Spoilers for season 1 and content warning for a suicide attempt.
One of the most difficult things about good writing is approaching sensitive topics that you want to treat with respect and honesty while also creating characters who are more than the difficulties they carry, and figuring out “OK but is it funny?” Luckily for Hulu’s This Way Up, creator, writer, and star Aisling Bea is really funny. Bea (also from the Paul Rudd Netflix show Living With Yourself) stars as Áine (pronounced “ON-ya” since I’ll be using it a lot), a woman trying to renormalize her life after what she describes as a “teeny little nervous breakdown” and suicide attempt. The stuff that comedy is made of, obviously. Sharon Horgan (of Catastrophe fame) also executive produces and costars as Áine’s sister Shona. They are very sweet to each other while still brutally honest and often snippy. They are, in other words, very, very Irish. Aasif Mandvi (formerly of The Daily Show, and now on CBS’s Evil which is a different wild thing I’ll need to talk at you about at some point in the future) plays Shona’s boyfriend, and Tobias Menzies (from a lot of the British stuff you know, but notably Rome, Game of Thrones, and Outlander) is the father of one of Áine’s students whom she’s tutoring in English. I will be talking more about him later.
That’s it. It employs some good use of British awkwardness and cringey moments, but because the characters are written as real people those moments are also resolved as real people would resolve them. It’s not an overly complicated plot and prefers to focus on Áine doing the slow and careful work of getting and keeping her life together. I should be clear, it’s not fluffy. She gets sad and lonely and makes mistakes and doesn’t do things as well as she could. The show doesn’t get bogged down in the darker elements, but it doesn’t shy away from them. Áine went through a traumatic period and that knowledge is baked into the show. It’s also baked into a funny, touching show about fundamentally good people trying to do better. Also, it’s three hours long and it’s great. If you’ve got three hours to watch people with great accents talking at each other, you should.
If you’re lucky enough to have already seen the first season of This Way Up? Awesome, let’s talk some
Spoilers #1: Sharon Horgan Is Ruining My Life
In the best way, Sharon Horgan is completely ruining me. She’s already won a lot of awards in my heart for writing, producing, and starring in Catastrophe, another British show that decided some of the darkest stuff on the planet could make the best comedy show. It would have been easy to let Shona, as the older sister and presumably the one to help clean up Áine’s life, be relegated to the nag or foil, but neither Bea nor Horgan are unskilled enough to let that happen. Shona and Áine’s relationship is the backbone of the show, and each of them gets to have equal time and space to deal with their own heartbreak in addition to Áine’s. Also, as the middle of three girls, I identify a little too hard with some of their fights. Shona’s line about how Áine’s life isn’t her own because it’s Shona’s too, Áine’s line about wanting to be honest with Shona but not wanting to make her sad, but really it’s the fight about sharing waffles. “Oh my god, you can have half of one of my waffles” is the most accurate sister line I’ve ever heard.
Spoilers #2: Chris Geere Is Great at Playing Terrible Guys
This is a minor point, but Chris Geere (from You’re The Worst) shows up as Áine’s ex-boyfriend Freddie, whose break-up preceded Áine’s little nervous breakdown. I’m not going to say that the break-up led to the breakdown because that’s not exactly how mental health issues work, but I would like to say that Geere again has the thankless job of being great in a role where he’s the awful boyfriend to a woman I love. I would treat her better than you could, Freddie. I want you to know that.
Spoiler #3: Good Lord, Richard
I did say I’d have more to say about him later. Some of them might actually be real words and sentences instead of a stream of nonsense noises followed by a deep exhale. Tobias Menzies is a handsome man. Richard is so awkwardly and devastatingly attractive, I find myself wanting to make a pass at a man in a cardigan sweater.
Because this is a show that embraces its characters with their flaws, Richard isn’t perfect. He has a strained relationship with a son who he hasn’t known most of his life, and can be gruff and standoffish. But he can also be thoughtful and caring, especially when Áine makes it clear she’s in need of a little understanding.
Also, where is the school that teaches you how to be that overwhelmingly sexy with only your eyes and forehead concern-wrinkles? I either need to enroll immediately or stay away forever. Richard just wanders in with his Big Mr. Rochester Energy and perfectly cragged face, and I’m completely undone. I, an actual person who is fully aware that Richard is a fictional character and cannot impact me in any real way, am weak-kneed in the face of his face. My girl Áine on the other hand? Completely unfettered. Holds. It. Down.
This is why I want nothing but the best for you, Áine. Nothing but the best.