Monday 17 December 2018

Women on the Verge review: 'For all its charm and relatable qualities it doesn’t quite hit the comedic G-spot like many of its forebears'

4 stars

Eileen Walsh, Kerry Condon and Nina Sosanya in 'Women on the Verge'
Eileen Walsh, Kerry Condon and Nina Sosanya in 'Women on the Verge'

Tanya Sweeney

It probably sounds hyperbolic in the extreme, but a great deal of today’s great female comedy has Sharon Horgan in its DNA. Some stone-cold hits – Motherhood, Divorce, Catastrophe, Pulling, Dead Boss – are her direct creations, and each is as astute and brilliantly audacious as the last.

Others, from Fleabag to Crashing, doff a stylistic cap to the Meath native, featuring as they do flawed, complex women and more than a pinch of black, salty humour. Horgan writes from a place of truth and often without vanity, and it’s precisely this type of frankness that audiences can’t get enough of.

So when it was revealed earlier this year that Sharon Horgan was making a series adapted from the bestseller Women On The Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, interest in the project was fairly piqued. Not even the involvement of RTE, in what would be the broadcaster’s first major collaboration with Horgan - could dampen enthusiasm. With the golden hand of Horgan on the rudder, what could possibly go wrong? Would RTE know well enough to stand well back?

There was only one obstacle in the way, really: female comedies featuring a trio (or quartet) of thirtysomething women at a personal, professional and biological crossroads; well, they’re a dime a dozen. Old enough to know better, young enough to be able to run from trouble? It’s the mother-in-law joke of TV writing by now.

Fortunately, Horgan has been long enough in the game to know to subvert the odd cliché. And so Women On The Verge starts with a bang, and a good filthy one at that.

Picture the scene, in a pub toilet/baby changing facility. “Say something dirty,” instructs Kieran, your common-or-garden toxic lover (played with the right amount of dashing insouciance by Emmett Scanlan).  “Tell me what to say and I’ll say it,” offers Laura (Kerry Condon), clearly in thrall, if not enjoying the encounter all that much. “Say you want to milk me and get my cream,” he responds. Amazingly, it’s not enough to put Laura off; neither is the phonecall from his wife that he takes mid-coitus.

The two work at the Dublin Standard newspaper, where Laura has been angling for a personal column. Instead, she is palmed off with the obituary beat. The prize gig is given to young influencer Samara (Yasmine Akram) on account of her 200k followers. “In the mornings, it’s hard to digest colour,” she intones on one of her vlogs, prompting Laura, in a brilliant scene, to try her hand at her own video.

“At least your parents will finally read your stuff,” offers her friend and colleague Katie (Nina Sosaya). “Old people love the obits.”

Katie, meanwhile, is in a fertility clinic about to be impregnated with ‘Danish genius’ when she has a change of heart at the crucial moment. “I presume this happens all the time,” she shrugs.

Read more: 'I don't think that people in Ireland realise how funny they are' - Kerry Condon on Sharon Horgan's Women on the Verge

Alison (Eileen Walsh, who I would honestly and gladly watch in a Cillit Bang advert), meanwhile, has reunited with dependable ex Martin (Aaron McCusker). The reunion is very much on her terms – she wants to be Baby On Board, about five minutes ago – but she didn’t bargain on him having quite as good a time as he had during their break.

All three are every inch the typical ladyshambles, and Horgan has made them sufficiently human, witty, rude and vulnerable. Their respective dilemmas unfold at a decent clip. And yet, there’s a niggling sense that there's a scratch that hasn’t been truly itched here. Perhaps I’m being unfair, holding Horgan – who has, to her credit, half a dozen projects on the go - to a higher standard than I might many others. But the truth is, Women On The Verge, for all its charm and relatable qualities, doesn’t quite hit the comedic G-spot like many of its forebears. It’s not a catastrophe by any stretch, but then, it’s no Catastrophe.

Women on the Verge, Thursday, RTE2, 10.30pm.  The first episode is available to watch on the RTE Player.

Read more: 'My heart was broken' - Eileen Walsh on not being cast in film version of Disco Pigs in which she had starred on stage 

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