This Way Up

This Way Up (Channel 4)

By creator Aisling Bea’s own admission, a ‘comedy about loneliness’ doesn’t exactly sound like a laugh-riot. But in the era of Fleabag, Catastrophe and After Life, we’re used to a bit of grit in our comedy oyster and, on first impressions, This Way Up is a welcome addition to that bittersweet canon.

Bea plays Aine, who we first meet checking out of rehab after a ‘teeny little nervous breakdown’. Four months later, she’s back at work, teaching English to immigrants (with a little help from the Kardashians) but clearly still something of a lost soul. She leans heavily on her older sister Shona (the reliably great Sharon Horgan, whose production company also makes the show) as an emotional crutch, and spends much of her time drifting aimlessly around the night-time streets and parks of London.

She also uses her quick, caustic wit (‘I’m not being sarky, I’m being sassy,’ she protests at one point) as a defence mechanism to hide her loneliness and vulnerability, and insists, Irishly, that she’s ‘grand’, when she is clearly not grand.

Aine is a good person – even when, in a rather desperate search for kicks, she shoplifts a smoothie, she takes care to recycle it properly. And she clearly cares for the students in her TEFL class, which is full of ‘characters’, like a non-racist version of 70s sitcom Mind Your Language.

Bea’s Big Idea here is to flip the usual dramatic convention of chronicling someone's breakdown, in favour of watching them slowly – we hope, at least – building themselves back up. It’s a role she plays beautifully, presumably because there’s a fair bit of her in it.

Along the way, she grasps the nettle of our spiralling mental health crisis, while offering a thoughtful study of disconnected and atomised modern cities, in which it’s possible to be surrounded by millions of people, yet still feel horribly alone.

None of which, as Bea says, sounds terribly funny. But it is funny, in an understated sort of a way, and also sad, and wise, and rather lovely, actually.


TV extra:

 

Portrait Artist of the Year (Channel 4)

Sky Arts’ painting challenge is one of TV’s real hidden gems, so it’s great to see it getting a terrestrial airing. The format – nine artists, three celebrity sitters – is simple and, for the viewer at least, strangely restful. Though the fact one of this week’s models was Jodie Comer, aka Killing Eve’s loopy assassin Villanelle, did make me slightly uneasy that, should anyone fail to capture a flattering likeness, she might impale them with their own palette knife.

 

Euphoria (Now TV / Sky Box Sets)

The path from winsome Disney starlet to troubled hellraiser is a well-trod one, but at least Zendaya (Spider-Man, The Greatest Showman) is only pretending to have gone off the rails, playing a wayward teenage drug addict in this disturbing – and very graphic – HBO drama that’s been a huge hit in in America. If you’ve a low tolerance for Gen Z self-obsession, you might want to give it a wide berth, but any under-30s in your life are probably already hooked.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, 15 August, 2019

(c) Waitrose Weekend