The digital pings of MSN Messenger are only really remembered by a specific generation. Outside of nostalgic videos on YouTube or Facebook, has anyone heard those noises since?
Author Dolly Alderton opened her famous memoir Everything I Know About Love with MSN chat boxes, and now her self-penned series adaptation solidifies the experience. Despite early internet access for teenagers being a pastime most of us would prefer to forget, it’s a vital component of millennial childhood this critic hadn’t seen on television before now.
It's used as one of a number of bonding experiences between lifelong best friends Maggie (Emma Appleton) and Birdy (Bel Powley). Alderton sketches these characters from her real life, but they work perfectly for television. Maggie is chaotic, extroverted, a party girl; Birdy is nervous, has never dated anyone, and doesn’t do drugs (well, not that often). Their parallel personalities complement each other, through uniformed school days to university to a sort-of working life in a Camden house-share in 2012.
But then Nathan (Ryan Bown), Birdy’s first-ever date and first-ever boyfriend, arrives in their lives. Maggie keeps schtum, but her jealousy is pungent on screen. Appleton proves to be an emotional maestra with her performance, contradictorily showing the gradual intensity of Maggie’s loss while skilfully bottling up her feelings via booze and fun.
Lefto to right: Birdy (Bel Powley), Maggie (Emma Appleton), Nell (Marli Siu) and Amara (Aliyah Odoffin). Photo: BBC
Expanding beyond the book’s delightfully fractured anecdotes, the series spends time with Maggie and Birdy’s housemates: aspiring dancer Amara (Aliyah Odoffin) and dissatisfied schoolteacher Nell (Marli Siu). It’s a wise move – seven episodes focusing completely on Maggie’s very white and very privileged life would hardly shift the zeitgeist. Occasionally, episodes unfurl like an all-female Lovesick, gliding through their sex lives, relationships, careers and binge-drinking sessions.
Alderton gives these side characters decent substance, but she’s too infatuated with her alter-ego to give Maggie's friends the full attention they deserve. Necessary moments when Maggie’s privilege is questioned feel stuck on as politically relevant afterthoughts, especially when addressing Amara’s racial anxieties. Nevertheless, at least the messages are there.
Because this is clearly the first season of a continuing series (fingers crossed), Nell and Amara function almost like experiments. Alderton obviously loves them, yet she's nervous about venturing outside her own life. Since these experiments are successful and occasionally more interesting than the main characters, hopefully the second volume will provide them more screentime. This critic, for one, is desperate to learn more about their lives.
Izabella Cresci and Daisy Jacob as the teenage Birdy and Maggie. Photo: BBC
Even with these considerations, Maggie's personality is exactly why the memoir sold so well and why its fans will flock to the series. Bizarre tales of house parties, walks of shame, struggles around New York, 200-mile taxi journeys, and a relationship with a clueless musician called Street (Connor Finch) irk and fascinate and entertain. You’re even given a glimpse of Alderton’s time working for the upper-class reality show Made in Chelsea, transparently disguised as Heirs and Graces.
Maggie’s a walking hurricane, the kind of friend that makes you drunk from stares and smiles, like an alcoholic Medusa. And yet, she’s charming and spirited and intensely likeable – bolstered by flashbacks to childhood where she and Birdy dance to S Club 7, cry over horrible boys, and have a laugh whenever possible. But the curse of growing up is growing apart: everyday experiences turn into memories, painful in their pleasantness.
As well as being crudely funny and wildly sexual, Everything I Know About Love dives into the upset, the tragedy, and the beauty of female friendship during the maturing 20s. Much like drinking while drunk, this critic craves another seven shots as soon as possible, please.
Everything I Know About Love airs on Tuesday 7 June at 10:40pm on BBC One and all episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer.
|What||Everything I Know About Love, BBC One review|
07 Jun 22 – 07 Jun 23, ON BBC ONE / iPLAYER
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