It’s a bit awkward when the rehab clinic you checked into isn’t quite what you expected it to be. "In fairness to Aine, when I booked her in the website did make it look like there was a jacuzzi," older sister Shona tells the facility staff as they get ready to leave. "The jacuzzi was half how I convinced her to come here in the first place." This is the first time you’ll be invited to laugh in the face of sorrow in Channel 4’s brilliant new comedy-drama, This Way Up. Over the course of six compassionate yet raucous episodes, it certainly won’t be the last time, either.
We’re introduced to sisters Shona (Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan) and Aine (Aisling Bea, who also wrote the series) at a turning point. Shona is taking younger sister Aine home after recovery from a nervous breakdown and four months later, we watch as they try and muddle through the mess and confusion of day-to-day life. By this time Aine is teaching adult English language classes – on Fridays they watch episodes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians – and Shona, a professional working in the city, is umm-ing and ahh-ing about moving in with loving boyfriend Vish (Aasif Mandvi).
Horgan and Bea’s relationship here is a joy to watch, even when the narrative shifts into more heartrending territory. Shona is constantly worried about Aine. She stalks her sister’s every move (including her 2am walks through the park) on Find My iPhone, is worried about Aine’s lack of social life and sits in that conflicting territory of feeling responsible for a younger sibling but also not wanting them to become too dependent on your support. Vish challenges it every so often, and his buried frustration when Aine turns up unannounced is both hilarious and objectively understandable.
Aine is still struggling though. The prevalence of loneliness is at the core of the series and while each character experiences their own form of it, Aine’s battle in the aftermath of her nervous breakdown offers a perspective of such a common experience through a mental health lens. What sets This Way Up apart, though, is its ability to explore loneliness – a subject that we as a society still struggle to talk about, let alone admit experiencing – without wallowing in the distress of it all.
"There are a lot of shows that break down to a crashing point, and what I wanted to do is to start broken and show once you chose life, and once you chose to live, the relentlessness of getting better and getting to a place of hopefulness is a daily battle," writer and star Aisling Bea explained at a preview screening of the series. "I wanted to show that as an upward energy rather than a decline […] maybe it’s a bit more true to life than everything crashing at the end."
Like many of us experience in real life, the fragility of Aine’s mindset is masked by a wicked sense of humour. Insisting on squeezing her sister’s back spots and dancing around in a pair of tights quickly descends into Aine melting to the bathroom floor in tears, struggling but willing herself to 'stop it' as the weight of her emotions bears down on her. The raw reality of Aine’s experience is never gratuitous, nor is it compromised for the sake of a quick laugh. It anchors a poignant comedy about a familiar, desperate loneliness in a world that could benefit from laughing at the ridiculousness of it all to aid the long and weary journey to feeling a bit better.
This Way Up starts on Channel 4 on Thursday 8th August at 10pm. The series will be available on All 4.