Pittsburgh, PA
June 10, 2023
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
A & E
Tv Listings
The Dining Guide
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  A & E >  TV/Radio Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
TV Review: English culture played for laughs in 'White Teeth'

Saturday, May 10, 2003

By Betsy Kline, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Not willing to rest on its laurels as the home of superlative literary costume drama, "Masterpiece Theatre" has shown it is just as adept at contemporary drama, as with the recent "The Jury."

"White Teeth"

WHEN: 9 p.m. tomorrow and May 18 on WQED

STARRING: Phil Davis, Om Puri, Naomie Harris, Christopher Simpson.


With its latest offering, "White Teeth," "Masterpiece Theatre" veers hilariously close to screwball comedy with a multinational cast on a collision course set in motion by England's colonial past.

Beginning tomorrow night and concluding May 18, "White Teeth" takes place in Willesden Green, a zany microcosm of modern-day North London's seething multicultural cauldron. It's spicy and utterly original, based on Zadie Smith's wildly popular 2000 novel.

Heavy accents, rapid-fire scene changes and flashbacks render Episode One a bit hard to follow. But hang in there and hang on tight. Once the relationships of the characters become clear, the plot takes off at breakneck speed.

Central to the story are three families: the Joneses, the Iqbals and the Malfens. In Episode One we meet Archie Jones (Phil Davis), a lovable working-class loser who has chosen to take his life (based on the flip of a coin) on New Year's Eve 1974. Archie has recently renewed his friendship with a World War II comrade, Samad Iqbal (Om Puri), who has come from Bangladesh to start a new life. Samad has recently wed the headstrong Alsana (Archie Panjabi), a beautiful bride promised to him before her birth. Meanwhile, a group of Jehovah's Witnesses prepares for the end of the world at the stroke of midnight.

In typical Archie fashion, the suicide goes awry and Archie stumbles into an end-of-the-world party where he meets the beautiful Jamaican Clara (Naomie Harris), a lapsed Jehovah's Witness. They fall in love and marry, and before you know it, years have passed. The twin sons of Samad and Alsana and Archie and Clara's daughter Irie are being raised as one big Benetton ad of a family.

But all is not happy. Once a devout Muslim, a guilt-stricken Samad blames the corrupting influence of English society for infecting his family. Desperate to raise Magid and Millat as good Muslims, he conspires with Archie to right "wrongs," setting the stage for the full-out comedy of errors of Episode Two.

Simon Burke's adaptation of Smith's novel captures the full flavor of a society that preaches tolerance but can't quite embrace the differences that make for such a rich ethnic palette. In the push for assimilation, those differences push the limits of what constitutes being "English."

In Episode Two, the family themes of tradition vs. assimilation explode into global issues of genetic engineering and social dissent in the year 1994. A third family, led by Marcus Malfen (Robert Bathurst), a controversial geneticist, becomes the target of both animal rights activists and a fundamentalist Islamic group. And of course Irie, Magid and Millat are in the thick of the action as their perpetually puzzled parents look on.

Betsy Kline can be reached at bkline@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1408.

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections