Nothing represents the dread and delight of aloneness more than a 'pile-o'-s*** boyfriend'. That is, a pile of miscellaneous things (hairbrushes, a laptop, etc) forming the shape of a person on the other side of the bed. Such are the bedding situations of sisters Aine and Shona in This Way Up, the brilliantly succinct comedy-drama from writer/actor/comedian Aisling Bea.
The sisters have an enviable friendship, occasionally punctured by sibling frustrations – carried perfectly by Bea and Sharon Horgan's central performances. Often it’s just enough to watch them in a room together; the first scene of series two sees them struggle in a claustrophobic, infra-red sauna. They bounce off each other with a natural comedy flair, enjoyable in their differences as much as their similarities.
The pile-o'-s*** boyfriend. Photo: Channel 4
Shona (Horgan) is an accomplished businessperson: she’s structured and organised, like her life is built for a specific direction. Aine (Bea), in contrast, is more flighty and unpredictable: joyous, funny, and always excited.
From the two episodes available to review, it's clear the tone has shifted slightly from series one. Where Aine was in a dangerous cycle of anxiety, avoidance, and bottled-up feelings, she seems more settled now. Key to this is the sort-of-relationship with her older employer Richard, played by Tobias Menzies.
It’s fascinating to see a quieter, more reserved performance from Menzies, who’s best known for his royal roles in The Crown and Game of Thrones. In contrast, Richard is a sweet image of masculine repression, afraid of displaying too much emotion. Aine draws out those more genuine feelings, very different from his stunted presence in series one. Seeing him laugh, usually at Aine’s jokes, is a peculiar delight.
Aine and Shona (Sharon Horgan) not enjoying an infra-red sauna. Photo: Channel 4
Inevitably, the dubious dynamic between older male employer and younger female employee falls under Shona’s scrutiny. Aine doesn’t care, and groans whenever her sister brings it up. So far, she incurs very little conflict beyond a slight issue in the bedroom. Sometimes less drama is nicer; it’s just nice to watch Aine's happiness.
But there are little moments, beautifully composed, in which Aine’s told to relax her sadness. You can see her face drop for a moment: a blink-and-miss-it tension that shows the subtleties in Bea’s writing, her performance, and Alex Winckler’s direction.
At this point, Aine has very little to hide… unlike her judgemental sister. These opening episodes gravitate more significantly towards Shona, who clearly strives to preserve a successful image of herself. She’s keeping her queer affair with business partner Charlotte (Indira Varma) zipped tight, especially now that invitations for her wedding to Vish (Aasif Mandvi) are being posted. It’s a curious narrative switch that could bring a more concentrated focus on Shona.
This series is also much raunchier, but in awkwardly excruciating ways. The sex scenes are uncomfortable, but contribute to the reality the series is capturing. It’s that reality where Bea shines the most as a writer. She splits This Way Up into neat 25-minute chapters that leave you craving more. Thankfully, series two is dropping on All4 in one go. This critic can’t wait to dive into the rest.
This Way Up series 2 airs on Wednesday 14 July at 9pm on Channel 4.
|What||This Way Up series 2, Channel 4, first-look review|
14 Jul 21 – 14 Jul 22, ON CHANNEL 4
|Website||Click here for more information|