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17 October 2018updated 02 Aug 2021 1:35pm

Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual is an empathetic portrait of friendship, dating and work in modern London

Akhavan gently teases her characters, where a lazier comedy would rely on straightforward mockery.  

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Leila (Desiree Akhavan), an Iranian-American based in London, has spent the whole of her twenties in relationships with women – most significantly with her long-term girlfriend and professional partner, Sadie (Maxine Peak). But when Sadie proposes, and Leila turns her down, her love life moves in a surprising direction. She starts experimenting with men.

So starts The Bisexual, Channel 4’s new comedy drama co-written and directed by Akhavan, the creator of critically favoured films Appropriate Behaviour and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Moving out of her home with Sadie, Leila lands a flat-share with the desperately heterosexual 36-year-old Gabe (Brian Gleeson), who becomes a kind of wingman for her, alongside her blunt gay friend Deniz (Saskia Chana).

Funny and sad, it’s an authentic portrayal of friendship, dating and work in London in 2018. Some shows aim for “realistic” sex scenes by making them bleak, but Akhavan is able to inject a messy realism that is also often joyful. “I thought sex with a man would be so different,” she says mid-act, collapsing into giggles, “and it’s not!”

Its representations of alternative queer culture in London are flecked with incredibly precise details – Leila and her friends frequent Shoreditch night Aphrodyki; Deniz jokingly refers to the Hampstead Ponds as “lesbian mecca”. But Akhavan gently teases her characters, where a lazier comedy would rely on straightforward mockery. Watching some performance art in a bar (the kind of hipster event that usually only appears on TV to be ridiculed and to condemn those attending as deluded, pretentious and vapid) Leila, Deniz and Gabe are allowed to be moved. In these gestures of empathy, Akhavan creates robust enough characters to keep us compelled, even as we laugh. 

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This article appears in the 17 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s civil war