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‘Footballers’ is an adrenaline rush

Times Staff Writer

“Footballers Wive$,” premiering Sunday night on BBC America, is a fine example of how interesting an edifice may be built upon a foundation of melodrama when the writing is smart, the actors underplay, the camera does not insist on showing what it learned in gymnastics class and the producers don’t push sensation at the expense of realness. The story of three women married to players for the fictional Earls Park Football Club -- to oversimplify a series full of intriguing side characters and twisty plots and subplots -- doesn’t push any points or politics; it wants only to make your blood flow a little faster, make you bite your lip a little.

That the British seem to have a special touch for elevating genre material into something deeper and more lifelike than it needs to be, something better than we can manage -- “Prime Suspect,” for example -- may partly be an American illusion, some vestigial awe for the Old Country and its ways and accents. They are an exotic breed, even just hanging around the pub with their pints and dropped Hs. Partly it’s that we see only their best shows over here. And partly it may have to do with physical distance from glossy Hollywood convention and proximity to continental cinematic traditions of realism. “Footballers Wive$" is as much Mike Leigh as it is “The O.C.”

In any case, this is a work of high craft and unquantifiable art: The quick sketch in able hands suggests more than meets the eye. Really, the only thing wrong with it is that "$" replacing an “s” in the title. (That is the sort of thing that, having been done once, never has to be done again, and it has been done once.)

Soccer, which is both international and intensely local, both glamorous and gritty, makes a perfect field on which to play out the clash of class and culture in which the series is steeped; these are people whose acquisition of wealth has been precipitous and, to various degrees, destabilizing. (It’s the Elvis effect.) As to the sport itself, you won’t see much of that, but you will spend some time in the locker room; the milieu allows the filmmakers -- the series was primarily developed and written by women -- to fill the screen with good-looking young men and their sometimes naked buttocks. Their good-looking wives and girlfriends and groupies (whose buttocks do not appear) also make good textual sense.

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There are the Turners, Tanya (Zoe Lucker) and Jason (Cristian Solimeno): He’s a fading but still-popular star, lazy and cocksure, his position suddenly threatened by the hiring of hot young midfielder Salvatore Biagi (Daniel Schutzmann); she’s a drug-sniffing, drink-drinking practical-minded woman who tries to ignore, or compensate for, her husband’s myriad shortcomings in order to maintain their position; his career has become her career. There’s a lot of “Macbeth” in their particular branch of the tale, and more than a little James M. Cain.

Chardonnay Lane (Susie May) and Kyle Pascoe (Gary Lucy) are engaged when we meet them; they are the relatively well-adjusted couple, troubled only by the fact that she models topless for a living and that his mother lives with them. But there are stormy waters ahead for them as well, or they would not be here.

And there are the Walmsleys, Ian (Nathan Constance) and Donna (Katharine Monaghan), who embody Humble Origins Resisting the Corruption of Fast Money. She’s dangerously obsessed with finding the child they gave up for adoption years before and has a groupie kid sister, Marie (Micaiah Dring), who, as you may have guessed, will cause no end of trouble.

*

‘Footballers Wive$'

Where: BBC America

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Susie May...Chardonnay Lane

Gary Lucy...Kyle Pascoe

Katharine Monaghan...Donna Walmsley

Nathan Constance...Ian Walmsley

Zoe Lucker...Tanya Turner

Cristian Solimeno...Jason Turner

Gillian Taylforth...Jackie Pascoe

Philip Bretherton...Stefan Hauser

Executive producers Brian Park, Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus. Writers Ann McManus, Maureen Chadwick, Liz Lake, Phil Ford, Jaden Clark and Helen Childs. Directors Mike Adams, Paul Duane, Laurence Moody and Julie Edwards.


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