Derek Jacobi continues his march toward adorable PBS mascot status, with the one-two punch of returning drama “Last Tango in Halifax” and the premiere of “Vicious,” a new sitcom co-starring Ian McKellen. “Tango” was such a wonderful, wispy delight in season one, it perhaps inevitably loses some luster in this second go-round, while remaining extremely pleasant company, especially when focusing on its tale of rekindled love. Extending the romance, however, does introduce some familiar elements, with the show taking on the air of a multigenerational soap that at times resembles an accented version of “Parenthood,” albeit with an only-on-PBS focus on septuagenarians.
For those who missed season one (and at a mere six episodes, that’s an oversight worth correcting), “Halifax” stars Jacobi and Anne Reid as Alan and Celia, a couple with a brief teenage crush on each other before she moved away, only to be reunited 60 years later.
That bond was then fleshed out by its impact on those surrounding them, including her daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), who, among other things, is coming to grips with being in love with another woman (Nina Sosanya); and his daughter Gillian (Nicola Walker), whose ramshackle life has included a string of ill-advised liaisons, the latest being with Caroline’s ex-husband (Tony Gardner), a tortured writer (as if there’s any other kind).
The kids (and their kids) are all right, but they’re simply not as grand as the warm feeling that emerges whenever Jacobi and Reid share the screen, both realizing time is precious after his health scare in season one. Yet their attempts to forge a life together — starting with the complications of a wedding, proper or otherwise — keep colliding with the concerns of those close to them, a fractious lot who don’t always get along.
Written by Sally Wainwright, the series certainly doesn’t force the drama. Indeed, seldom has a program spent as much time discussing real estate and living arrangements, and when it’s the two leads, the effect is utterly charming. But the circumstances that set all this in motion, while relegated to the background, tend to occasionally get in the way.
Those quibbles aside, the audacity of building a show around a couple in their 70s is so refreshing in this age of demographic pandering that it probably does more to brand “Last Tango in Halifax” as “public television” than virtually any other attribute in the program. And the pairing with “Vicious” — about a very different kind of elderly couple — merely reinforces the point.
It’s just that as delightful and beautifully choreographed as the first season of “Last Tango” was, the encore feels as if it’s lost a step or two. Or perhaps that’s just the inevitable reality of what follows first love — young, old or otherwise — after that first buoyant, exhilarating rush.