“Shit. I didn’t know it was this kind of place,” says Momtaz, the manager of the punk band at the centre of the Channel 4 sitcom We Are Lady Parts. This is the classic dodgy British pub gig: the all-white male clientele, Vote Leave posters, Union Jacks. It is daylight, and surprisingly full. The band – four women with three of them wearing head coverings – take the stage. Looking out into the pub, the bassist says, “they’re not necessarily racist”, before they belt out a punk cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”.
Amina, a British-Bengali PHD student and our narrator, is looking for a man – specifically a husband. This is her choice (her mother is more concerned with telling her to go interrailing). She also harbours a love of music, and teaches guitar as part of her charity work, but never herself performs (she gets such bad stage fright that she vomits – or worse – whenever she’s in front of a crowd).
It is Amina’s quest for matrimony that puts her in the path of Ahsan, the handsome student handing out fliers for band auditions. Little does she know that Ahsan is the bait for Lady Parts, a three-piece all-Muslim, all-female punk band looking for a lead guitarist. Ahsan’s sister Ayesha is a rage-filled Uber driver by day, and a rage-filled drummer by night; Saira is the emotionally repressed singer and guitarist who works in a halal butcher’s; Bismah is the self-confident bassist and graphic artist with a young daughter; and Momtaz is the mysterious niqab-wearing, vape-smoking band manager who works in lingerie shop (“What do you want? Shag me gently or shag me hard?” she asks a customer).
[see also: Channel 5’s Anne Boleyn is corny and forgettable]
This is a show that delights in turning the stereotypical narratives about Muslim women on their heads. The pressure Amina feels to conform mostly comes from her friends who are on the engagement and marriage train, not from her parents. While one of Amina’s friends frets about sending the wrong playlist (it includes Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”) to the DJ for best friend Noor’s engagement party, her mother is starting conversations about the importance of female pleasure in relationships.
There are tributes to scenes from Bridget Jones, A Brief Encounter, and the work of Spike Lee, while a picture of Don McLean adorns Amina’s cupboard – “That is not a white man, that is Don McLean,” she shoots back at Noor, who is concerned that a prospective spouse might have views on such things. The members of Lady Parts take what they want from Western culture, such as punk, and use it to their own ends while ridiculing lame men, annoying siblings and the legacy of colonialism. This is a riotous, funny and touching series that allows the characters to break out of the traditional and stereotypical and embrace their punk selves.
[see also: Robert Popper: How we made Friday Night Dinner]