Even if Jonny Depp was beckoning me from atop a hill with his penis…it would have to wait” Ah, My Mad Fat Diary, it is SO good to have you back.
Returning for its three-part final fling, the show has been E4’s most successful and loved home grown drama since Skins. A real fan favourite, acquiring a mini cult status, it’s one of the most honest, unflinching and quotable “youth” series of recent years.
The series has rightly won huge praise for its fantastic ensemble cast with the gang led by the gutsy and nuanced performance of Sharon Rooney as Rae. Last year the show secured it’s status by winning the prestigious Best Drama prize at the Mind Media Awards for its handling of Rae’s self-harming and depression. An issue depicted so boldly through a brave mix of heart-wrenching drama and filthy comedy.
The first of this final trilogy finds Rae and the gang in 1998, at the biggest juncture of their lives to date. The decisions of ‘what next?’ weigh heavily – going to university, getting a job – as well as the day to day traumas of being a teenager in small town Stamford.
As the writer of the final three episodes, George Kay, says at a preview screening of the episode: it’s “like you’re going over the edge of a cliff in life.” It’s this familiar set-up that has resonated so strongly with the different generation of fans – those early thirty something’s reveling in the 90s music and reminiscing over the age-old dilemmas as well as the teen audiences juggling the same quandaries in the present day.
We rejoin Rae on her way to an interview at Bristol University, which she inevitably flunks, in a scene that reminds us what MMFD does so well. Her resulting diatribe to the stuffy university panel is a prime example of the sharp and truthful dialogue that makes you want to punch the air with joy whilst wishing you’d been ballsy enough to say it. Yes, it’s probably a tad implausible but those moments of heightened reality and the bravado of Rae are what’s made the show totally irresistible. Disastrous interviews aside things are good for Rae, really good. Her and Finn are blissfully happy (and doing it… at last) her Mum is content, the gang are together…and she’s not harmed herself in over a year.
Rooney as Rae is supported by a fantastic supporting class with Jodie Corner as Chloe and Dan Cohen as Archie is given the chance to shine he deserves. Archie’s quest to lose his virginity with the questionable help of Rae provided some brilliantly played comic moments and Chloe’s transformation to ambitious business bitch felt a truthful progression for her character. As Rooney herself said at the preview, “the whole show is a story of truth.” You really believe, care for and root for these characters. Rooney continues “nothing’s sugar coated…it’s real and it’s true. It’s just a story about a girl. “
But Mad Fat Diary, being Mad Fat Diary, and TV drama being TV drama you just knew a gut-wrenching curve ball was around the corner. Rae didn’t flunk her interview and was offered a place at Bristol, news she went in to instant denial over. As Rae said herself “life was so perfect I could burst” and you couldn’t help but side with Rae’s decision to bury the news after so much pain and heartbreak. The resulting sequence of Finn making the inevitable discovery, breaking off with Rae and Rae turning back to self harming was so exquisitely done it ripped the audience from the status quo we’d been lured in to that I didn’t think it could get any more cruel. But it did. The end of the episode saw the gang involved in a brilliantly directed and heart-stopping car crash, that seemed to leave Chloe’s life hanging in the balance. I am almost dreading the next episode. We were promised at the screening “a really natural conclusion for the characters” and I am just praying it’s a happy one.
Contributed by Craig Heathcote
My Mad Fat Diary Continues Monday on E4.