TV that changed lockdown
I doubt it will surprise you to hear Britons watched TV for 40% of their waking hours during lockdown. Ofcom's 2020 report estimates that 12 million UK adults signed up to a new video streaming service. We were all watching a lot more tele.
I was no different. Lockdown meant no more bar work, so suddenly I was finishing my studies at 5pm with no evening shifts to go to – I needed things to fill my evenings with.
There were three shows that I watched over lockdown that really stayed with me, and I cannot recommend them enough – When They See Us, Normal People, and I May Destroy You.
This isn’t a place for spoilers, so don’t worry about that if you haven’t seen them, I’m simply going to discuss the premise of each show, what themes and ideas are covered, and how they left me feeling afterwards.
When They See Us
I was a bit late to this party. The Netflix series (four episodes) actually came out May 2019, but due to the Black Lives Matter movement, it was flagged to me on a podcast, so I gave it a go.
Based on a true story, the series covers the events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case. One night, a white female jogger was raped and left for dead in Central Park. Five young black male suspects were falsely accused and then prosecuted – becoming known as the “Central Park Five”.
Although it’s only four episodes long, this is definitely not something I could binge-watch. The focus is on what the boys and their families lost over their decades of trauma and injustice.
The police that pursued the boys are never explicitly labelled as racist, but their prejudice is embedded throughout. They believe the boys must have done it, and constantly refer to them with animalistic language.
Not only does the series reveal the flawed criminal justice system, it examines systematic racism and the disempowerment of the men once they're release.
I found it raw and absorbing, and to be honest it left my depressed at the fact that it happened in the first place. Teamed with the Black Lives Matter movement going on when I was watching it, I was left angry at the injustice in the world.
As you can tell, this is not easy to watch, but the importance of it cannot be stressed enough.
Once you’ve finished, watch Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now to see an interview with the cast, as well as the real-life accused.
Something a bit closer to home – an Irish drama that was on the BBC from April-June 2020. It follows the relationship between Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron from their final year of school, right through to the end of uni.
I had read the book (written by Sally Rooney) in 2019, so already knew the story and had formed an idea of the characters in my head. When the trailer was released, I couldn’t believe that they looked exactly like I had imagined. I was just hoping they wouldn’t ruin it.
The series is slow, and some could argue that is a flaw, but I would say that is the reality of this kind of story. The couple move through life, sometimes together and sometimes apart, and the slower pace makes it all the more realistic and relatable.
Made up of shorter 30-minute episodes, the small chunks of drama are hard-hitting. It would be exhausting to watch if they had stuck to the traditional hour-long episodes. You are either left yearning for more or wanting a break to recover from what you've just watched.
On the surface, it could look like many other teen love stories – popular boy and geeky girl fall in love. Throw in a few cheesy songs you’ve basically got Grease. But no, this is a whole other level.
It doesn’t deal with adolescence in a patronising way, the problems they face and struggles they deal with are taken seriously. It highlights the changes that a person goes through as they grow up, and how their relationships can change as a result.
The series has bleak moments, just like the novel. The relationship is deep and complicated, and often leaves you feeling a mix of dread and excitement to know what happens next.
The series has received a lot of praise for its realistic portrayal of intimate content and the topic of consent. The nudity and detail of the sex scenes sparked debate, with some arguing it was inappropriate and too graphic, but with the record-breaking viewing figures and a number of award nominations – the show couldn’t have done much better!
I will be intrigued to see how Conversations with Friends turns out. Personally, I didn’t like the characters in this very much, so found the read a bit of a drag with a lack of warmth. It has already been taken on by the BBC, hoping for the same level of success as its predecessor. Despite my opinion of the book, I will still be looking forward to seeing what the BBC do with it in due course.
I May Destroy You
Whilst Normal People touches on consent, this topic is the prime discussion for this other BBC series.
The show, set in London, follows a young woman who seeks to rebuild her life after being raped on a night out. Michaela Coel, who stars as the leading lady, also wrote, co-directed, and produced the series.
She based the series on her own experience. One night she took a break from writing to go out with friends and woke up the next day realising she had been sexually assaulted after having her drink spiked – just like Coel’s character, Arabella.
The episodes follow Arabella as she deals with what happened, exploring the topic of trauma through a number of storylines, as well as mixing in dark humour throughout too (I thought this brought the show a similar vibe to the incredibly successful Fleabag).
Coel said: “We respond to trauma and triggering situations in many different ways, it's not always a pity party.
"Sometimes we're in deep denial and it's not that we're begging people to believe us, but actually people are pleading for us to believe them about what's happened to us."
Consent is explored in a number of ways, and leaves you questioning whether the characters’ consent has been violated or not. It made it clear to me that consent gained under any kind of false pretences is a violation. However, it doesn’t label everyone who steals consent as a monster – reflecting the complexity and somewhat grey areas to the subject. The characters often don’t know if they have the right to report what has happened, because they don’t know where the law stands on it.
Similarly, to Normal People, the programme is raw and unpolished, leaving viewers uncomfortable at times and pushing boundaries, covering topics that people often brush under the carpet.
Learning through TV
This is just a handful of programmes that have left me thinking about the society around me. There is a time and a place for frivolous reality shows. Don’t get me wrong, I love a dose of Made In Chelsea and Love Island, but shows like this stick with you, educate you, and make you more aware of the issues in the world.
If you haven’t watched these already, please add them to your list! Now I’d better get back to Netflix to see what else they have to offer…