“Don’t worry Rachel, I’m a sad girl too.” These are the words said to me by a kind friend earlier this year when I hit a bit of a rough patch during the UK’s third national lockdown.
Watching Channel 4 and Hulu’s This Way Up Season 2 feels exactly like that fellow-sad-girl-friend reaching their arm around you to remind you you’re not alone after all.
In the very first episode of the new season, Aine (Aisling Bea) tells her sister Shona (Sharon Horgan), “It’d be nice to be in bed with someone at night other than my pile of shit boyfriend.” And by “pile of shit,” she means the literal pile of detritus that’s accumulated on the side of the bed she doesn’t sleep on — a familiar sight to anyone whose homes have ever become a reflection of the state of their mental wellbeing.
Produced by Horgan’s company, Merman (responsible for the likes of This Way Up‘s first season, HBO’s Divorce, and Channel 4’s Catastrophe), Bea’s comedy tells the story of language teacher Aine, who’s just spent a stint in rehab after having a breakdown. In Season 1, we see Aine attempting to get her life back on track while her overprotective sister Shona watches with concern. Aine navigates the solitary existence of living in a big city far from home and the very specific type of loneliness you can feel living in flat shares in London.
Season 2 sees Shona encounter a rough patch of her own — will she go through with marrying Vish (Aasif Mandvi)? Will she and Charlotte (Indira Varma) be able to run a business together with all that sexual tension? Meanwhile, Aine takes on an ambitious new career venture and starts to live life with a few more risks. Fans of the first season will recall the workplace sexual tension between Aine and Richard (Tobias Menzies) — and, without giving too much away, the storyline between the dynamic duo continues.
Just as the first season of This Way Up portrayed the reality of loneliness like nothing I’d ever seen before, the second continues its streak of capturing mental health issues with compassion and without relying on stereotypes and clichés. Season 2 also delves into a topic that we rarely see portrayed with care and sensitivity on our screens: erectile dysfunction.
What’s really wonderful with This Way Up is the way the show continues to portray the reality of living with mental health challenges without pathologising the character or presenting them as a great anomaly. For Aine, depression is lurking in the background — as it is for so many — and every now and again it rears its familiar face. It’s not portrayed in an overly dramatic way that makes viewers gasp in horror, but rather, if you’ve ever had a period of low mood in your lifetime, you’ll likely spot a few reminders of that time.
Above all, though, This Way Up is a story of sisterly love, warts and all. Anyone with a sibling will know it’s not all BFFs-having-a-sleepover vibes 100 percent of the time. Sometimes the people that really love us and know what’s best for us in tough times can be really bloody irritating (especially when they’re telling you something you don’t want to hear).