What’s in a name, Shakespeare once asked. Quite a lot, it would seem, if the programme formerly known as Scrotal Recall is anything to go by. Having changed the title to Lovesick for its second season, its own stars expressed their relief at finally being able to talk about their work without cringing, while fans of the show can now recommend it unashamedly. It has become a rose in Netflix’s garden, which now smells twice as sweet.
Both the name and the concept behind ‘Scrotal Recall’ suggested something along the lines of a teen-lads-bants gross-out comedy, never really doing justice to what is actually a lightly charming and strangely innocent (yet simultaneously highly amusing) programme. Despite, on the surface, being about casual sex and venereal disease, this is, fortunately, no penis-in-the-apple-pie-style prospect.
Set in and around Glasgow – which is presented here, refreshingly, as all high-ceilinged flats, broad, tree-lined streets, light and airy coffee shops, and (aptly) more bars and pubs than you can shake a cocktail stick at – Lovesick is written by Tom Edge, and works on a deceptively simple premise. Dylan (Johnny Flynn) discovers he has a sexually transmitted infection, and has to get in touch with all his former partners so they can get themselves checked. Fortunately for everyone involved, the STI in question is chlamydia, which a course of antibiotics can sort out, so the sexual health stakes are lowered somewhat.
Each episode focuses on one partner from his past, and each involves an extended flashback, which tells the story of the relationship. Yet Dylan’s decision to tell his former flames in alphabetical, rather than chronological, order means we are jumping from semi-recent past to long ago. All the while, a story of the present is being told, involving Dylan’s ongoing will-they-won’t-they relationship with Evie (Antonia Thomas), his erstwhile housemate and ongoing Rachel-to-his-Ross.
The premise allows for character development and backstory to be revealed gradually. While we think, for example, that Evie and Dylan are getting together for the first time in Season 1, in Season 2, we jump back further, to when they first met, and the genesis for everything that comes afterwards. Likewise, while their friend and flatmate Luke (Daniel Ings) seems, for much of the first run, like a generic, sex-mad Lothario, the reasons for his behaviour are painted with a much finer brush in Season 2, when we discover a relationship history we never knew he had.
It also allows a whole host of characters to be introduced organically, and it’s worth noting that just about all the exes here are interesting, intelligent and complex, existing in their own right and rarely portrayed as the nightmare caricatures so often deployed when relationships go wrong. Dylan has real fondness for each one, and even those who stand in the way of the ongoing central relationship between him and Evie (most notably Abigail, played winningly by Hannah Britland) are presented as real romantic prospects. The viewer is forced to consider the thought – quite revolutionary for romantic comedy – that perhaps the central couple aren’t necessarily ‘meant to be’ at all, that they can feasibly find happiness, and true love, within other relationships.
The real enemy here – aptly, given the chronological jumping – is time. The ending to the second season is much like an inversion of the ending to the first, and in each case, the Dylan and Evie are foiled because they find themselves just out of synch with each other. Both characters get clarity on the situation, but in each case it’s just a little too late. Finding love and happiness, the programme suggests, isn’t about sex; it’s about getting the timing right.
Lovesick Season 1 and 2 are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.