Why you should be watching The Other One
Sophie Davies | On 12, Jun 2020
Less than two minutes into The Other One, Colin Walcott is dead. A man suffering a heart attack at his own birthday party might not sound like an hilarious opening to a comedy, but Colin’s sudden demise is what sets up the show’s unique premise – that, for a long time, he’s had two different women in his life, Tess (Rebecca Front) and Marilyn (Siobhan Finneran), who only learn of each other’s existence after his death.
To make matters even more complicated, it turns out that Colin also had a daughter with each of these women, born just five days apart, and he named them both Catherine to avoid confusion for himself. The half-sisters are in their twenties by the time they meet, and it quickly becomes clear that, despite sharing a father, timid Cathy (Ellie White) and fun-loving Cat (Lauren Socha) couldn’t be more different. One has a habit of playing it safe, with a job in “re-insurance” and a GP fiancé; the other is working as a Deliveroo driver and taking a break from men, having “completed Tinder”. When Cathy dorkily jokes that she’s “not a risk-taker but a risk-taker-awayer”, her new sister’s excited response is: “Oh my God, I love takeaways, that’s another thing we have in common!”
The premise may seem a little far-fetched, but writer Holly Walsh took inspiration from a real-life story she’d heard and, after the pilot aired in 2017, she discovered from viewers getting in touch that the scenario isn’t as uncommon as you might think. The BBC commissioned a full series of The Other One back in 2018, but since then Walsh has had a baby and co-written Motherland, hence the wait for this series (co-written with Pippa Brown) to appear on our screens. Thankfully, it delivers on the potential of the pilot, treating us to a fresh (and all-female) take on the classic odd-couple comedy.
Following the pilot’s story of the two Catherines trying to decide on a suitable place to scatter their dad’s ashes, eventually settling on a lay-by exactly halfway between their homes, the series kicks off with them planning their birthdays. Cat is keen to develop their sisterly relationship, showing up at Cathy’s office with balloons and suggesting they do something to celebrate together, like a foam party. “That is definitely something to mull on” is Cathy’s polite reaction. Meanwhile, Marilyn is still oversharing about her sex life with Colin, and Tess is trying to get over him by taking up Nordic walking and downloading every dating app available. The outcome is an awkward birthday meal with all four women in attendance, plus Cathy’s wet fiancé, Marcus (Amit Shah). To give you an idea of their relationship, Cathy gets asked during her hen party what she loves most about her husband-to-be, and the best she can come up with is: “I guess he introduced me to harissa paste…”
Although it’s more often gently amusing than laugh-out-loud hilarious, The Other One manages to mine a lot of comedy from the class divide between the two families. When at one point Cathy goes AWOL, her mum’s first port of call is Waitrose – “The woman at the fromagerie is just as worried as we are” – and her wedding plans involve “a ceilidh band that does Adele covers”, while Cat jumps at the chance to take a soda stream off her sister’s hands and is soon putting all of her drinks through it, including wine. However, despite their obvious differences, the pair bond because Cathy is far from happy in her staid middle-class life. Listening to every TED Talk and reading every book on bereavement doesn’t prevent her from having a meltdown at work, and she finds solace at her new sister’s house where she feels free from pressure and responsibility. Ultimately, it’s about two young women, who wouldn’t normally be friends, coming together and helping each other through their grief… with possibly the most awkward hen party striptease ever thrown in.
Some of the side characters feel quite broad and can lean towards irritating more than funny-irritating, such as Caroline Quentin as an overly enthusiastic aunt and Stephen Tompkinson as a smarmy suitor, but the show is consistently held up by spot-on performances from the four women at its centre. Ellie White has stood out for years in comedies such as Stath Lets Flats and House of Fools, so it’s fantastic to see her in her first starring role, and Lauren Socha is clearly having a blast in her first big part since Misfits. It’s worth mentioning that the series also has a cracking soundtrack of 70s and 80s hits, from Goodbye Stranger and You Make My Dreams to Time After Time and 9 to 5.
Without going into too much detail, a twist in the tail hints at what The Other One could have in store for us if it returns. If that means we’ll get to spend some more time with the two Catherines, and perhaps get to know their mums a little better too, then by all means bring on Season 2.
The Other One is available on BBC iPlayer until November 2020.