27 May 2009 | matthewmercy
Warm, unjustly forgotten British show...
A charming, gentle sitcom from the mid-1990s, My Good Friend starred George Cole as Peter, a lonely old man living with his daughter and her husband, and all too aware that his presence in their house was an unwelcome irritation for them. Feeling very lonely and at a permanent loose end, he meets the similarly melancholy Harry (Richard Pearson), with whom he strikes up a tentative friendship. Then the two of them encounter young single mother Ellie (Minnie Driver), and her son, with whom the two old gents start to spend their days; as time goes on, the three main characters find themselves fulfilling the various gaps in each others' lives
My Good Friend is a very little known, low budget ITV programme that has totally slipped into obscurity over the last few years, and undeservedly so; a thoughtful, realistic sitcom (albeit one rightly devoid of a laughter track) that showed wit in its writing but was more remarkable for its touchingly realistic look at a couple of very lonely old pensioners. Cole and the lesser-known character actor Pearson were both splendidly natural in the lead parts, but the show's first season was especially notable in that it featured Minnie Driver in one of her earliest starring roles, only a year before she decamped to the US and started to hit it big in Hollywood with films like Grosse Pointe Blank and Good Will Hunting. Driver was wonderful in My Good Friend, and, as a dreamy teenager, I fell in love with her warm, kind-hearted single mother character, a young woman (Driver was only in her early twenties when the show was made) with the weight of the world on her shoulders, but one who also manages to find the time to provide care and friendship for two very lonely old men.
Unfortunately, with Driver unavailable for the second series, she was replaced as Ellie by the considerably older Lesley Vickerage, whose more conventional mid-thirties take on the single mother character made the show much less interesting, and an already slow-paced and mercurial sitcom started to seem quite pointless. Unsurprisingly, the second series was also the last. Like Ben Chaplin's performance as agoraphobic sociopath Matt Malone in the first series of the foul-mouthed flat-share sitcom Game On (produced in Britain at around at the same time), Driver's performance was the main reason My Good Friend was interesting enough to watch, and without her, the show lost its sparkle, in the same way that Game On lost its edge when Chaplin went to the US to star in a The Truth About Cats And Dogs with Uma Thurman, and was replaced in his part by the horrid, charmless Neil Stuke.
My Good Friend sadly isn't available on DVD, but if you should ever get the chance to see series one of the sitcom, try and catch it, if only for Driver's star-making turn.