Despite using its six episodes to explore a whole range of important social issues, one big problem with Ackley Bridge series one was that it failed to really address what it advertised itself as. The show wasn’t about how religion and culture can separate friendships, and now that pretense has been shed the second series is free to just be a pleasant drama about working class, multicultural life.
We’re very quickly reintroduced to the area by a monologuing Nas, as she points to the secret far right racists, the foolish men and the deception that’s still running riot. Hypocrisy is present on any English street, and the show proves this again when the next thing we see is two muslim girls attempting to buy bottles of cider from the local corner shop. It’s not what you do, but what you seem to do, that matters here.
We skip to Samir’s wedding, where Emma is looking lovelorn and we discover that the two cider-guzzling girls are actually Nas and Missy taking advantage of the invisibility their outfits give them. The students at Ackley Bridge are still clueless, and it seems so are the teachers. Not only do Samir and Emma continue their affair, but Emma has to navigate an awkward one-night stand with the PE teacher.
Jordan’s getting into even more trouble this year, as the cash stolen by a drunk Nas and Missy isn’t just the harmless pocket money they thought. Soon he’s being threatened by the local drug dealer and charged interest until the money is paid.
Now that she’s come out to her family, the wheels have been put in motion for Nas to find a suitable gay husband to act as her beard. It’s the easiest way for everyone, she says, but we can tell she isn’t happy with how hard the rest of her life is going to be. Naveed seems nice enough, but I suspect he might be more interested in Nas than he let on to her mother.
Then there are the rumours that her new boyfriend causes as, despite being no closer to finding out that Nas is more interested in girls, the other girls in class are convinced she’s now a ‘slapper’.
Later, a man tracks down Nas to inform her that her father isn’t in Pakistan as he said, but rather in Bradford with the secret family he’s had all this time. The news throws Nas for a loop, as you’d expect, and makes her question why she’s bending over backwards to keep up appearances for her family when they can’t do the same. She goes to his house, and her dad says it’s been going on since before she was born.
When Nas confronts her mother about her husband’s secret life, she discovers that it had been an open secret the whole time. Men have choices, she says, and women have to make sacrifices in order to live even an adequate life. Had she left her husband when he was caught in Woolworths, then Nas wouldn’t be here.
At school, it’s exams time and Missy is struggling with no support from her mother. She’s around this time at least, but Missy is not viewed as the academic in the family. There’s an interesting scene in which Missy and Nas talk about switching places – Nas with a future at university and at a job she wants, and Missy marrying whoever she likes with no judgement from others.
A debate at the school over core subjects versus what students are actually good at is brewing because of students like Missy, with only seven per cent getting a passing grade for English, Maths and Science in the mock exams. It’s not quite a “violation of their human rights” as one student exclaims, but it’s a hard decision for Mandy made even harder by the passive-aggressive comments from Sadiq (*pantomime boo!*).
It leads to a very lame student protest, which is something I’m sure we all remember fondly from our own days at school. For me it was for girls being able to wear trousers, which is slightly less pressing but no less important than being able to study drama and graphics.
A strong opener for the show, this, but also one that’s as predictable and oddly comforting as it was last year. The female friendship remains its stable core, and some interesting threads have been introduced that will surely carry us through the next six weeks.