Tuesday 11 December 2018

Finding Joy review: 'Save for a few gags that miss the mark by a country mile Finding Joy is actually a bit of a charmer'

3 stars

Finding Joy - Aidan (Lochlann O Mearáin), Joy (Amy Huberman) and Canine Aidan (Fern)
Finding Joy - Aidan (Lochlann O Mearáin), Joy (Amy Huberman) and Canine Aidan (Fern)

Tanya Sweeney

A few years ago, Caitlin Moran – she of the hugely successful newspaper column and bestselling book, How To Be A Woman – brought her self-penned sitcom Raised By Wolves to a particular production company. The commissioner in question couldn’t touch it, because ‘we’ve already got a female comedy’.

RTE have clearly had no qualms on that front at the moment, happily. The likes of Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope and Nowhere Fast have certainly whetted the appetite of audiences, while in addition to Amy Huberman’s comedy Finding Joy, Sharon Horgan has also created a Dublin-set comedy for RTE, Women On The Verge. With the latter also to be broadcast this week, there’s no mistaking it; we’re hitting a bit of a purple patch when it comes to ‘for-her’ series.

And, on the face of it, Amy Huberman seems a safe pair of hands for a TV commissioner.

If her tweets are anything to go by, Amy Huberman has been able to add Really Rather Funny Person to an already heaving CV: actress, novelist, shoe designer, brand ambassador, All-Round National Sweetheart. It’s almost hard to believe that Huberman has 24 hours in the day just like the rest of us, yet somehow there’s still something left in the tank for the creation of an entire TV series.

Amy Huberman in Finding Joy
Amy Huberman in Finding Joy

And Finding Joy, with its tango of light and shade, boasts many moments that hit the comedic notes square on target… and, alas, some that don’t.

We open in a picture-perfect house somewhere in lovely bougie, spendy Dublin. The fancy serum bottles, designer shoes and fairy lights are ‘ in the exact right order as per uuuje’ (?), according to Aidan, the canine belonging to our anti-heroine Joy (Huberman). Oh, if only her life were just so: instead, she slams quiet her alarm clock.  “F** OFF I AM HAPPY YOU F***ERS,” screams Joy. Aidan then cuts through the pretty tableau with a perfectly aimed poo on the bed; one of many metaphors knocking about, whether by accident or design.

Finding Joy - Trish (Hannah Scott) and Joy (Amy Huberman)
Finding Joy - Trish (Hannah Scott) and Joy (Amy Huberman)

Fresh from a breakup with Man Aidan (Lochlann O’Mearáin), Joy drags herself to work in some fancy notions media office; a boilerplate old chestnut in female comedy almost as careworn as the fancy shoe collection. Where the company’s star, ‘vlogger-slash-reporter-slash-hypenated-person’ Fiona Hunter (Laura Whitmore) cashed in a Groupon for skin resurfacing and lived to regret it, copywriter Joy is parachuted in, for reasons best known to her yuck yuppie bosses (Mark Doherty and Catherine Walker), to become the channel’s can-do reporter. The job is to find remedies for modern day malaises, ‘mainly through sponsored treatments and events’.

“Do this, otherwise we’ll lose our sponsors and jobs, and (boss) Jeffrey’s kids will have snaggle teeth the rest of their lives,” warns colleague Charlene (Jennifer Rainsford).

Her first assignment is an ominous jobbie abseiling down the Aviva stadium, and wouldn’t you know it, Joy has a fear of heights. You can skip this whole part if you’ve seen Bridget Jones’ Diary. Same gags, different miniskirt. Of course, Man Aidan is present too, ready to jump into his new life. Le sigh.

Arguably the best line in the whole episode is reserved for an unnamed old lady, also doing a spot of abseiling. “My counsellor says I need a new high to replace the porn addiction,” she shrugs.

Save for a few gags that miss the mark by a country mile (something about being a tosser in bed, something else about being taken up the – pause – Eiffel Tower), Finding Joy is actually a bit of a charmer. Much of this has to do with Huberman, who has warm, almost effortless likeability in spades. Joy, too, is the sort of everywoman the audience can root for: can-do, keen on self-betterment, but rudderless and raw all the same.

Script-wise, Huberman has no shortage of raw material to work with. She’s not afraid to get a little down and dirty on occasion (there’s much chat about haemorrhoids, sh*te and toned pelvic floors). But one can’t help but wonder what could have been had the script had one more go-around in development; a spit and polish where every character was stretched out even further to caricatured proportions. A dollop of sharp surrealism would have offset the sugary tone somewhat nicely. Thanks to Fleabag, Catastrophe and the like, comedy audiences are more attuned than ever to the biting and the outré. Joy is an everywoman, certainly but perhaps a bit too much so.

With Joy now officially, irrevocably single, the search is now on for a stranger to share the aforesaid bougie house; a nice jumping off point for next week. Even better, Aisling Bea is set to join an already-strong cast; sign enough that things, for Joy - and for us - are about to get even better.

Finding Joy, Wednesday, RTE One, 9.30pm

Read more: Finding Joy preview: 'There are rocky patches but Huberman's script is pleasingly daft and irreverent'

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