Aine is an improbably witty and enthusiastic English as a foreign language teacher with a fantastic taste in knitted jumpers.
She’s also recovering from a “teeny little nervous breakdown”. That’s a point hammered home in the opening scene of this new sitcom, which begins as Aine checks out from a treatment centre.
Written by and starring stand-up Aisling Bea, This Way Up takes head on weighty subjects such as suicide, homelessness and mental illness.
Aine’s life can appear quite bleak. She shares a flat with a couple whose loud sex can be heard through the thin plywood walls of a London hi-rise.
Her job provides some brilliant lines about the reality of lives for migrants today. There’s a particularly memorable scene where a Bulgarian student appears to have been the victim of a racist attack.
And although Aine appears to enjoy her career, she takes on a second tutoring job because she needs the money.
But it’s not 30 minutes of doom and gloom. Bea is captivating as Aine, and her combination of reckless enthusiasm and vulnerability leave the viewer rooting for her.
The show—mostly—skilfully sidesteps tropes that can taint sitcom
The central relationship in This Way Up is between Aine and her older sister Shona, played by Sharon Horgan. Shona is everything Aine isn’t—rich, organised and coupled up with a similarly well-off partner.
The show—mostly—skilfully sidesteps tropes that can taint sitcoms.
For instance, Shona is embarrassed over her childless status at a family dinner. But instead of doubling down on the dramatic potential, her partner’s parents gracefully apologise and welcome her into the family.
It’s refreshing that, although her mental health is a theme of This Way Up, at no point is Aine simply a manifestation of her diagnosis. Her breakdown is treated with empathy and—to great effect—humour.
This is shaped by Bea’s own life, as her father died by suicide when she was a child. In particular, Bea said Aine’s quiet but thoughtful love interest Richard is “absolutely and utterly” informed by her father’s suicide.
“The show is about a decision to live, and then the after bit of that, that’s when the real hard work begins,” she said.
There’s been a rash of programmes similar to This Way Up released on TV in the last few years. This latest offering falls short of the emotional depth of Fleabag, or Catastrophe’s pathos.
But This Way Up deserves a second series—and hopefully Aine’s character could get the fleshing out she deserves.