Alice & Jack review: romcom with Domhnall Gleeson and Aisling Bea has chemistry in all the wrong places

Television: With Domhnall Gleeson, Aisling Bea and 2023 Oscar nominee Andrea Riseborough in lead roles, the Channel 4 series has much going for it, but it is simply not likeable

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, audiences have been enjoying a sweet romantic comedy about a couple who seem destined to be apart but, against the odds, find a way to be together. Set in cool, bustling London, it’s a quirky tale sure to warm the cockles and restore your belief in true love.

That series is One Day, and you’ve probably already binged it on Netflix. For a different perspective on dating and the workings of the human heart, there is Alice & Jack (Channel 4, Wednesdays, 9pm) – a well-made but cool-to-the-touch and often unlikeable dissection of modern mating.

It has lots going for it. The cast is top rank and very Irish, with Domhnall Gleeson and Aisling Bea excelling as two corners of a love triangle. The third is 2023 Oscar nominee Andrea Riseborough, playing Alice, a rude and emotionally unstable financial services worker who breaks the heart of Jack (Gleeson) when they meet through a dating app.

They sleep together, she chucks him out and says never to call. But when he does call, she’s delighted. They go on a date to an art gallery, where she picks a fight with a nice lady at the information desk. Jack is flummoxed: is that a red flag he sees before him?


Apparently not. Like One Day, Alice and Jack contains frequent time jumps, and when we skip forward 18 months, Jack has married sweet, sensible Lynn (Bea), and they have a baby. Then Alice calls out of the blue, and Jack drops everything to meet her – leaving poor Lynn twisting in the wind.

Romcoms – even affected, arty ones such as Alice & Jack – are all about fantasy. Nonetheless, a little realism helps every now and then. The problem is you never believe in Alice and Jack’s mutual fascination – she’s unpredictable, he’s a passive-aggressive nerd, they have no chemistry.

The relationship between Jack and Lynn is far more plausible. Maybe it’s an Irish thing, but Gleeson and Bea share a genuine spark, and they even wring some humour from the desiccated script.

“You realise this child will have an English accent,” says an appalled Lynn when she reveals she is pregnant. “There’s worse things,” offers Jack. “Like what? I can’t think of any,” Lynn correctly answers.

Did Bea improvise that line? Because the same light wit is otherwise conspicuously absent. Instead, everyone talks as if they’re in Werner Herzog’s reimagining of Love Actually. “Don’t hang your hat on subtext mate,” says Jack’s annoying best friend after our bashful hero first hooks up with Alice. “Subtext is dangerous. Subtext can get you killed.”

Nobody talks like this – not even characters in pretentious Channel 4 stodge. Then nobody behaves like Alice or Jack either – their selfishness is appalling, the appetite for self-destruction unfathomable. And when you can’t root for the leads in a romantic drama, what’s the point of even giving it the time of day in the first place? Keep on swiping – there are better shows out there to which you can entrust your heart.