Sell fake used underwear online (easy, just put glue on the crotch of pants). Then there’s the girlfriend experience. Cam work. Escorting. Take photo requests in different role-play outfits: fast food worker, gamer girl, whatever floats their boat. Rate dick pics. Pour strawberry milkshake on top of your head in a pink bikini. Make yourself vomit in front of a camera at the depraved request of a stranger. As long as the money rolls in. Get that coin, sis.
In BBC Three’s genius new show Mood we see twentysomething Londoner Sasha Clayton, an aspiring singer, become inadvertently exposed to the dark side of being a social media influencer, online sex work and toxic hustle culture when she meets influencer Carly. Written, soundtracked by and starring Nicôle Lecky (as Sasha), the six-part series is based on Lecky’s highly acclaimed Royal Court play Superhoe, with Sasha – our unlikeable, foul-mouthed, weed-smoking heroine – at the centre of it.
When we meet Sasha she’s waking up from one hell of a bender. You know the kind: your tongue feels like sandpaper, the room is spinning and there’s this immense feeling of dread sitting on your chest. She starts to piece together the night before and realises she’s ruined her relationship with her boyfriend of 10 years via an argument in a nightclub followed by an aggressive tirade of messages, a drunken Instagram livestream of Sasha slurring her undying love and, finally, arson in his front garden. Yes, Sasha starts having flashbacks of setting fire to her now ex’s front lawn in a blackout rampage. At the same time, her home life is falling apart: her mum’s new boyfriend and bratty children don’t like her and she’s been kicked out of her home. And all she has to show for her music career so far are unfinished lyrics in a tatty notebook. She’s skint and signing on to claim benefits – it’s all seeming pretty hopeless.
It’s at this low point that she meets influencer Carly by chance when Sasha visits her luxury high-rise flat with her weed dealer. Carly is mysteriously well off, lounging around in PrettyLittleThing-esque cream loungewear. Later, she invites Sasha to a party. What's in it for Carly? We'll soon find out. When Sasha asks the dealer how Carly has so many followers and so much money, he taps his head: "How does any pretty girl make money off the ‘gram? Use your fucking brain." The party is in celebration of Esmerelda, a Love Island-style influencer and beauty ambassador with a perma tan and braids who has just hit a million followers with her debut single, "Reggaeton".
Lecky’s scathing jabs at blackfishing influencers and shameless cultural appropriation for clout are as subtle as a sledgehammer; a moment of pure satirical genius is when Esmerelda sings "I love you" in a slew of languages. It’s so painful to watch because it is not only mortifyingly cringe but true to life – a scroll on Instagram IRL would likely unearth about 10 identical clones of Esmerelda in a minute.
After a dodgy run-in with her dealer, Sasha moves in with Carly. First she 'pays rent' by becoming Carly's personal assistant of sorts but is swiftly seduced by the quick cash Carly generates by 'hustling'. Self-proclaimed girlboss Carly is a jack of all trades when it comes to monetising her body and looks, telling Sasha: "Listen, there is money to be made in this life. I made sure to never rely on anyone." After one evening of listening to Carly moaning in her bedroom, doing cam work and submitting to the requests of strangers, Sasha sneers at Carly’s suggestion that she try it, upholding her belief that she is above it: "I’m trying to make it as a singer." But when Sasha finds out how much money Carly is making – £4,000 a month – her resolve starts to dissipate. Carly coaxes her: "What are you on about, sex sells, have you never heard of Cardi B? It’s no different to putting bikini pics up on your Instagram."
The first episode is a slow-burner but by the time the show hits its stride in the second episode, you’ll be hooked. Nicôle Lecky is as multifaceted as Phoebe Waller-Bridge, with her own original songs splicing the action. The difference is that Sasha – her very own Fleabag – is Black, vulnerable and in a genuinely financially precarious situation.
As Sasha becomes increasingly tempted by Carly’s world – Carly brazenly keeps suggesting they do cam work together as an "Ebony and Ivory" duo – the chasm grows between her dreams of being a singer and what she’s willing to do to grow an online presence. The show highlights the issues with morality, class and financial hardship that women – and specifically Black women – face. At times disturbing but brilliantly executed, Mood holds up a mirror to how race and cultural appropriation are used as currency online, how hustle culture and the language of empowerment can feed sexual exploitation, and ultimately how dangerous it can be when power is repeatedly given to men.
Mood is out on BBC Three on 1st March