Michaela Coel’s comedy-drama about sexual assault is, I suppose, what you would call a masterpiece of television. I feel as though I’ve only just scratched the surface of understanding the show after running through the episodes once.
What’s it about?
Arabella, played by Coel, is a millennial who rose to fame after posting a series of relatable tweets which eventually got turned into a book (this actually happens more than you might think). On the eve of a draft deadline for her second novel, Arabella allows herself one hour to have a fun night out with friends. At some point her drink is spiked, and she wakes up, disorientated and with an alarming cut on her forehead. Her only memory of the night before is a sinister flashback that suggests she was raped, which she initially ignores.
What do I like about it?
The show covers a wide spectrum of contemporary issues around sex, sexuality, assault, and substance abuse, which are ever important topics in society. These are handled with hints of humour that make for interesting watching without detracting from their seriousness.
You have to understand that, although the show has a degree of linearity in its storytelling, Coel exercises a large dollop of artistic licence. This allows for interesting narratives including a flashback to the characters’ younger years, a little bit of hallucination, and the truly incredible final episode that sees Arabella confront her rapist.
What do I not like about it?
I’m cautious about saying too much in this section for fear of having not properly understood the show. Some of the issues it covers are delicate, and I hardly have first, or even second-hand experience of many of them, so I’m not sure it would be right for me to tackle them.
I will just say that I didn’t quite understand the role of Arabella’s flatmate Ben, besides understanding that, at face level, he’s a nice and somewhat reserved chap. I’d be really interested in getting an explainer from someone that was able to crack this nut.
I will also say that, as wide-ranging as the show was in terms of sexuality, the inclusion of a transgender character right at the end felt a little squeezed in, a sort of afterthought. It would have been good to see his relationship with one of the main characters (I won’t say who) develop and blossom a bit earlier on in the show.
Worth a watch?
Yes, just bear in mind it’s very 18+ and some scenes can be triggering.
By the way…
- Coel revealed that she had been sexually assaulted while writing her previous hit, Chewing Gum, and her experience inspired this show.
- When I watched the show, I mistakenly thought it had finished airing at Episode 10 (there are two more episodes), and was about to write my review being bitterly disappointed by the vague ending.