In praise of Big Mood | Kate Cotter says C4's new show is a gloriously exuberant comedy about navigating mental health in your 30s © Dancing Ledge/Channel 4

In praise of Big Mood

Kate Cotter says C4's new show is a gloriously exuberant comedy about navigating mental health in your 30s

Big Mood starts boldly. Maggie (Nicola Coughlan) cuts a dash in a red velour leisure suit, zooming about London on an electric scooter with her shades on in the sunshine – apparently winning at life. Then, the music stops abruptly as she brakes and proffers the scooter to random passers-by. 'It was a moment,' she says. 'The moment’s over.'

This six-part Channel 4 comedy follows two best friends – struggling playwright Maggie and bar-owner Eddie (Lydia West) – who live in gratifyingly messy flats in a shabby-but-hip corner of London. But it also deals with the confusion and challenges of navigating mental health issues in your early 30s.

Eddie is the straight-woman foil to Maggie’s high jinks and dramas. She’s the get-away driver when, for example, Maggie has made a disastrous speech about being a writer at her alma mater: 'What is a theatre? Well, you can get wine there...' There is an endless stream of laugh-out-loud one-liners: 'I thought your generation didn’t smoke?' 'No, that’s the one after us. We smoke but we refuse to drink cow’s milk.'

Their dialogue has all the shorthand and wit of friends who know each other inside=out, and they are supported by a quirky cast of comedy favourites in some uproarious capers. This show has lots to say about the confusing time of life in your 30s, when some friends are settling down but others have just booked tickets for a pagan festival.

Coughlan has been close friends with the show’s writer, Camilla Whitehill, since they attended drama school together, and it shows. This is their London, with a Love Actually-themed 30th birthday party, bizarre dinner parties, and hilariously unsuitable exes cropping up at all the wrong moments.

Female friendship is celebrated in all its warmth and complexity, and is the glue that keeps the show together. But it is West’s more thoughtful character, Eddie, who really drives the exposition forward. Towards the end of the first episode, she asks Maggie: "Are you manic? Because if you are, you know what comes next, right?"

The trailer for Big Mood.

What does come next is an exploration of Maggie’s bipolar disorder, as she quits her medication and experiences extreme mood swings, from manic highs to depressive lows. Big Mood doesn’t shy away from how deep that low can be, as we see Maggie slumped, unwashed and unable to get out of bed for days. Her primary challenge is just doing normal things – and being able to differentiate reality from psychosis.

For such a hilarious comedy, Big Mood is serious about mental illness. The show credits the involvement of charity Bipolar UK, and its premiere was timed for World Bipolar Week.

Coughlan excels at taking viewers to a darker place amid the comedy. We feel Maggie’s fears and how her mental health costs her and her friends dearly. 'I fix problems – you have them,"'says Eddie cheerily at the start. But can any relationship survive this constant imbalance?

It is inevitable that Big Mood will be compared to Channel 4’s other female-led exploration of mental health, Aisling Bea’s This Way Up (2019), but that’s OK. This Way Up was up there with Fleabag (2016) as one of the best comedy-dramas of the 2010s. These shows are all funny and humane and particularly female, and there’s both plenty of room and audience for more of these stories.

Female comedy writers and directors are still very much in the minority, which is why it’s easy to string these three shows together. Channel 4 should be commended for addressing the gap and developing female talent.

Big Mood is a brave first outing by its writer, Whitehill. What it lacks in nuance is made up for by what lingers after the laughter dies down – a gritty and thought-provoking look at the fragility of mental health in your 30s.

• Kate Cotter is a broadcast lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Published: 4 Apr 2024

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