Once you’ve mopped up your tears over the end of Fleabag and the performance of its brilliant antihero played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, it’s time to find a replacement. Thankfully, the team of producers behind Fleabag anticipated our grief and yearning. They duly offer us a brilliant, hilarious tearjerker in Back To Life.
Daisy Haggard and Laura Solon teamed up to co-write the series, with Haggard starring as protagonist Miri Matteson. The first episode sees Miri arrive home to her family in Kent after 18 years serving a jail sentence. It’s not evident until the third episode what she was jailed for, but the level of malicious graffiti, death threats and aggression from the local community reveal it must have been drastically bad.
As her father suggests taking a selfie outside the jail, then snaps away as Miri gets out of the car to see the family home for the first time in years, her mother cheerfully announces they’ve freshly painted the hallway. “The same colour,” Miri responds. It’s droll, it’s perfect.
Like Fleabag, which offered short episodes in three short seasons, Back To Life parcels up the family complexities, sexual misadventures, feminism, insecurity, fear and frailty of being human into a succinct six episodes.
“I was always really interested in how harshly we judge a woman who has done a bad thing over how we judge men,” Haggard told BBC.com.
“We put things that men do sometimes down to testosterone. We forgive them a little easier. I wanted to write a show about a woman who had done something in her past and what that would be like, to try and start your life again with that enormous dark secret and baggage behind you.”
Fleabag committed crimes against conventional beliefs about what women should feel, think, do and be. Her grief-fuelled hunger for sex, lust for the unattainable man (yes, The Priest) and flawed but loving family all resonated with women to some degree, in some way, despite the fact most viewers wouldn’t literally have much in common with her. The sense of loneliness and alienation that drives misguided attempts to feel loved and worthy? Universal.
Miri is not Fleabag. Miri is not us. But, her sense of alienation and puzzlement at a life she’s been absent from for her entire adulthood aren’t so distant from our own lives: more connected to social media and people all over the globe than ever, but less socially engaged with our own communities and neighbours than ever, too.
Back To Life comes with award-winning credibility in both the acting and production teams. Solon is a Perrier-award-winning writer and actor, Adeel Akhtar nabbed a BAFTA for his role in Murdered By My Father.
Akhtar is Billy, the gardener living next door to Miri. Their relationship, without wanting to push the gardening analogies too far, begins from those first seeds being sown upon meeting and gradually grows in trust and mutual understanding of what it is to be an outsider desperate to find a sense of home. Both reveal their big secrets by the third episode and both are humdingers.
As Miri navigates job interviews, being an adult woman living with her parents and trying to be presentable and competitive in a world that doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for women who aren’t warrior, she is eminently relatable.
Who hasn’t tried to cover gaps in their CV with “travel”? Perhaps not suggesting we’ve been in Burma/Myanmar for 18 years, but her extraordinary circumstances are really only exaggerations of the daily struggles we have to connect with each other and as we try to find solace in rare, small yet generous acts of kindness and compassion.
Back To Life is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
We have just watched episode 10 of The Handmaid's Tale season 3, which is called 'Bear Witness': Ready to strike back at her oppressors, June starts making arrangements for an ambitious plan, but a devious ploy on the part of Commander Waterford threatens to derail her. This is a big episode for Commander Fred Waterford, so it's fitting that this week we feature an interview with Joseph Fiennes. We get some incredible insights into what insights he brings to Fred. You won't want to miss it. With so much to unpack, let's get into it.