“I’m a housewife Barbara, not a hitman”
Suburban Shootout ought to have ticked all the boxes to become one of my guilty pleasures when it was shown on TV in 2006, a black comedy featuring Anna Chancellor as the fierce leader of a gang of murderous housewives. But as it was shown on Channel 5, who also produced it, it got lost somewhere along the way and I have to admit to not even having heard of it at the time. It lives on on DVD though and actually provides a highly amusing opportunity to see not just Ruth Wilson early in her career, but also a fresh-faced Tom Hiddleston before he was swept up by Hollywood.
Set in the fictional small town of Little Stempington, smack in the middle of the Home Counties, Joyce Hazeldine and her policeman husband Jeremy move into a new house, seeking respite from hectic London life, and are very much looking forward to their new quiet life. But the premise of the show, created by Roger Beckett and James Gary Martin, is that the village is secretly controlled by two opposing gangs of housewives – both determined to keep village life crime-free, but deadly rivals into the bargain and both keen to co-opt Joyce into their crew.
The show sets out its intent really quite amusingly in the opening episode, there are epic fist fights and shop bombings within moments of Joyce meeting representatives of both cliques as she soon realises that these particular still waters run extremely deep. Despite her attempts to remain impartial, she is unwillingly sucked into the Mafia-like warfare and across the 8 episodes of the first series, finds herself enforcing protection rackets at the library, shutting down the local criminal element and latterly, masterminding a huge drug deal for some industrial strength HRT patches.
It sounds daft and it frequently is, but to my mind it could have done with trying to be an all-out comedy. I suspect that it maintained pretensions of being a comedy-drama, there’s a hint of Desperate Housewives at times but neither the format nor the writing are up to this, and nor does it need to be. There are some hysterical scenes throughout – a swingers party sees Nicholas Farrell like you never have before, the making of Molotov cocktails in lemon barley water bottles is still making me chuckle and the threatening of the librarian is hilarious.
The comedy isn’t always so strong though, or as tongue-in-cheek as it needs to be, and despite a strong cast, it isn’t too difficult to see why Suburban Shootout didn’t prosper. If you wanted to play a drinking game, try a shot for every time the camera pans to Amelia Bullmore’s Joyce with a shocked expression on her face – you’ll be legless by the second episode – a shot that is seriously over-used; Anna Chancellor and Felicity Montagu chew scenery excellently as the head honchos on both sides, but there’s not enough substance to the supporting characters, Lucy Robinson being wasted as one of the sidekicks though Emma Kennedy’s butch weapon-toting and Rachael Blake’s prowling cougar are amusing.
Ruth Wilson pops up in several episodes as Jewel Diamond, the spoiled daughter of Chancellor’s Camilla and a rampant would-be sex kitten who bulldozes her way into the attentions of Joyce’s son Bill, recently returned from a gap year in Africa. Hiddleston plays the buff naïf very appealingly and whilst it is no great stretch for either actor, it is lots of fun to watch them. I can’t say I’d recommend buying this on DVD, but do like I did and rent it off Lovefilm if the prospect tempts you – it’s a whole lot of harmless fun.