Some people like long-winded dramas featuring women pulling their cardigans together and looking meaningfully out at the sea.Some people like tough, hard-bitten cops. Some people even like Casualty. But I like nothing better than a smart-arsed, failing female character who uses humour as a defence mechanism and a foil for their hideous anxiety and deep feelings of inadequacy. Who knows why? *Fleabag look to camera*
That’s why my new favourite protagonist is Aine from This Way Up, who is stumbling through her recovery from a nervous breakdown, making shit jokes and being adorable, vulnerable and infuriating in equal measure. She leaves voice messages for her sister, putting on a terrible Scottish accent and pretending to be from the STD clinic (“Ah’m afraid that your farny is rotten through and through.”). She complains to the rehab centre she’s just been discharged from that there was no jacuzzi as advertised and that the snack selection was poor. And in her (rather idealised, admittedly) job as a TEFL tutor, she threatens to ‘Brexit the lot of you’ if they don’t do their homework. I LOVE HER.
This Way Up is the debut of comedian Aisling Bea, aided and abetted by Sharon Horgan, who must have some kind of special gland that can effortlessly produce hilarious, painfully true TV that stays with you for years. (Whenever I open the mirrored door of a bathroom cabinet, for example, I think of Barry from Pulling drying his arse). Bea’s performance is sparklingly off-the-rails – she’s a naturally warm and funny performer who is also able to conjure brief moments of crushed disappointment and raw vulnerability that can unexpectedly move you to tears. Together, they’re a mighty double act.
The supporting cast is entertainingly eclectic, too, featuring EastEnders’ Ricky Grover as Aine’s rehab mate, a bunch of overblown pretentious London types, and a lonely 12-year-old French boy whom Aine is tutoring while trying to navigate his prickly father Richard (Tobias Menzies, who can do emotional constipation like no other actor). There’s a couple of developing relationships that are full of promise, and I’m in that magical stage where I haven’t watched it all yet but I want to savour it. This doesn’t happen very often these days – usually I’m flicking through Netflix with one eye on my phone, feeling deeply malnourished by the constant churn of boring content.
Of course, as it’s a show written and performed by women, it’d be easy to put This Way Up in a box, in the same way everybody did with that other famous show written by a woman. But to get the attention it deserves, nobody needs to push Waller off a Bridge – just watch it, enjoy it and tell your friends that there’s a new funny, fucked-up heroine in town. And if you’d rather watch Casualty, well… you do you.