Comedies about mental health issues have been on the rise in recent years. Irish comedian Aisling Bea tackles this subject with her comedy-drama This Way Up for Channel 4 and Hulu.
Aine (Bea) is a young Irish woman living in London who had to spend time in rehab after having a wee bit of breakdown. She continues to live her life, working as an English Language teacher, having a relationship with her sister, Shona (Sharon Horgan), becomes a tutor to a French boy, and face the ups and downs of life.
Bea is a successful stand-up comedian in the UK and worked as an actress in sitcoms and dramas. This Way Up marks the first time she has worked as a writer on a show. The strength of her show was its naturalistic style. Its humor is down-to-Earth, and the drama and relationships were believable.
Other shows that have focused on mental health have had a surreal quality to them. My Mad Fat Diary had fantasy sequences, the main character in Fleabag broke the fourth wall, and Bojack Horseman often when on benders which led to him having hallucinations and big realizations. This Way Up went for a grounded approach – it is a show about Aine’s day-to-day struggles.
This Way Up was great showing the realities of mental illness. This was done in the first episode when Aine joking with Shona, but when she was left alone, she broke down in tears. Throughout the season there were emotional issues like when Aine tells her mother (Sorcha Cusack) why she’s angry at her, and Shona having to tell Aine some home truths. Aine’s actions were understandable, she tries to keep her time in rehab a secret, she gets stressed and overwhelmed, and when things go wrong, Aine does strong things like sleep with someone or get drunk.
Because of the shows focus on Aine’s mental health This Way Up leaned more towards drama than comedy. The humor in the story is more subtle – most of it based on the interactions between the characters and the small actions. Bea and Horgan are skilled comedians and actors, and their interactions offer some of the funniest moments. Their exchanges were believable and relatable for anyone who has siblings. Aine was a character that is constantly making jokes, but this was a mask and a way to deflect from her mental health issues.
The show did have some more laugh out loud moments. The sisters’ rendition of “Zombie” was one of the comedic highlights. The scenes in Aine’s language class act as a more politically version of the ITV sitcom Mind Your Language.
Bea does subvert some sitcom plotlines. This was done in Episode 2 when Aine’s good niece ends up having to be in two places at once. Aine agreed to tutor Etienne (Dorian Grover) but has to take one of her student’s emergency room. It was a great example of how Aine wants to do her best, but at times it overwhelms her.
This Way Up is a slice of life show, but it led to some episodes to be plotless. This happened with Episode 3 and Episode 5. Aine meanders from location to location during these episodes. Episode 3 sees Aine get set up on a blind date and gets drunk with her neighbor. In Episode 5 it was even worst, Aine meets her ex-boyfriends, watches a soccer match with her roommate, and then go out nightclubbing. These episodes felt like filler which is remarkable for a six-part show where the episodes are 25 minutes long. The show doesn’t have as much of an overarching plot like Fleabag and Bojack Horseman.
This Way Up was a character-driven show that had a great cast and focused on an important issue. Although the show suffers from a couple of weaker episode, Bea has left some story threads for a second season.