Mile High Series 1: A Review
Mile high, originally screened in two series totaling 39 episodes between 2003 and 2005, is a much overlooked addition to the canon of edgy British soap opera.
Employed by the budget airline Fresh, its characters get to have more sex, drugs and sturm und drang per episode than most of its viewers could fit into a year – without hospitalization, at least. Indeed, hospitalization is a common theme as the sexy young crew overdose on booze, pills, violence and physical intimacy. There are hookers working the aircraft lavatories, grooms-to-be getting seduced by gay air stewards on their stag nights, abortions a plenty, accidents with hash brownies, psychopathic passengers and more, so very much more. There’s no love triangle that doesn’t turn into a tesseract, and no flirtatious smile that doesn’t end up with a shag in the galley.
Despite this unpromisingly formulaic approach to plot, the good folk at Hewland International (makers of the show) manage to avoid the fate of similar series (Footballers’ Wives springs to mind) by recourse to the oldest and increasingly rarest trick in the book: believable characterization and high quality ensemble acting. These people don’t just overspend on their credit cards and their emotional and physical reserves; they get hurt, they show it, and we believe it.
When the groom-to- be gets seduced by Will, the in-your-face gay steward, he doesn’t just get seduced, he gets to be a different person – and so does Will. When Janis, the Wagon Dragon From Hell, is offered the chance of love by a handsome young steward almost half her age, her brittle carapace cracks to reveal genuine confusion and pain. In other words these characters may repeat their mistakes episode after episode but they learn what this does to them and, like real people, they try and fail to change. It is this that stops Mile High from turning into panto, and this that makes a repeat viewing capable of revealing strands of characterisation, nuance even, that got missed in all the action first time around.
The three key characters, Lehan, Will and Janis, manage to last all three series by dint of their own unique triangle: because Will is gay and Lehan and Janis are not, none of them can have sex with each other. Like characters in a formula horror movie, it’s the lack of sex that saves them, allowing them to continue chasing kicks while they slowly realize that what they are really looking for is love.
Janis, played with enormous skill by Jo-Anne Knowles (name me a British soap she hasn’t appeared in) is one of the most subtle and believable anti-heroines on screen at the moment. A comparison with Tanya from Footballers’ Wives is instructive: Tanya is pure pantomime, eternally and enjoyably wicked, but fundamentally unchanging and therefore unbelievable. Janis, who on a good (bad) day can be at least as nasty, is more Shakespearean: there’s a tragedy at the heart of her and it shows.
The show is screening again on Sky One at the moment, with Series Two having just started. You only have to look at the time slot it gets (around 1 am weekdays, varies) and the poor showing of advertising in the breaks to deduce that no one has a great deal of faith in it any more. This is a great pity. Give it a go and tell me if you agree.