Alibi V.28 No.33 • Aug 15-21, 2019 

Idiot Box

Mental Hopscotch

“This Way Up” on Hulu

This Way Up
Irish comedian/writer/actor Aisling Bea isn’t exactly a household name here in America. She’s appeared in a number of TV series over the years, most on the other side of the pond (“The Fall,” “Finding Joy,” “Trollied,” “The Delivery Man”). Now she’s making her move as the creator and star of “This Way Up,” a co-production between England’s Channel 4 and America’s Hulu streaming service. Could this new show’s stateside presence finally give her the cross-cultural success she deserves?

Bea stars as Aine (prononced “Anya”), a whip-smart English-as-a-second-language teacher trying to pull her life back together after a “teeny little” nervous breakdown. The show starts with Aine getting picked up from a psychiatric facility by her older and wiser sister Shona (Sharon Horgan, another Irish comedian/actor/writer, best known for creating the HBO series “Divorce”). Rehab, it seems, wasn’t quite to Aine’s liking—mostly because it didn’t have a Jacuzzi. It’s clear from the get-go that Aine copes with everything by being as snarky and humorous as possible.

Aine’s nonstop monologue of jokes is clearly a cover-up for a lot of deep-seated problems. Shona, worried about her sister’s mental health, spends most of her time stalking her, constantly checking on the location of Aine’s cell phone. She has reason to be worried, really. Aine’s life isn’t exactly perfect. She eats up a lot of time in class showing her students episodes of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” She’s got a hot roommate who always seems to be having sex. She spends a lot of sleepless nights wandering the streets of London. (“A junkie said I looked thin, so there’s that.”) And when she’s all alone (which is often), she has a tendency to collapse into crying jags.

The show mostly concentrates on Aine, but gives almost equal coverage to Shona’s life. Aine’s sis is a successful banking executive with a perfect boyfriend (Aasif Mandvi from “The Daily Show”)—yet she can’t stop worrying about her younger sister. It’s not that Aine is hopeless or helpless. She’s just second-guessing her every move now, unsure of how to put her life back together. A funny-sad attempt to hook up with a guy she met at the psychiatric facility demonstrates how mixed up her thinking is. By the show’s second episode, she meets a handsome single father (Tobias Menzies from “Game of Thrones”) looking for some tutoring for his estranged young son. The situation provides Aine an opportunity to demonstrate her teaching skills and to maybe meet a nice guy, but the route to sitcom romance is a rocky one.

“This Way Up” carefully walks the line between comedy and dramedy. It’s not quite the awkward and uncomfortable humor of Horgan’s “Divorce.” But it has its poignant moments. Shot film-style on single camera, it fits in well with Hulu’s other envelope-pushing comedies (“Pen15,” “Difficult People” “Casual,” “Shrill”). Bea is right in her element with a character designed to show off her skills (voluminous, nervous humor covering up a deeper, darker truth). The show contains a few tricky accents and a lot of very British in-jokes, so a previous appreciation of UK comedy helps. Nonetheless, the show’s edgy humor, empathetic storyline and appealing star do a lot to broaden its reach beyond the British Isles. No matter our country of origin, we’re all a little crazy, right?

Season 1 of “This Way Up” premieres Wednesday, Aug. 21 on Hulu.