Although the shows are tonally different, almost oppositional, the characters mirror one another's refusal to change. More shows are being made to reflect anxiety and depression in society, but two in one week is a refreshing coincidence.
Bea stars as an English-language teacher who suffers a nervous breakdown
Aine, played by Bea herself, is an energetic English-language teacher who’s emotionally dependent on her sister Shona (Catastrophe's Sharon Horgan). Shona’s the mature one, acting as a kind of surrogate mother to Aine, and worrying constantly - even tracking Aine’s phone to know where she is at all times. Aine retracts from adulthood, avoiding change, which strains their relationship through the series.
Their sibling connection immediately hits with love and hilarity - they talk in front of the telly, squeeze spots, and banter with dark and sassy wit. The comedy performances of Bea and Horgan bubble and spark off each other – it’s no surprise the two actors are good mates in real life.
Although Aine has left the facility, she doesn’t seek further help for her anxiety and loneliness. She doesn’t want to ruin anyone’s day or night, but she’s desperate for human contact. Much of This Way Up doesn’t sound like a comedy on paper, but Bea finds plenty of laughs in the dark... before hitting hard with Aine’s hidden sadness.
The familial chemistry between Aisling Bea and Sharon Horgan bubbles and delights
Aine tries to relieve the tension out of every awkward situations, relying on jokes to get her through. Many of the funniest moments are in in scenes with Tobias Menzies (Game of Thrones, The Crown) who plays Richard, the reluctant father to French boy Etienne (Dorian Grover). Aine is assigned to teach English to Etienne, and her bubbly enthusiasm clashes with Richard’s hands-in-pockets awkwardness.
Aine can’t stop talking and makes plenty of jokes, making her a funny and much-needed presence in a distinctly ‘male’ household where feelings aren’t discussed. When Aine recommends to Richard that he should read to his son, he responds with ‘Is that something maybe you can do with him?’.
Tobias Menzies stars as an awkward and reluctant father
Bea delivers such a powerful and conflictive performance – constantly on edge, her hilarious façade always at risk of slipping. It's perfect for Bea’s naturalistic writing, where a scene can turn from funny to upsetting in the blink of a line.
Hard emotions can come suddenly, almost out of nowhere. Towards the end of episode four, in which Aine and Shona spend time with their mother (Sorcha Cusack), the final scene lightly laughs, then rips open devastating wounds, and then patches them together again with more laughs. It's a jarring, nervous confluence of emotions - such as life.
This Way Up ends like a prologue to something much better, requiring some growth before perfection. The main story, chiefly Aine’s road to getting better, takes its time and the conclusion is slightly anticlimactic. But this is barely relevant. Bea wants to show the daily struggles Aine faces, in places and with people. The struggles of series two, if it happens, can’t come soon enough.
This Way Up airs Thursdays at 10pm on Channel 4. Read our Q&A with Aisling Bea and Sharon Horgan.
|What||This Way Up, Channel 4 review|
08 Aug 19 – 08 Aug 20, 10:00 PM – 10:35 PM
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