4 out of 5
Written by: Aisling Bea
covers seasons 1 and 2
Crafting comedy from life’s miseries is Áine’s (Aisling Bea) specialty. It’s her default m.o., commentating on – with mass sarcasm and ridiculousness – the everyday nonsense thrown at us. There stereotype of the constant clown deflecting from inner struggles seems to hold true, here, as we pick up with the character on the day of her release from a rehab facility, having been placed there by her sister, Shona (Sharon Horgan) after a suicide attempt. Fittingly, Áine’s exit is bemarked by mentioning that the facility could’ve done with a sauna, and the sisters complaining that the brochures really pitched it as looking like a spa.
The stereotype holds true, but Áine and Shona are anything but – they’re each much more nuanced than that – and the same is true for This Way Up, a warts-and-all type comedy that tracks Áine as she tries to navigate her way back to a point of stability – for herself, in work, in relationships.
That first bullet in the list is where the messaging in the show wavers a bit: while there’s some wonderfully gray territory explored throughout the show, it tries to speak a bit to not letting oneself be defined by others… then proceeds to structure its 6-episode seasons mostly around relationships. To be fair, this imbalance is something most shows struggle with, since we all want to be independent, but also hugged and humped by someones, apparently; it’s just disappointing that amidst its more upfront take on depression and various addictions (Áine being somewhat addicted to people, in a way), the show doesn’t take time to at least speak to this discrepancy. The mental health aspect is also more of a jumping off point than a focus, given something of a pat “conclusion” at the end of the first season; however, Áine’s personality remains intact throughout, allowing us to feel like it’s not so much that problems are solved so much as more healthily managed – going along with the series title, characters in This Way Up are allowed to get better.
These subject matter gaps are smoothed over by the best selling points: our stars. Aisling Bea is hilarious, and Sharon Horgan is a wonderful partner-in-comedy, with both equally great at bringing a balance of emotional gravitas and humor to their roles and making their bond as sisters 100% believable. The other featured actors are all quite perfect as well, with Tobias Menzies, playing the father of a son Áine teaches being amusingly terse, and Indira Varma’s Charlotte being charming as all get-out.
Similar to Áine covering her own insecurities with a constant stream of jokes, This Way Up shuffles us past the aspects of its story it doesn’t quite have time for (being a 30-minute, short-seasoned comedy) by constantly putting a smile on our faces, and allowing its characters and their plotlines to grow and evolve in appreciably organic ways – we can very much recognize these people in ourselves, or our friends, giving some power back to the viewer to fill in the story gaps with our own understanding of how life moves on.