Archives for posts with tag: Sharon Horgan

Sitcoms fall into two broad categories in terms of premise. There is your bog-standard nuclear family or group of friends set up, which are self-explanatory and more mainstream. Yes, there may be a slightly new take on it (e.g. they are all physicists like in The Big Bang Theory), but it is still a fairly straightforward take.

The second is a bit more esoteric, where there is perhaps some surprising darkness to the story. Back to Life, which I haven’t watched but want to, is about a woman rebuilding her life after being released from prison for a horrific crime. Quite often there is something deeper going on here rather than just laughs, which is fine unless you then realise the laughs have been forgot all together.

This Way Up falls into this second group. It follows Aine, played by writer of the show Aisling Bea, as she enters the world following a nervous breakdown that saw her in rehab. She works as a TEFL teacher and has a strong relationship with older sister Shona (Sharon Horgan), who has taken on the responsibility of keeping an eye on Aine whilst also building her own life.

The humour is driven by Aine’s tendency to handle her problems or any uncomfortable moments by making bad jokes peppered with brutal honesty. The writing is smart and does raise a smile, but it never becomes quite a laugh.

The solution is to instead treat the show as a drama with an edge of humour to it. This works because everything else about the show is strong. The characters are engaging, particularly Aine herself, who manages to play someone still dealing with a swirling vortex of chaos inside as brittle but easy to sympathise with. You instantly want good things to happen to her, even when some of the problems she faces are self-inflicted.

The relationship between the sisters is also genuine. There is that mix of sparring and frustration muddled with silliness and protectiveness that close siblings have with each other. It helps that Horgan’s character is developing nicely as well as she faces her own challenges.

This is a good show, but it feels wrong to label it a comedy. It is, however, a good representation of the isolation that mental health can create and the need to present yourself as fine with all the defence mechanisms that involves. The strength of the story alone makes it an excellent watch. Just don’t expect to split your sides.

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Firstly, an apology for missing a week. Real life got in the way. And by real life, I mean a Christmas Afternoon High Tea with prosecco. But I am back now, so let’s crack on.

Last year the BBC launched a number of sitcom pilots to see if any could generate enough interest to succeed as a series. Most failed to even raise an eyebrow, but one – Motherland – generated both critical and public acclaim. This perhaps isn’t surprising when you consider the calibre of people working on it. Two of the four writers are Graham Linehan and Sharon Horgan, both of whom have a pedigree in making excellent comedies.

Motherland is, as the title obviously suggests, about parenting. Anna Maxwell Martin plays Julia, who is trying to ‘have it all’ and ending up often with having nothing but stress thanks to a feckless husband. Diane Morgan is the more slatternly (and presumably unemployed) single mum Liz, Lucy Punch as queen of the ‘Tiger Mums’ Amanda and Paul Ready is stay-at-home dad Kevin.

It has to be said the strongest character is Liz, full of brutal honesty and realism with also a touch vulnerability. A particular highlight came in episode one when Julia’s entertainer for her child’s birthday party was exposed as a racist and Liz had also used and refused to pay him. When Julia queried if it was the racism, Liz responded with: “No, because he was shit! If I didn’t pay people because they were racist I would have never got my satellite dish fitted. Or my wedding catered for”.

This more down-to-earth humour balances the more manic energies brought by Julia and Kevin. The latter in particular is annoying, a mixture of weird obsessiveness with a desperation to please normally only seen in puppies. It is the fact this portrayal veers in the cartoony that is the show’s biggest weakness. Everybody else you feel is somewhat believable, regardless of their faults.

Putting Kevin aside, this is an excellent comedy. It actually makes you laugh as the strands of the episode build to a climax. There isn’t any of the absurdism of Linehan’s other sitcoms, but then, that wouldn’t work here. This is about wry observations of modern parenting and the social rules that come with it.

I hope this show achieves continued success. Female-dominated comedies often get plenty of well-meaning comments but nothing to show for it. This deserves more. At the very least, a BAFTA for Morgan, who seems to be constantly just bubbling under the surface as a breakout talent. Maybe this could be her chance to join those at comedy’s top table. She has earnt it.