When was the last time you watched a British sitcom that actually spoke to your life as a just-about-functioning, twenty- or thirty-something? A sitcom that made you laugh and care in equal measure? One that didn't make you cringe through its awkward Englishness, or verge dangerously close to the edge of twee? Spaced... maybe? Green Wing? There was Peep Show, of course, but that felt very male-centric... Channel 4's latest sitcom, Crashing – it would seem – is here with the answer. Due to start this Monday night at 10pm, it's a smart, situational comedy based around a group of men and women who are struggling to figure their shit out sexually, and professionally, all against the unusual backdrop of the disused hospital they call home. "Crashing is a sitcom based on the grubby lives and loves of a bunch of property guardians," says writer and star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, when I ask her to sum up the show. "These are normal people who can’t find a normal place to live these days because it’s just too expensive – so they’re forced to live in extraordinary circumstances." Phoebe tells me that she started off with the characters – based around previous writing she had done for the Oxford School of Drama – but needed somewhere to put them. That's when her and producer Josh Cole came across a group of people occupying a massive hospital in Goodge Street and decided to use this as the premise of the show. "It seemed like the perfect fit – a really fertile ground for a comedy."
Phoebe plays Lulu, one of the characters at the forefront of the series, who bursts into her old friend Anthony's life in episode one. As the pair begin to flirt, Lulu threatens to shake up the little stability Anthony's managed to worked for. "She’s someone who really enjoys playing with fire," says Phoebe on the character. "She likes the adrenaline rush of game playing and being around the action, but when it comes to serious moments – like that between her and Anthony when they have the opportunity to say something honest to each other – she just dissolves into this mess that wants to runaway." Did the inspiration for Lulu came from a place close to home? "It came from those deluded wannabe manic pixie dream girl, ukulele-playing arseholes that I can completely recognise in myself," jokes Phoebe. "You know – people who are desperately trying to be fun all of the time... relentlessly so. "
Phoebe – a writer, director and actress – first made a name for herself with the one-woman show Fleabag back in 2013. "It was about a really angry, cynical, borderline-depraved woman in the city who is dealing with massive events in her life," she explains. "In it, I'm just sat on a stool telling her story." Fleabag received stellar reviews after its debut at Edinburgh Fringe, lauded for its dark humour. "The idea is that this character is trying to make you laugh all the time to hide the horrendousness of her life – but in the end, it all adds up to someone who is incredibly unhappy and using their body in totally the wrong way." The same kind of honesty lends itself well to Crashing, which includes choice quotes like, "I think my tampon just came out a bit," right from the very first episode. As with Fleabag, the show's characters don't quite seem to know themselves yet, but Phoebe insists that's a deliberate part of its charm. "Lulu's journey through the series is trying to find a way to take herself more seriously... while overcoming the fact that it's scary to do that." I ask Phoebe how else the show might differ to what else is on TV right now. "The thing I really wanted to get across with the series is having an audience not be told how to feel about a character; in one episode you love one character and by the end of the next episode you might loath them – that’s what I was trying to do. And focus on the developing storyline rather than just the comedy one-liners."
For me, the brilliance of what I've seen of Crashing so far, is not just that it's genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, but that it reflects a true-to-life precariousness, one that's at the centre of a lot of adults' lives right now. At a time when a lot of young people in Britain are finding it hard to afford a place to live – let alone buy – Crashing shows that there is still fun to be had amidst the chaos. "It definitely captures a time in people's lives when they're aiming for stability," says Phoebe, "But when that stability feels like an impossible prospect, it leaves you with a mindset that is unbelievably transient. You can’t start with building a home, so what is everyone doing instead? Just floating around, blindly stumbling through life." Watch Crashing at 10pm on Monday the 11th of January, on Channel 4.