My Mad Fat Diary s3 ep 3

Rae has a new therapist, who reminds her that she has the same issues as other people her age. The problem is that she processes them differently. And in this season finale there is, more than ever, a lot to process: she has to finish her exams, decide what to do about Bristol University, deal with Finn and Katie, and cope with her friends going their separate ways.

First, the Finn issue has to be confronted. Katie tells Rae that whatever was going on with Finn – and it seems to have amounted to little more than a kiss – it’s over. But Katie nonetheless takes it on herself to deliver a few home truths to Rae, and although there’s a certain amount of brutality – and relish – in her manner, she does have a point or two, specifically about the way in which Rae’s actions affect those who love her: “You bring your problems onto him”, Katie tells her in respect of Finn. And her friends and family are too nice to say anything, according to Katie, but they all feel the pain.

This is brought home to Rae when she finds out that Karim has a job in Tunisia, but that her mother can’t follow him there – which she would like to do – because she needs to stay with Rae. “I can’t leave until you can”, her mother tells her. Which means that it’s finally time for Rae to confront her self-hatred once and for all. “I’m scared”, she tells Kester. “You and the rest of the world”, he replies, and with reason: he lost his position as a therapist a while ago, but continued to provide counselling to Rae anyway. But it’s time: if Rae’s ever going to move on, she needs to deal with the issues which have dogged her since the start of the show’s run (and, indeed, before).

I predicted and expected a Rae/Finn 4EVA happy ending. What we got was perhaps more satisfying: Rae’s not minded, yet, to forgive Finn for his Katie dalliance; although he could, perhaps, have played the We Were On A Break card were he minded to forgive himself for it. Rae, though, imagines a suicide attempt – beautifully soundtracked by Radiohead’s ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ – and Finn coming to her rescue, then decides that she’s “going to stop waiting for someone to come and save me”. The real moment of revelation is not that she needs to help herself – she’s perhaps always known that – but that she can, and in the context of the whole series that’s probably the happiest possible ending.

So Rae finishes with her therapy sessions. And there’s no last kiss with Finn, but the courageous embracing of an uncertain but optimistic future, as Rae heads off to Bristol, acknowledging the “need to be ready to cope with whatever crap comes your way”.

I don’t think I’ve ever been equivocal about My Mad Fat Diary, but just in case: I loved this show. It was sweet, harrowing, charming, amusing, and thought-provoking, for which huge credit goes to writer Tom Bidwell. And the script was amply well-served by the predominantly young cast, which gave the show an appealing freshness and fearlessness.

Invidious as it is to single out particular actors, I’m going to do so anyway. Ian Hart was grounded, passionate, and oddly vulnerable, as Kester. The real stars of the show, though, were Sharon Rooney and Jodie Comer. Particularly in its final run of episodes My Mad Fat Diary became a study of the enduring power of friendship as much as anything else, particularly the core relationship between Rae and Chloe, and Comer – always excellent – moved onto a new plane. Meantime, of course, Sharon Rooney was magnificent from first to last, making the very, very most of the part. I can’t imagine it could have been done better.

My Mad Fat Diary s3 ep 2

Chloe’s survived last week’s car crash, but is in hospital, which means she’ll miss her exams. Rae generally needs little encouragement to start self-hating, and when Chloe’s parents ban her from visiting their daughter, this reinforces her view that she was to blame for the accident, and that everything she touches “turns to shit”. And, although not exactly to blame for the accident, she does on one view bear a little of the responsibility: it was Rae who persuaded Chloe to stop studying and drive the gang to a party which wasn’t happening, and Chloe’s concentration was diverted when she noticed the signs that Rae had been self-harming again. So her feelings of responsibility aren’t entirely groundless.

Rae, in consequence, tries to think of ways of making amends to Chloe; including, of course, this being the late 80s, a specially selected mixtape. (The music, normally good on My Mad Fat Diary, is exemplary this week: Massive Attack, DJ Shadow, Blur’s peerless ‘Beetlebum’.) Her decision to put Chloe’s name on her exam paper, though, and sit the exam for her, really can’t be regarded as anything but flat-out stupid. “How was it ever going to work?” demands one of the college lecturers. How indeed. (Although she escapes the consequences when the college lets her resit the exam.) And she compounds that by forgetting to get a cake for her mother’s birthday party, and inviting her unreliable father to it.

Like last week, there isn’t much going on which might raise a smile, but it’s an episode which squarely confronts an issue which is sometimes skirted around on My Mad Fat Diary: for the people around Rae, just how much they need to indulge her, how much work it is, how much it costs everyone. These questions are almost rendered moot by the patient and loving tolerance, and capacity for forgiveness, of her friends. Almost but not quite, because the suffering endured by those around her keeps rearing its head, and it’s easy to see why Chloe’s parents might have a point.

One of the many minor miracles performed by My Mad Fat Diary, though, is the way in which Sharon Rooney’s performance makes Rae more sympathetic than she might otherwise might be, which means that the last few minutes hit home: Rae turns up at Finn’s flat to find Katie Springer – who has been circling Finn throughout the episode – in Finn’s bedroom. Then, looking for Kester at the hospital, she discovers that he’s not actually worked there for months. This leads to another episode of self-harm – painful to watch, it should be said – and, perhaps, re-admittance to the hospital. So we might well be back where we started with Rae. Like last week, it’s another excellent but gruelling episode.

Anyway, we’re almost done with this show: it’s the last ever episode tomorrow. I might be a few days late in reviewing.

My Mad Fat Diary s3 ep 1

We know that the good place Rae finds herself in at the start of this third and final season isn’t going to endure forever, because we’ve seen this show before. But for a while at least everything’s great: she’s working in a record shop; and, much more importantly, Finn has told her that he loves her.

And the rest of the gang’s all still in Stamford, including recent addition Danny Two-Hats. Rae’s trying to fix Archie up with her boss. Chop’s got a silly tattoo. Chloe’s taken to dressing in business suits and is frantic with worry about her A levels; Rae’s not bothered about hers, and even though she screws up her entrance interview at Bristol University it doesn’t matter, because she doesn’t really want to go anyway: Finn’s getting a flat, and has asked Rae to move in with him.

But the clouds don’t take long to appear on the horizon. Rae’s told everyone that her application to Bristol was rejected; but despite (or because of) her strident behaviour at interview she’s been accepted after all. Word gets out, though, and Rae has to grapple with the pride of her family and friends at an achievement in which she professes not to be interested. More demandingly, Finn then has to contemplate being – or being regarded as – the person standing between her and university. And just as that’s happening another of her tentpoles is being kicked away: Kester, a constant in her life for years now, tells her that he intends to start winding down their level of contact and that she doesn’t really need to see him any more.

The question of what would actually be best for Rae is one which lurks beneath the surface of the episode: ordinarily, it would be clear that the best thing she could possibly do would be to get away from her restricted home life and social circle and broaden her personal and intellectual life (as advocated during a return visit by successful Bristol student Katie Springer). But it isn’t that straightforward for Rae: is she in a position yet where she can leave her support network behind? And what about Finn? Under increasing pressure Rae almost inevitably turns to self-harm again, which has an unintended but potentially deadly consequence.

As ever with My Mad Fat Diary, it’s deceptively powerful, beautifully acted, with a charm and lightness of touch. If there was a difference between this episode and the last two seasons – it’s not a criticism, and it’s possible I’m imagining it – I thought the humour level was down a bit. But that happens in real life too, particularly when you realise that adulthood sometimes needs to be taken seriously.

Public Service Announcement 29 of 2015: True Detective, My Mad Fat Diary

The first season of True Detective was definitely worth watching despite its Damaged Men, cod philosophy, and problematic attitude to women. As promised, it’s returning with a new cast and new storyline – so out go Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and in come three men whose careers, for various reasons, need the credibility that a quality cable TV drama can provide: Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, and Tim Riggins out of Friday Night Lights. Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly are also in the main cast, and presumably hoping to get more to work with than the female characters did last time round. On looking back at my reviews of the first run I see that I promised to “watch the shit out of” a new season. Except… I’m not going to, for a couple of reasons.

When looking back at the first season I suggested that it perhaps looked like great TV, without actually being great TV. Much of the remarkable look and feel of the show was down to director Cary Fukunaga, who helmed all of the episodes first time round (and won an Emmy). This time, though, he’s out of the director’s chair, amid rumours of conflict with creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto. Meantime Fukunaga remains as exec producer, although given that (apparently) one of the episodes will feature an unflattering portrayal of an Asian-American director one might reasonably wonder what his continuing involvement actually amounts to.

And, crucially, the second season just isn’t as good, according to the critics who’ve seen the first few episodes. I suspect that part of this will be a delayed season 1 backlash, but the consensus so far is that Pizzolatto hasn’t managed to pull off the same trick twice. The good news is that, once again, Sky Atlantic is sticking very closely to American transmission, which starts today, so for UK viewers there’s a 2am simulcast in the early hours of tomorrow morning and a 9pm repeat (Mondays, Sky Atlantic).

One show I will definitely be watching, though, is My Mad Fat Diary, back for its third and final season. At the end of season 2 I suggested that the last episode had rounded things off nicely, but I’ll be delighted to see whether there’s a little more mileage in this fresh, funny, and charming show, anchored by a dazzling but subtle performance from Sharon Rooney. Three episodes this time round, and weekly reviews again (Mondays, E4, 10pm).

Also starting: three-part Sheridan Smith vehicle Black Work, in which she plays a police officer investigating the murder of her detective husband (tonight, ITV, 9pm); Tim Robbins and Jack Black in HBO’s new and reputedly not-terribly-good geopolitical comedy (sic) The Brink (Mondays, Sky Atlantic, 10.10pm); season 3 of Chicago Fire (Tuesdays, Sky Living, 9pm). And we should probably have mentioned Norwegian six-parter The Saboteurs, about the struggle to stop Nazi Germany developing an atomic bomb during the Second World War, before now (Fridays, More4, 9pm; first episode available through the usual on-demand services).

My Mad Fat Diary s2 ep 7

It’s the day after Rae lost her virginity to Liam, and everything is going wrong for her: she’s left college, the gang’s in pieces, she’s fallen out with her mother, and Chloe’s still missing. On top of that, she slept with Liam.

This season finale dealt with what has become a familiar theme for My Mad Fat Diary: how can you begin to enjoy being with others if you hate yourself? You are, after all, always with yourself. It’s particularly acute this time because Rae’s now isolated from everyone in her life: “Maybe I keep finding myself on my own because no-one wants me around”. She tries to get Kester to re-admit her to hospital, but he refuses on the basis that she’s not a danger to herself or others; last time round, she was admitted because she’d hurt herself. Which, of course, leaves Rae with a dilemma: if the only way to get back into hospital, the place where you feel safe, is to harm yourself…

But in an electrifying and pivotal scene Kester finally manages to get Rae to confront her self-loathing. And following that she realises that she can help to fix others, if she begins to fix herself: she mends her relationship with Chloe (another excellent week for Jodie Comer), then with her mother, and finally contrives to bring the gang back together, even – in a sweet coda – adding a new member to it. Which leaves, finally, the unfinished business between her and Finn, and having faced down her fears elsewhere she finally realises that she can deal with intimacy as well.

I have no idea whether a third season is planned; I’d be delighted to watch it, although it kind of felt as if this episode, and that ending, rounded everything off nicely. In which case it’s time for everyone connected with this wonderful show to take a well-earned bow, in particular writer Tom Bidwell and, of course, Sharon Rooney, fantastic from first to last, although all of the cast deserve praise. Original, charming, and funny throughout, My Mad Fat Diary has been a real treat.

My Mad Fat Diary s2 ep 6

Chloe’s not bothering to turn up for concert rehearsals, and it turns out she’s left home. Don’t worry, her parents tell Rae, she does this sort of thing all the time. Rae’s not that bothered, truth be told, because their friendship has been somewhat frayed recently, but it looks as if Rae will be expected to substitute for Chloe at the concert, and performing in front of an audience is Rae’s idea of torture. So when she stumbles across Chloe’s diary, she can justify a certain amount of nosiness about the contents by wondering whether it might contain a clue as to Chloe’s whereabouts.

To start with, though, Rae goes right back to the beginning of the diary, and we get a rerun of when Rae was introduced to the rest of the gang. Heigh-ho, I thought, it’s a flashback episode, using old clips from previous episodes; a bit lazy, but there you go. It quickly becomes clear, though, that what we’re getting are incidents we’ve seen before, but this time from Chloe’s point of view, which is sometimes radically different. Rae’s first reaction is that Chloe’s recollections are wrong, and deliberately so; but it looks as if we’re dealing with two narrators, either or both of whom might be unreliable. Which once again taps into a universal emotion: we all invent ourselves, certainly to the outside world, perhaps even to ourselves.

Thus key events from the past two seasons – that first meeting, Chloe and the teacher, the battle for Finn, the failed seduction of Archie, the photographs, the party, and so on – are given a new, interesting, almost game-changing spin. And what emerges is a different Chloe: pretty and outwardly confident, yes, but plagued with doubt and self-hatred, feeling herself to be a failure. Her response to all of this isn’t always similar to Rae’s, to be sure: she wants attention, while Rae shrinks from it; but both have an uneasy relationship with food, to say the least, and both are locked into unsatisfactory liaisons with men. Here at least Rae has it a little better: her fling with Liam is unpleasant, but it looks as if Chloe’s might be actively abusive. Jodie Comer, it should be said, is excellent throughout.

All of which Rae has to process while trying to cope with the upcoming concert. Like last week, she can’t find anyone willing to offer her support: her mother isn’t speaking to her after she missed the scan, her father’s away to Portugal, and Kester’s furious at her for fooling around with Liam. (Kester doesn’t like Liam – me neither – but it looks as if there’s something else going on.) The net result is that, consumed by self-loathing and a realisation that she’s let Chloe down, she heads back to Liam’s, where almost masochistically she commences the consummation of their “relationship”, if that’s what it is. It’s a brave and brilliant episode, rounded off with a final line which is like a knife to the heart. I actually winced. Outstanding.

My Mad Fat Diary s2 ep 5

tv3e9b4d30a9fc65688bb42578c18bd2b9At the start of this episode, the gang’s together and happy: everyone’s been forgiven for what happened last week, and life’s OK. (It’s all soundtracked by Blind Melon’s gorgeous, melancholy ‘No Rain’, as well.) “It’s great”, observes Rae in voiceover, “to be young and free and with no-one telling us what to do”. Which struck me as an odd thing to say, in a show which has spent its entire run demonstrating just how difficult the teenage years can be. And sure enough, within seconds, Rae’s mother’s boyfriend Karim spots Rae with a spliff in her hand, and she’s in trouble.

One of this week’s themes is Rae’s desire, at sixteen, to be treated as an adult, although part of the problem, as she recognises, is that in some ways she still regards herself as a child. But in this episode she makes a determined effort to engage with adulthood, prompted in part by seeing Finn in a relationship with an older woman (all of 24). So she goes to the fair with Chloe and a group of guys in their 20s, and stays out all night drinking with one of them, Saul; later, she goes to a somewhat dissolute party, where Saul sexually assaults her.

All of this puts considerable pressure on Rae’s mother, who is balanced somewhere between being frantic with worry and utterly exhausted after years of coping with Rae, as well as having her pregnancy to cope with: it looks as if, on top of everything else, having to worry about Rae drinking, taking drugs, and staying out all night is going to be the final straw. Partly in consequence Rae decides that it’s finally time to meet her biological father. He turns out to be not what we and Rae are expecting: an antique dealer, played with subtlety by Keith Allen, who expresses interest in spending more time with Rae, but makes several disparaging remarks about Rae’s mother; notably, while Rae is not feeling well-disposed towards her mother, she’s not about to encourage the man who walked out on the two of them.

And there’s ample tumult in the rest of Rae’s life. Finn leaves college and moves to Leeds for work; Chop and Izzy split up; Archie falls out with Chop for failing to stand up to homophobic bullies; Rae falls out with Chloe for leaving her to fend for herself after the sexual assault. So, by the end, Rae’s gang is no longer a gang: only Rae and Archie are left. And this leads to a painful sequence in which Rae pinballs between possible sources of affection, or perhaps just attention. Finn’s gone to Leeds; Kester won’t let her into his flat; she phones her father, but gets his answering machine. All of which leads her to Liam’s door, where, determined to prove to herself and Chloe that she isn’t a prude, and desperate for intimacy, she gives him a somewhat joyless blow-job, the mood for which is set when Liam says that they should keep their clothes on, because neither of them is an oil-painting.

We’re a long way from the optimistic opening by now, of course, and while the message of the first scene seemed to be that many things can be forgiven and forgotten, it’s doesn’t look as if everything’s going to be put back together this time; not quickly, at any rate. It’s another affecting but impressive episode of this excellent show. And Sharon Rooney is magnificent throughout, but you probably knew that.