Northern Lights: The Complete Collection has recently been released to DVD, and for American viewers, this little-known series should not be missed. Originally aired on British television from 2004 to 2008, the show chronicles the antics of two life-long friends, Colin (Robson Green) and Howie (Mark Benton). The first series, Northern Lights, and the second series, City Lights, each include six episodes.
[L-R: Howie (Mark Benton) and best buddy Colin (Robson Green)]
Pals since boyhood, the two are practically inseparable — until the chance to compete at something looms, and then they are at each other’s throats. There is something reminiscent of the fights that Fred Flintstone would wage with his best friend Barney Rubble to the warfare and one-upmanship on display here. In what became the series pilot, Christmas Lights, the two men are not just competing at work for a coveted managerial position, but they are trying to outshine each other via their house’s holiday decorations. The movie was so popular it led to the Northern Lights series two years later in 2006.
Colin and Howie also happen to be married to two sisters, Jackie (Nicola Stephenson) and Pauline (Siân Reeves), respectively. During the course of the six episodes in the first series, the couples each face challenges, many of them caused by Colin being stubborn or jealous. It is great fun to see Robson Green so loose and funny in this series, as he is more well-known for darker fare such as Touching Evil and Wire in the Blood.
The first series is set in Newcastle, and we follow the ups and downs of Colin and Howie’s careers with Sherpa Freight. Howie and Pauline struggle to have a child and then later to keep their marriage interesting. The final episode of the season is hilarious, as Howie contemplates moving to the country and the two families go away for the weekend to check out his new home. Bored with a “relaxing” day of going fishing, Colin and Howie relocate to the local pub and get drunk. On their way home, hopelessly lost, they are chased by a shotgun-happy local and Howie’s potential neighbor. So much for the quiet life.
The second series, City Lights, features all of the same characters, but takes a swift and decidedly different turn. Colin and Howie witness a gangland shooting and the two families are relocated to London in a witness protection program. It’s a daring choice for the writers to take, but one that doesn’t quite work in the overall context of the series — especially after one has just watched and enjoyed what has come before. But City Lights does manage to entertain, mixing comedy and drama, if somewhat less successfully than Northern Lights.
Mark Benton matches Robson Green punch for punch as well as punchline. He really gets a chance to shine during the City Lights series, as he slowly realizes that his marriage is dissolving before his eyes. There are some bumbling hit-men who keep the thriller aspect of the overall plotline going, but the main attraction in the second series is watching Colin and Howie and their families trying to adjust to not just having their lives disrupted, but having to live together under the same safe house roof. There is some added humor as the pair try a variety of jobs, including traffic wardens and gardeners.
[L-R: Colin and Howie try to out-Santa one another]
The final television movie featuring these lovable characters brings the two men and their families full circle, back to the Christmas season where we first met them. Colin loves everything about the season and is appalled when Howie, who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, is given an opportunity to represent England in a Santa competition in “Clash of the Santas.” He manages to tag along on the all-expenses paid trip to St. Nicholas, Lithuania, where the two men’s competitive streak becomes bigger than ever before.
Northern Lights: The Complete Collection has a total running time of 713 minutes, with Christmas Lights, Clash of the Santas, and 12 episodes on four discs. There is also a behind-the-scenes featurette of the first series, Northern Lights. The collection also has subtitles and scene selection available, and is in widescreen format.
Colin and Howie are unforgettable characters, and it is a great pleasure getting to know them in Northern Lights: The Complete Collection. You may find yourself wanting to yell at one or the other or both of them for the silly ways they behave from time to time, but you will never be bored watching them squabble and fight and then renew their friendship again and again.