Channel 4 comedy This Way Up is a funny, moving exploration of loneliness

Written by Aisling Bea and starring her and Sharon Horgan as two sisters, This Way Up is quietly powerful.

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After a break-up, an unspecified “nervous breakdown” and a stint in a rehab facility, Aine (Aisling Bea) is on the bumpy road to recovery – back at work teaching English as a foreign language, living in her London flat and leaning on her sister Shona (Sharon Horgan) for support.

With her sister, Aine is electrically funny. Bea (who wrote the show for Channel 4) and Horgan have compulsive chemistry, displaying a mixture of love and irritation specific to siblings: squeezing each other’s spots and giving brutal appraisals of each other’s outfits. (“Don’t make me laugh,” Shona says, dressing for a work event, “I’ll sweat.”) Horgan is very convincing as a worried older sister trying to play it cool, teasing Aine in person, but frantically stalking her location on the Find My Friends app as soon as they’re apart. Without Shona, Aine quickly unravels: wandering parks at night, instigating regrettable sexual encounters, and drinking. (“My problem wasn’t that I was drinking,” she jokes, weakly. “It was that I was too much of a fucking legennnddd!”) Aine has no friends: she is deeply lonely.

The show’s title is both a comment on Aine’s fragility (despite her bravado, her vulnerability shows, as though she’s always wearing a “Handle with Care” sticker) and an emotional roadmap: over the six episodes, she moves slowly in the general direction of “getting better”. Bea was inspired by Fleabag, and there are some borrowed moments: “That’ll be £40, please,” Aine says to a student pretending to order a vodka and Coke mid-lesson – “London prices.” While This Way Up isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny, it has a tender charm of its own, conveying the mundane urgency of mental health problems. Watching Aine muddle through life feels both low-stakes and a matter of life and death. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 21 August 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The great university con