Big Mood review: Nicola Coughlan is fantastic but the same can’t be said for the rest of this unfunny, jarring show

Television: Switcheroo between sitcom humour and serious drama when lead’s bipolar diagnosis emerges lands as cheap stunt

Channel 4 has already produced one successful comedy-drama, in which an Irish actor plays a woman negotiating depression-like symptoms while embarking on Bridget Jones-style romantic adventures in modern London. But having earned raves for Aisling Bea’s This Way Up, the broadcaster is coming back around for another tilt at the formula with the far less successful Nicola Coughlan sitcom Big Mood (Channel 4, Thursday, 10pm).

Coughlan is Maggie, one of those mysterious characters on British television who arrive on screen with a fully formed Irish accent despite having seemingly spent most of their lives in the UK.

But that’s the least of the show’s issues. The first is that the comedy elements simply aren’t funny. Maggie is introduced powering down the street on an e-scooter. She is having the time of her life yet she promptly gives her wheels away because she doesn’t look how she looks on them (having caught her reflection in a window).

After that, she and her best friend Eddie (Lydia West, excellent in It’s A Sin) swap banter as they set off for Maggie’s old school, where she has talked her way into giving a presentation about her (non-existent) career as a dramatist.

Often, the humour is queasy. A flashback to a creepy teacher who made advances on Maggie when she was 16 is played for chuckles. Back in the present, Maggie is soon canoodling with her old history teacher – only for his wife (another former student) to walk in on them. Our plucky heroine also swears up a streak when addressing a group of cynical sixth years.

This is all a bit Carry on ... Up the GCSEs. But then it is revealed Maggie has bipolar disorder and has not been taking her medication. In other words, her uproarious behaviour is not the result of her starring in a boggle-eyed romcom but a side effect of her mental health issues.

It strikes a bilious tone. Maggie is initially presented as a cartoonish figure. She is impulsive, melodramatic, absurd in that heightened sitcom way. Next, the script pulls the rug out and tells us that we’ve been watching a serious drama all along.

The switcheroo lands as a cheap stunt and I’m not sure how people with a bipolar diagnosis will feel about the depiction of the condition or the way it is milked for laughs (the contrary argument, of course, is that C4 should be praised for shepherding to the screen a well-intentioned discussion of mental health). To her credit, Coughlan is fantastic throughout. But Channel 4 needs to get her off that e-scooter and find her a better vehicle for her talents.

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