Why you should be watching This Way Up
Ivan Radford | On 14, Jul 2021
Aisling Bea has long been a scene-stealing presence on our screens, both in comedy – from Trollied and Taskmaster to QI and 8 Out of 10 Casts – and drama – from The Fall and Hard Sun to ITV’s Quiz. Here, the stand-up comic gets a deserving chance to take the lead in her own show with This Way Up, and she knocks it out of the park.
The series follows Áine, a young woman in London trying to rebuild her life. We join her as she leaves a rehabilitation centre in Archway, London, and moves in with her sister, Shona (Sharon Horgan). Then she returns to her job of teaching English to adult learners – and swiftly lands a side hustle tutoring Étienne, a 12-year-old French boy at his house.
The result sits alongside Feel Good, Fleabag, Catastrophe and I Hate Suzie as a comedy series that manages to be dark and moving but also sweet and amusing. That’s largely thanks to Bea’s whip-smart script, which tackles nervous breakdowns and substance abuse as well as the pain of past relationships and the potential of new romances. There’s a throughline of finding support among loved ones, whether that’s biological or blended families or your friends, a theme that’s explored with empathy and understanding.
All this wouldn’t work, of course, without a top-notch cast. The presence of Tobias Menzies alone is worth tuning in for, as he plays Richard, the father of Étienne who suddenly finds his son living with him, following his mother’s death. Menzies is gloriously deadpan, awkward and emotionally withdrawn, a joyous contrast to Bea’s open, heartfelt brand of chaos, throwing one-liners at him with a relentlessly sunny disposition.
But while there’s charm in their burgeoning possible attraction, the show’s strength lies in the fact that Áine’s journey isn’t defined by her romantic life – although it’s certainly complicated by her connections with fellow former rehab clients. Instead, the constant is her bond with her protective sister. Bea and Horgan are a dream double-act, grounding every interaction in concern but an unspoken distance, and they swap insults, jokes, encouragement and clothes in the blink of an eye, often all at the same time.
There’s sublime comic timing on display throughout, but without losing the heartbreakingly raw honesty that’s lingering beneath the surface. It’s a scabrous, sad, side-splitting and superbly human piece of TV, shot through with heart, hope and guffaws. Whether it’s seeing Áine teach English through the medium of the Kardashians or crack jokes in front of her counsellor, it’s a winning, thoughtful tale of someone learning how to change their life – and, more than that, how to want to. Roll on Season 2.
This Way Up is available on All 4.