Back to Life

4 out of 5

Created by: Daisy Haggard

covers season 1

It’s easy to define Daisy Haggard by her cringe comedy roles, since she does them so well, but even in those parts, she’s shown amazing range – from heavy drama to lighthearted comedy and everything inbetween – bringing a perfect humble believability to even the most extreme personality types. Back to Life seems a perfect vehicle for combining a lot of that into one source, with a dark premise given quirk by its odds-and-sods smalltown setting and inserting Haggard in the middle – out of pace with her surroundings and trying to be “normal,” coerced into dramatic ups and downs in behavior by the ridiculousnesses of all the abnormalities around her.

Haggard plays Miri, just released from an 18-year prison sentence and moving back in with her parents in Hythe, doing her best to avoid the local gossip about her past crime and move on with her life. Part of this is quite serious: there’s no denying what happened, and the lack of acceptance she experiences, both casual and direct – being turned down for jobs, threats – are not easily brushed off. Haggard and cowriter Laura Solon treat this material soberly at first, and Miri combats it all with a brave face and sarcasm, but also struggles with how she can make any progress – personally or professionally – when her immediate world is so unaccepting. This is a big topic for a half-hour show, and that’s where Back to Life stumbles: it swerves into antics. Haggard is great at antics, playing the straight-woman or the manic one equally well, and there are a lot of great, fellow actors to ping-pong off of in the series, but the show’s attempt to have it both ways, with the ridiculous and twisty dramatics, takes focus away from the stronger dramatic themes, even while being wholly entertaining and funny throughout.

I mentioned the sober treatment of the material as being ‘at first’: indeed, as the show proceeds, it seems to open up tonally a bit and lean more into straight comedy, allowing the Hythe populace to act more and more silly and alarmist in response to Miri.

Aspects of the show are quite brilliant, and if it’s not clear, Daisy is an absolute highlight. And the flipside of the short runtime is that these flaws are very easily forgiven. At the same time, we have shows like Breeders that’ve managed (after a fashion) to find a bit more balance in offering up the funny and sad sides of life, and with such a ripe-for-exploration premise as Back to Life, there’s the hope that its second season to achieve a similar balance, and allow Haggard to shine even brighter.