TV Review: ‘Last Tango in Halifax,’ Season 3

Last Tango In Halifax
Courtesy of PBS

Before Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” made headlines by daring to pair seventysomething leads in a sitcom, there was “Last Tango in Halifax,” and for that matter, “Vicious,” both PBS series starring the indefatigable Derek Jacobi. “Last Tango” returns for its third season, having drifted somewhat from the spark that initially made the show so bracing, becoming a more conventional family soap, albeit still with wonderful moments. Still pleasant enough, one can feel series creator Sally Wainwright laboring a bit, having brought her adorable leads together, as she conjures excuses to drive wedges between them.

Just as a refresher, Alan (Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid) were sweet on each other as teenagers, only to be separated for 60 years. Both widowed, they were reunited in the first season, with their unlikely romance having a ripple effect on everyone around them, including their grown daughters.

Season three begins with Celia’s progeny, Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), about to marry her girlfriend (Nina Sosanya), with whom she’s having a baby. “They’re getting married. The lesbians,” Celia sniffs, before she insists how broad-minded she is — her more conservative political views chafing against Alan’s much more liberal outlook, one of the impediments that’s already been thrown at the older couple.

Still, the real mini-crisis this season comes from the distant past, with Alan discovering, as he so quaintly puts it, a “skeleton in the cupboard” — one that shakes up their dynamic enough to again threaten all that newfound happiness and harmony.

Admittedly, having experienced enough success, especially in the U.K., to justify second and third installments, “Last Tango” — and Wainwright — couldn’t just have the pair sit around watching TV together, although seeing Jacobi’s character regale his wife with a very old joke in the opening episode is, frankly, as much fun as anything that follows. The main problem is that the story has to create conflict without going so far as to unwind the romance that initially made the show so irresistible.

As a consequence, much of the drama comes from the supporting players, and Celia’s disapproving posture toward her daughter feels too much like territory that’s been previously covered. More fertile material comes from Alan’s daughter Gillian (Nicola Walker), who is still trying to get her life together, but keeps making bad choices.

The mere fact that PBS has the latitude to feature a program built around senior citizens in this demo-obsessed day and age still feels like a big bear hug of public television’s mandate to serve underrepresented demographics — almost literally from the cradle, with its preschool programming, to the grave. By that measure, “Last Tango in Halifax” remains thoroughly watchable and generally enjoyable, but having made it halfway through season three, one suspects there aren’t many more spins around the dance floor left.

TV Review: 'Last Tango in Halifax,' Season 3

(Series; PBS, Sun. June 28, 8 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in the U.K. by Red Production Co.

Crew

Executive producers, Nicola Shindler, Sally Wainwright, Matthew Read; producer, Karen Lewis; director, Nigel Cole; writer, Wainwright; camera, Andy McDonnell; production designer, Katy Tuxford; editor, Laura Morrod; music, Murray Gold; casting, Beverley Keogh, Wendy Patterson. 60 MIN.

Cast

Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid, Sarah Lancashire, Nicola Walker, Tony Gardner, Dean Andrews, Nina Sosanya, Ronni Ancona, Josh Bolt, Rupert Graves

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  1. darlene says:

    When will netflix show series 3

  2. Debbie says:

    I can’t get enough of Last Tango in Halifax! I just discovered this show on PBS one Sunday night this summer. The acting is superb, and Wainwright cannot write/film fast enough for me. Great family dynamics. Wish Kate had not been killed off so soon, but lets see where this goes.

  3. bmiller says:

    Series 3 is a total clunker. Celia is a selfish harpy who ditches her daughter’s wedding because she is “upset” about Alan’s news. We then learn that she didn’t attend Caroline’s ceremony at Oxford because she was ticked at her husband. Better she should have died in a car crash. But there goes the show’s premise!

  4. Maguire says:

    this review is far too kind. Series 3 is a complete disappointment. Wainwright struggles to find interesting things for this older couple to do so she takes the lazy way out and creates “drama” with tired and trite stories for the daughters. The tone of the series loses the charm of the first series. There were so many better stories she could have told instead this couple have become characters.

  5. Ana says:

    Want a tip? I would stop at the half-way point of the series and forget the rest exists. It is a terrible and offensive fall down from the simple graces of series 1.

    • Opel 2 says:

      I’m so with you, Anna. This review is good as far as it goes, but I find it astounding that the true locus of the show is dismissed here. For the sake of spoilers I will not say more, other than to suggest that a significant segment of UK viewers was gutted and livid.

      • Nancy says:

        So many other story lines to bring them together without killing off Kate.

      • bj chamberlain says:

        I am sorry they killed Kate off. Any more comments.they kill off Kate to bring Caroline and her closer??????.I don’t if I will continue to watch? Can we not have a mixture of life styles this is 21st century

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