In what may become a regular feature, I take you through the top three shows with which you should be catching up. Warning: contains weird-sounding but totally correct grammar.
Inside No. 9
Catch Up On: BBC iPlayer
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have been experimenting with anthology since the final season of The League of Gentlemen, and went on to hone this Hitchcockian voice in the Rope-inspired episode of Psychoville. The dark duo have long been experts at combining chilling psychological explorations with silly, almost Carry On style humour, and Inside No. 9 finds them at their subtle best. Drawing inspiration from Hammer Horror to Charlie Chaplin, each episode stands alone, telling one story in one location. In a TV climate full of big budgets, big names and big plot holes, Inside No. 9 stands out as tight, simple writing over a tight running time. Very few shows can maintain total interest over 29 minutes, but Shearsmith and Pemberton ensure this by drip-feeding plot points to the viewer and keeping them guessing until the credits roll. As expected in an anthology series, some stories will be more successful than others, and so far Episodes 2 and 3 (‘A Quiet Night In’; ‘Tom & Gerri’) have been the highlights.
What to say: The anthology series totally reflects modern society’s commitment issues.
What not to say: Is this like Through The Keyhole?
My Mad, Fat Diary
Catch Up On: 4od
The second series of this teen drama, based on the diaries of Rae Earl, has recently started on E4. As the title rather flippantly suggests, this is the story of an overweight, mentally ill teenager growing up in Stamford in 1996. I haven’t seen the first series of the show, but it was recommended by a friend and certainly has enough originality to make it one of the more worthy things beaming out of the telly box of late. My hesitancy about My Mad Fat Diary largely stems from how tonally problematic it is. Yes, it is an accurate depiction of an angsty, V-plate obsessed late-teenage life, but I can’t quite work out how exploitative the whole thing is. At times the show resembles the illustrated frothiness of Georgia Nicolson, but it can rapidly become uncomfortably dark. Rae (played superbly by Sharon Rooney) is irrational and lacking in any confidence, often envisaging a world where she is tormented and mocked as she walks down corridors. Put frankly, there are times when you want to give her a mad, fat slap round the face.
But, this must be the point. We see a much similar story in the fantastic Girls, where protagonist Hannah is equal parts endearing and infuriating. There’s just something about My Mad Fat Diary which doesn’t quite work, and it may be that the attempt to appeal to a teenage audience (bouncy soundtrack, primary coloured credits, hunky male lead) is completely at odds with the themes of the show and Rae herself, who is borderline suicidal.
What to say: My Mad Fat Diary should be compulsory viewing in all secondary schools.
What not to say: Are there any gypsy weddings in this?
Ja’mie: Private School Girl
Catch Up On: BBC iPlayer
While My Mad Fat Diary attempts to ground itself in reality, this latest mockumentary from Chris Lilley is completely rooted in parody. Taking a character from Summer Heights High, Lilley explores the spoilt, bitchy, faux-glam world of private school girl Ja’mie (she added the apostrophe in Year 8). In every school (particularly in girls’ schools) there is one student who rises to the top of the social ladder without being in any way impressive: this is Ja’mie. Somehow she has become the pride of Hillford Girls’ Grammar School, largely by sucking up to the right people and shitting on the people who don’t matter. Ja’mie has cultured a sycophantic gang of prefects, without whom the queen bee would be nothing. While Chris Lilley is fantastically feminine (and almost invisible) as Ja’mie, it is her cackling, straight-haired cronies who create the true parody. Some have complained that Private School Girl is one-dimensional, and of course it is. Ja’mie and the girls speak and giggle in an endlessly rotating lexicon of boys, tits, lesbians, Facebook and Coke Zero, completely mocking the dramatic emptiness of the spoilt brat. To spend half an hour in Ja’mie’s company is exhausting, but we are merely getting the same experience as her Hillford peers: we are the incredulously gaping extras in the MTV music video that is her life.
What to say: After the sincerity of Educating Yorkshire, it’s easy to forget that teenagers can and should be mocked for their institutionalised idiosyncrasies.
What not to say: Is this Tory propaganda?