TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)

Series 2 of Chewing Gum sees Michaela Coel nail the ‘two series and out’ trajectory of some of the best British sitcoms

“I’m not 17, I’m a grown-up woman. I just…regularly make childlike mistakes”

I belatedly came to Chewing Gum just now and watched both the first series and this second one in a single sitting each, their addictive nature and too-easily bingeable lengths giving me two fine nights in front of the TV.

Writer and creator Michaela Coel rarely let her imagination get in the way of the first six episodes but here, the expansion of Tracey’s world beyond her Tower Hamlets estate is quite simply fucking hilarious. Plus, the marvellous Sinéad Matthews appears in this series too. Continue reading “TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)”

TV Review: Save Me Too

Lennie James and his iconic yellow jacket return for an uncompromising and still excellent second series of Save Me, this time with added Lesley Manville 

“Thought I was cleverer than I am, I went in there, bloody swinging my dick. I offered him out and he sat me on my arse”

After a scorching first series, series 2 of Save Me, wittily named Save Me Too, picks up some 17 months later. South East London charmer Nelly had his world tipped upside down when his long-estranged daughter Jody was abducted and all signs pointed to someone he knew being deeply involved. And a tense finale saw him following the trail only to find a different kidnapped girl – Grace.

The slight time-jump of this second series is an effective tool as it allows James to explore the weight of tragedy with a little distance added in. Two years or so down the line, life has had to continue but the shadow of a child abuse ring naturally lingers heavily and we how see James’ Nelly, and to a lesser degree Suranne Jones’ Claire – Jody’s mum – have accommodated as best they can the vacuum in their world. Continue reading “TV Review: Save Me Too”

TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 1)

In the spirit of Black Lives Matters and an inspiration from Noma Dumezweni, I’m turning my attention to the TV shows, I haven’t gotten round to watching that I should have done by now, starting with Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum 

“Do you want a Fruit Pastille?”

Michaela Coel’s comedy show Chewing Gum was born out of her play Chewing Gum Dreams which played in the Shed at the National Theatre in 2014, a rare moment when a monologue like that could be programmed at a theatre like that. I didn’t catch it then and on the evidence of this first series, the loss is most definitely mine.

A proper British sitcom (6 episodes, no fuss), the show stars creator and writer Coel as Tracey, an East London shop assistant in her early 20s who is determined to cast off the shackles of her religious upbringing and learn about the world. Oh, and she really really really wants to get some. Continue reading “TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 1)”

TV Review: Beautiful People (Series 1)

Perfect fun for lockdown viewing, Series 1 of Beautiful People is an indisputable camp classic

“Reading’s such a dump guys, I don’t know how you do it”

There’s camp and then there’s camp. The first episode of Series 1 of Beautiful People contains, among other things, Égoïste advert reenactments, Tennessee Williams-based inner monologues to the tune of  ‘I Will Survive’, future dames Sarah Niles and Olivia Colman wrestling to the tune of ‘Spice Up Your Life’, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor covering ‘Jolene’. Naturally, it is huge amounts of fun.

Written by Jonathan Harvey from Simon Doonan’s memoirs, this 2008 comedy drama follows the life of thirteen-year-old Simon, who isn’t letting the fact that he lives in the sururban drudgery of Reading get in the way of being absolutely fabulous. He dreams of moving to London but until then, we get to see tales from his eventful childhood. Continue reading “TV Review: Beautiful People (Series 1)”

TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 5

Chloë Moss, Nathaniel Martello-White and Jasmine Lee-Jones make Episode 5 of Unprecedented unmissable 

“I want people not screens”

One of the main strengths, for me, of Unprecedented has been the sheer variety of the writing that has responded to Covid-19 here. Previous episodes (#1, #2, #3, #4) have all impressed but the combination of writers in this fifth instalment really captures that lightning-in-a-bottle potential that makes the best theatre spark.

I watched Chloë Moss’ Everybody’s Talkin’ whilst hungover but not even I can blame the huge weeping tears on that alone, this is a beautifully pitched, gorgeously performed slice of family drama in miniature. Three daughters gather on Zoom to speak with their recently bereaved mother but the trials of finding a new normal, within the context of already having find a new normal is full of unimaginable pain. Moss’ writing and Caitlin McLeod’s direction speaks directly to the challenges that so many faced even before coronavirus hit, and during, and Sue Johnston leads the cast marvellously.

Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 5”

TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 4

Monica Dolan swearing and Ned Bennett directing Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni? Episode 4 of Unprecedented knocks it out of the park

“This is not like The Hunger Games”

After the bleakness of the third instalment, Episode 4 of Unprecedented reintroduces the note of variety that makes the enterprise work so well, with its collections of short plays responding to the ways in which society has had to change in response to lockdown and pandemicorama.

Deborah Bruce’s Kat and Zaccy looks at how children of divorced households have had to make huge decisions about who to hunker down with, and the consequences of those decisions. Monica Dolan and Alex Lawther play the fractious mother/son relationship perfectly as she shamelessly emotionally manipulates the situation as best to her advantage as she can. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 4”

TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3

Episode 3 of Unprecedented proves a bleak and brutal one-two of hard-hitting Covid drama

“I don’t see what good it does to worry, sitting around panicking”

Due to the (presumably intentional) programming, Part 1 and Part 2 of Unprecedented – Headlong and Century Films’ creative response to Coronavirus – found a sense of balance in their collections of short plays, tragicomic probably being the watchword. Episode 3 however goes all in on the tragedy, making it a pretty bleak half hour.

First up is Duncan Macmillan’s Grounded, directed by Jeremy Herrin, which takes aim at the generation gap and how that has dictated people’s response to the crisis. Katherine Parkinson’s event planner is wracked with job worries and concerns over her ability to home-school. But what really drives her over the edge is the casualness with which her retired parents are taking the whole affair, screaming into the ether as they amble on as if life hasn’t changed but at all. Alison Steadman and Michael Elwyn are excellent as the slightly daffy, devoted couple belatedly coming round to the seriousness of it all. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3”

TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 2

The use of real-life couples makes Episode 2 of Unprecedented a very strong entry – superb work from Gemma Arterton, Arthur Darvill and Cecilia Noble among others

“I can be there for you, even from here”

Episode 2 of Unprecedented, Headlong and Century FIlm’s creative rapid-response to coronavirus definitely managed to take advantage of acting households, as husbands and wives abounded (Arthur Darvill and Inès De Clercq, Gemma Arterton and Rory Keenan, Olivia Williams and Rhashan Stone), offering up a different texture than just the single person shots that dominated the first episode. 

Tim Price’s Romantic Distancing, directed by Jeremy Herrin, was really rather swooningly lovely. Darvill and De Clercq playing a couple who’ve only been together for a couple of months and trying to work out if staying together, whilst isolating apart, is worth it. The switch into Once-style balladry worked beautifully for me and it’s kinda hard not to root for this pair. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 2”

TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1

Episode 1 of Unprecedented features strong writing from James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly 

“It’s clear that everything’s going to be different…
and then again, I’m scared that things won’t be different”

It is with an admirable speed with which Headlong and Century Films have pulled together Unprecedented, a theatrical response to the impact of lockdown on society. Conceived, written, filmed and produced in lockdown, and now airing on BBC4, some of our most exciting playwright and a cast of over 50 really have pulled together impressively and this first instalment of three short plays is certainly promising.

Necessity is the mother of invention, or something, and so all three use digital conferencing technology in one way or another and if anything, there’s no bigger marker in the way that our relationships to each other have been altered than this. How many of us even knew what Zoom was in January? And between them, writers James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly deftly sketch some of these changes.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1”