Cynicism is a virtue in Waiting for God, the BAFTA-nominated comedy that is now available in a complete series box set that includes all five seasons. That means 45 visits to Bayview Retirement Village, where the only recourse against the dreary days, terrible food, and hapless management is a strong dose of cantankerous sarcasm.
The aging Tom Ballard (Graham Crowden) finds himself unceremoniously dumped on Bayview’s doorstep by his milquetoast son Geoffrey (Andrew Tourell) and sluttish daughter-in-law Marion (Sandra Payne). Tom’s a bit of kook, but independent enough to feel the sorrow of resignation at spending his final days in a retirement home.
Fortunately for Tom, he soon finds a common soul in the blisteringly feisty Diana Trent (played marvelously by Stephanie Cole, actually almost 20 years younger than Crowden in real life), who doesn’t let being old function as an excuse for anything.
Soon, Tom is joining in with her escapades of defiance against smarmy and incompetent manager Harvey Bains (Daniel Hill), who’s always on the lookout for cost-cutting measures, no matter the harm to his residents. Dim-witted Jane (Janine Duvitski) serves as his loyal assistant and constantly pines after Harvey’s heart, no matter how loathsome his behavior becomes.
Waiting for God manages to take a sober look at the realities of the aging process — both in societal and medical ways — while maintaining a searing barrage of merciless verbal barbs, mostly courtesy of Diana. Tom and Diana are stuck in a retirement home because of a supposed uselessness to society, but all they’re surrounded by is beacons of uselessness, from the Bayview staff to Tom’s family. It’s a sharp formula that allows for some truly cutting humor, but whatever forces conspired to keep the show on the air for five seasons may have done more harm than good.
By the second season, the bits are already being recycled, and the show has begun to settle into a comfortable pace, where Harvey does something despicable and Tom and Diana do everything in their power to stop it. It also doesn’t help that the show finds a way to constantly wedge in Geoffrey and Marion, who have ostensibly left Tom at Bayview for a reason, but find an explanation for visiting the retirement home in every single episode. Tourell and Payne do good broad comedic work, but it would be much more effective on a less-frequent basis.
Still, the repartee between Cole and Crowden is often outstanding, as he turns out to be much more understanding of humanity than she does. Hill and Duvitski also play a nice pair of comic foils, and while their characterizations are almost as broad as Tom’s family, they give themselves to the parts with full force.
Throughout its five seasons, Waiting for God does something that few television comedies manage, and that is to maintain a constantly advancing storyline, with details from past episodes remaining relevant throughout. Despite the sometimes-tired comedy, the plot carries through consistently throughout the entire series — a mark of tight writing by creator Michael Aitkens.
Perhaps Waiting for God would’ve been a more potent program if its episode count were reduced in half, although I have a feeling most viewers identify so strongly with the characters, that would sound like heresy.
The Waiting for God Complete Collection contains all five seasons on nine discs. Special features include the Christmas Special episodes from 1992 and 1993 with seasons three and four respectively, as well as a 30-minute featurette on the delightful Stephanie Cole included with season two. The first three seasons also include cast biographies and trailers.
The back of each set includes a disclaimer that that sound and picture quality will vary due to the archival nature in footage, and they weren’t kidding. Clearly no effort has been made to remaster many of these episodes, with digital artifacts from their television broadcasts quite apparent. The cheesy graphic design and misspellings all over the packaging lend the set a slapped-together feel, but it’s a decent treatment for a quality BBC series from the early ’90s.