Big Mood | Review of Channel 4's new comedy with Nicola Coughlan © Dancing Ledge/Channel 4
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Big Mood

Review of Channel 4's new comedy with Nicola Coughlan

Blimey. Channel 4’s new comedy Big Mood doesn’t waste much time getting going. Nicola Coughlan’s lead character, Maggie, barrels into the hip but empty East London pub run by her BFF Eddie, and a brisk, witty conversation tells you all you need to know about the close relationship between this chaotic force of nature and the mate who grounds her, at least partially. 

The viewer’s given just enough info for the story to crash into the almost stereotypical sitcom-style caper that forms the plot of the opening episode. Maggie’s heading back to her old school to address its ‘little drama club’ about her career in theatre – which she’s overinflated, as it amounts only to writing a poorly-reviewed fringe production. She might have a crippling phobia of public speaking (wonder if that’ll prove relevant?), but she’s still got the hots for an old history teacher who never left (Tim Downie), so of course she’s going back.

Camilla Whitehill’s script thus draws on farce and awkwardness, ending with Maggie’s inevitable humiliation in front of an assembly hall full of restless teenagers – before blowing up everything in that world.

Nocole and Lydia swaggering into a school corridor

Only after all these frantic antics comes the actual exposition for the series. ‘Look, I’m all for shenanigans, but are you manic?’ a concerned Eddie asks her pal after the adrenaline rush has died down: ‘Just because if you are, you know what comes next, right?’

So it turns out Big Mood is all about mental health… because of course it is. Yet the topic is handled deftly, with sympathy and sincerity. After the slapstick elements of episode one, the second instalment puts Maggie’s bipolar disorder front and centre as she’s reluctantly forced to attend her own 30th birthday party, a story which more fully demonstrates the unique angles this show can offer. Maggie’s off her mood-stabilising lithium – to the concern of her overbearing mother – which only exacerbates her anxiety at the gathering.

Not that comedy is relegated to second best as we watch Maggie navigate all her trials and tribulations. The absurdity of the Love Actually themed event is always present, which is how she comes to have a meltdown while wearing an octopus outfit.

Big Mood Nicole in Octopus outfit

Meanwhile, broader plot sweeps – escapees from a rat hotel, anyone? – provide more obvious comic beats marking the time to Maggie’s next comic disaster. Which, as it happens, is yet another incoherent, impromptu speech, rather too close an echo of the crucial moment in episode one.

Though far from subtle, the sitcom formula well serves the characters, and it is they who will draw viewers back to this world. After Derry Girls and Bridgerton, Coughlan continues to impress by authentically expressing the full spectrum of humanity here. You share her giddy glee when running amok in the school corridors, as well the overwhelming funk when in the depressive phase. She seems to physically be a different person at both extremes.  

Lydia West and Nicole Coughlan in Big Mood

It would be easy to overlook It’s A Sin’s Lydia West contribution as Eddie, since she’s effectively the calm straightwoman of this peculiar double act – and that’s a role which is so often underestimated. But it’s also crucial to the dynamic, and West brings enormous sympathy to the role – while also displaying some underplayed comic flourishes of her own, such as dealing with the workshy, millennial child of privilege she’s employed at the bar. Eddie’s got her own problems on that front, providing a solid B-story to the series.

Big Mood is not so much about snappy jokes but is built on compelling characters and fun, outlandish storylines. The combination works well and makes this an appealing addition to that increasingly endangered species –new TV comedies.

• Big Mood starts on Channel 4 with a double bill at 10pm tonight.

Review date: 28 Mar 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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