People on TV rarely have jobs. I mean, of course they do have jobs, but they don’t really do them. Apart from news anchors and talk show hosts and such, obviously. Other than that, they do not do their jobs. Which can be fine in some cases. Cliff Clavin is a postman, but we do not need to see him make his rounds because Cheers is set in a bar after hours. But how often do we actually see people work their jobs in cases where we realistically should, aside from police procedurals. Chandler Bing is rarely seen at his desk and Ross practically never in any sort of museum. Even when a show is set in an office or at another workplace, the protagonists are usually up to some shenanigans instead of doing their damn jobs. Watching Doug Heffernan get in trouble with the guy loading his truck is hilarious, watching him deliver parcels less so. And while I can only come up with sitcoms for this little corollary of my hypothesis, I am confident the point still stands. In police procedurals it is often the other way round. We almost never see the protagonists doing anything but their jobs. Even if there is some interpersonal conflict or drama involving Starsky and/or Hutch, it is between them and one of their coworkers or superiors. Drama in hospital shows takes place in the hospital, is what I am saying.
I get why this is the case, I really do. Would you want to see Susan Delfino sitting at her desk, writing away for hours and hours to finish her new children’s book? On the same token, would you want to have the exciting car chase dramatically intercut with Gene Hunt doing his laundry during one of Bolly’s freakish dream sequences? Hell, I would pay good money to have my own job happen off-camera. Money I would then probably not earn anymore because my job happened off-screen… Moving on!
Now that we understand why people on TV are as strange as they are when it comes to jobs, I want to come to the point I wanted to make to begin with. It is even stranger if you have a character who is set up perfectly for actually seeing her at her normal, everyday job occasionally and never bloody showing her do it! Lark Rise to Candleford’s Dorcas Lane is supposed to be this lynchpin of the community. That is achieved mainly by people pretty much stating it outright or by showing her meddling in everybody’s lives, solving the private problems people have. Be it Robert Timmins’ stolen tools, Thomas Brown’s inability to approach the future Mrs Thomas Brown (née Ellison) or the Sisters Pratt’s money troubles, Dorcas takes care of everything. At least, that is what we see. What remains implied time and time again is that she can only achieve that because she works at the post-office she owns, which acts as the social hub in Candleford.
I do not know if post-offices were social hubs in the late 1890s, but people went there to keep in touch with other people on a regular basis, so it seems probable enough, so suppose they were. Why do we practically never see Dorcas Lane standing behind the counter of her dear, beloved, inherited-from-her-Pa post-office? We only see her there when the Sisters Pratt show up to be upstaged by her when they try to reconnoitre for new gossip or when the season’s new love interest comes swooping into town, conveniently heading straight to the post-office, of course. We see Miss Lane go on a “harvest holiday” in Lark Rise, where the poor peasants’ backbreaking labor makes for some great relaxing, I am sure. We see her sitting around in JD’s hotel during the middle of the day. We see her arranging for the Pratts to teach Minnie needlework and we see her hanging around in Emma’s place in Lark Rise (which they made a huge deal out of being ever so slightly under 8 miles from Candleford in the first episode). Maybe more than everything else, we see her sitting at the table eating fancy meals, her real one true weakness.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Lark Rise to Candleford. Those problems are par for the course for TV entertainment, as we have established a couple of dozen lines up. I simply think that this is a missed opportunity. Dorcas as a character would be more believable and her interactions with the Candlefordians and Lark Risers would have more impact if once or twice per episode, or even just once every now and then, she would be standing behind the post-office’s counter in the background of a scene focussing on Laura. Or doing the books while Thomas Brown is quoting the bible at Margaret. Or retiring to bed early because she has to get up at 5 in the morning to be ready when all the letters arrive from wherever it is letters arrive from, just for the scene to then go on with the focus on Minnie. Or with Matthew Welby, the blacksmith, whatever happened to him after season one…
Little scenes like that would not have bogged down the narrative at all, being short and in the background. On the contrary, they could have enriched it, subtly setting up some bigger dramatic event or big pay-off. Imagine a woman standing in line at the counter, talking to Miss Lane, in several different episodes, becoming more and more agitated as time goes on. You notice that, of course. And when it is time to reveal the health of her husband, who is at a health spa, is slowly deteriorating without much hope, all is nicely set up for that plot line. Little moments like that would not have been inconsequential, making the world of Lark Rise to Candleford so much richer and more three-dimensional, turning a good TV show into a great one.
Disclaimer: that great drawing up there was done by Nothing of the Kind, whose author I am lucky enough to know personally, as the picture is way out of my league.