by addressing serious issues with warmth, wit and sporadic weight. Aside from the inappropriately strong language, “Ralph & Katie” feels like a daytime soap at first: A mix-up with Valentine’s cards and mis-delivered party favors is as sophisticated as it can get early. If there’s a weakness here, it’s a sweet tooth tendency to offer and take the easy dramatic option: there always seems to be someone with kind words and a homemade lemon drizzle cake.

The trend towards cosiness is also reflected in the soundtrack selection. Instead of the edgy new wave and post-punk bits of “The A Word,” we get a poppier, far more familiar playlist: “Just the Two of Us,” “It Must Be Love,” a choreographed dance routine to Amii Stewart’s ” Knock on Wood’ and – in a final celebratory special – both Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ and Shakin Stevens’ ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’. It’s comfort listening for comfort viewing, designed to warm and reassure UK viewers as they head into a particularly uncertain winter.

The show is strengthened by its cast, however, and it’s here that “Ralph & Katie” manages to live up to one of its predecessor’s strengths, by giving us time with characters we really care about. Newcomers Dylan Brady (as Ralph’s PA Danny) and Jamie Marie Leary (as Katie’s colleague Emma) skillfully fill the romantic B-plots, and in Craig Cash there’s a loveable newcomer to the expanded “A Word” universe that hasn’t been seen since his Millennium Change -two from “The Royle Family” and “Early Doors”, which brings a seasoned comic flair to the role of the neighbor Brian.

Ultimately, however, “Ralph & Katie” stands or falls in his footsteps, and despite some hesitant line readings, Harrop and Gordy remain a team that keeps you rooting for them, even when they’re on opposite sides of an argument. Something in the show’s DNA changes in episode three, leaving Ralph tied to the sofa with a leg injury and forcing Katie to weigh how much she wants to wait for him. It’s a more compelling scenario, in part because it’s what the show itself seems to wrestle with: what to expect from its stars and how much to protect them.

In episode four, a staunch opposition to parental interference, and the fear of cancer in episode five, “Ralph & Katie” begins to blend light and life in a way akin to Bowker’s best work. “The A Word” hit the floor in full form, the work of an author who had spent years studying what prime-time viewers wanted. While “Ralph & Katie” feels like a comparatively tentative step, it’s still a step in a potentially valuable new direction. “Please let me do it my way,” Ralph says to his mother at a crucial point. After the first series, it’s fair to say that “Ralph & Katie” gets there.

Ralph & Katie airs on BBC One from Wednesday (5 Oct) at 9pm; A US air date has yet to be confirmed. A total of six episodes; All six were screened for review.

Executive Producers: Patrick Spence, Peter Bowker, Howard Burch, Keren Margalit, Avi Nir, Kathryn Pugsley, Lucy Richer.
Producer: Jules Hussey.
Cast: Leon Harrop, Sarah Gordy, Pooky Quesnel, Dylan Brady, Jamie Marie Leary, Craig Cash, Matt Greenwood.

https://variety.com/2022/tv/global/ralph-and-katie-bbc-tv-review-1235393624/ ‘Ralph & Katie’: TV Review

Charles Jones

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