It’s not an easy watch, the big-ticket new series this weekend. But it’s potent and urgent in a way that’s compelling and admirable. It concerns consent and sexual assault, told in a way that’s more like protracted human experience than conventional drama.
I May Destroy You (Sunday HBO, 10:30 p.m.) was originally made for BBC TV and has already stirred some controversy about its methods of approaching the issues of consent. Written by and starring one of Britain’s best young actor/writers it goes to places that will make some viewers uncomfortable.
The focus is on Arabella (Michaela Coel, star/creator of the British cult hit Chewing Gum), who has written a bestselling book about her millennial experience. She’s Black and has dyed her hair a distinct pink. She gets stopped in the street by fans and has a wide array of hip young friends. As the story opens, she’s leaving Italy, having gone there to finish her second book, which is due any day but she hasn’t actually written, beyond some notes and jokes.
Back in London she’s obliged to pull an all-nighter at her publisher’s office to produce something to satisfy them. During that night she takes a break and meets pals for a drink. The next morning she’s still typing but she’s got a cut on her forehead, and a fuzzy head of splintered memories of her drinking session. It takes a while before she’s willing to admit that her drink might have been spiked and she may have been sexually assaulted. Her bank records indicate she went to an ABM, but she can’t remember why.
What’s unnerving is Arabella’s unwillingness to acknowledge that the sex might not have been consensual. She took drugs willingly on the way to the bar and she lives a carefree life of casual dating and hook-ups. All her friends live the same lifestyle. Eventually, by Episode 2 (there are 12 at 30 minutes each) she wants to solve the mystery of what happened to her. But reluctantly, because she doesn’t trust her own memory and, well, all her pals are having casual sex, so she wonders, “What’s the big deal?” The series has been described as a “memory play”, which is fair and, as unsettled as you might be, you want to go with Arabella on the journey to solving the mystery of what, exactly, happened to her.
Also airing this weekend
Shoot to Marry (Saturday, Super Channel, 9 p.m.) won an audience award at this year’s Slamdance documentary festival. One can see why: it shouldn’t work, but it does and exudes an uncanny charm that makes it highly, perversely enjoyable. Made by Steve Markle (who made the great doc Camp Hollywood a few years ago) it’s all about Markle himself. At age 42, he says, he found himself single and longing for a relationship. “I’m 42, I should be divorced by now and looking for wife No. 2. I’ve always wanted to be married.” His solution is, to put it mildly, a tad weird. He decides to meet and film “interesting women” in hopes of finding the right one for him.
Now, most women would run a mile from a guy with a camera who admits he just wants to meet “interesting women.” But some don’t. Others are old friends and crushes he tracks down and chats with. Among the women are various artists, a professional cuddler and “a gun-rights lobbyist with nice hair.” The latter doesn’t actually turn up. What should be an off-putting premise is nothing of the sort; Markle’s sad-sack act is really just an excuse for an observational doc that illuminates how terribly ordinary and a little lonely most people are. His visit to a sex club is, for instance, hilarious when it should be a toe-curling embarrassment. Highly recommended viewing.
13 Reasons Why (Netflix) returns for its fourth and final season. Always controversial, because it started with the death by suicide of teenager Hannah (Katherine Langford), and the slowly unfolding reasons for that, it evolved into something far more mature about adolescent life. (The death scene in the first season that caused controversy has been removed.) Now it’s a coming-of-age story about overcoming the baggage of youth.
Finally, this column continues with a “stay-at-home-period daily-streaming pick.” Today’s pick is Special (Netflix). The title plays ironically on the situation of its protagonist Ryan (creator Ryan O’Connell). He’s a gay man with a disability. He’s also hilarious. In the first episode – there are only eight and each comes in at about 15 minutes – Ryan gets hit by a car. It’s not the first time it has happened to him. He has cerebral palsy and has a lot of accidents. Thing is, he’s just started as an intern at a website and nobody there knows that he has a disability. He does mention the car hitting him. His editor is astonished and commands the staff to gather and give him a hug. “Poor Ryan. He was hit by a car and now he has a weird, sad life forever!” Ryan is delighted. A devilishly funny, madcap series, it has two strands: Ryan is full of snark about his existence as a gay man with a disability, and second, there’s a marvellous satire of online journalism going on.
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