My Mad Fat Diary has just completed its second series on E4. It’s sometimes easy to forget the two series take place in such a short space of time, but both are set in 1996. Series two picks up almost straight from where the first series left.
Series one was during the summer holidays, and series two begins with Rae (Sharon Rooney) starting Sixth Form college, and covers months from September to November. The trailer for the series made it look like series two would be full of fun and games, but that’s not at all how the series as a whole turned out.
The first episode Alarm had Rae and her new friends enjoying themselves and she now had a fit new boyfriend with Finn (Nico Mirralegro). At first Rae almost seems to think that all her problems are behind her. But college brings complexities that weren’t there during the summer holidays. Rae remembers getting bullied in high school and she feels if people see her with Finn they will think she is with someone far out of her league, and unfortunately she allows these feelings to get the better of her. On her first day of college she sets the fire alarm off and runs off. As a final kicker, the cliffhanger from the end of series one has a tragic end. We learn that Rae’s friend Tix, who was in a coma at the end of series one never recovered from it and has passed away.
This sets the bleak tone for series two. It’s a long, difficult road.
Rae’s relationship with Finn is one of the key storylines of this show, and it was sadly all too realistic that Rae let her insecurities get the better of her and sabotaged the relationship. She created a self-fulfilling prophecy. She didn’t think Finn could possibly want be with her, so she ended it to save herself from, as she saw it, inevitable heartbreak later. But Finn can’t read her mind, so the poor guy must have been so confused. He goes out of his way to be romantic, hiring a caravan and decorating it with lights especially for them, and puts no pressure on Rae to have sex if she isn’t ready. At a later date she gets him so drunk he passes out so she can avoid it, and after that she dumps him. He asks her what he has done wrong and can’t understand why. As we are privy to Rae’s inner thoughts we know why. She thinks he’s too good for her, and would rather dump the man of her dreams than allow him be close to her.
Rae has another sort-of love interest in this series, Liam (Turlough Convery). Liam is another student at college who is also attending the group therapy sessions as Rae. He has an extremely cynical worldview, and often acts like he doesn’t care about anything and nothing fazes him, but some of this is a front, as Rae discovers when she witnesses him having a panic attack. A relationship develops between Rae and Liam, though it soon becomes clear that Liam isn’t good for Rae, and she probably isn’t good for him either. He lets her down a few times. When Liam’s girlfriend Amy (Susie Potter) is angry at them hanging out together, Liam basically allows Rae to take all the heat from it. When Rae and Liam do embark on a casual relationship he says they should keep their clothes on as “neither of us are oil paintings”. They may have a lot in common, but therein lies the problem. They just enable each other to go down self-destructive paths.
Of course, they aren’t the only characters who are in many ways their own worst enemies. Rae’s friend Chloe (Jodie Comer) goes through a lot herself this series. She leaks half-naked photos of herself out in college in an attempt to be popular, and joins the group of popular girls. But she proves to be a better friend to Rae than she appeared to be in series one, sticking up for Rae against the girl gang queen bee and against Amy, which is a moment Rae realises she looks worse, as Chloe was sticking up for her thinking Rae and Liam hadn’t done anything, when at this point they had. We get an episode where we literally get a whole new perspective on Chloe when Rae reads her diary in Not I. This is an interesting episode, as it makes you question the series itself, as to how much of it skewered from Rae’s perspective, and that maybe she is an unreliable narrator.
When Rae reads Chloe’s diary she compares it with her own and sees that the two versions of the same events don’t match up. As diaries are written some time after the events have happened, it’s possible both misremember some details, and both put more weight on some moments than they do others. Rae, and therefore us as an audience, learn things about Chloe we weren’t aware of. For a start, Chloe knew Rae had been in a mental hospital long before Rae told her. Then there’s the fact Chloe had an unrequited crush on Finn which other than kissing him at the rave she never really acted on. Chloe mentions being incredibly worried about Rae after she sets the alarm off. But it’s not just stuff that she wasn’t present for, Rae finds out she missed many times when Chloe was upset about something and Rae never noticed it. Rae sees that Chloe is pretty and socially popular, especially with boys, and that she has well-off parents that buy her a car for her birthday. But until she reads the diary she doesn’t see that Chloe is deeply insecure about her intelligence or her ability to be funny, and in fact feels inferior to Rae in that regard, who can crack jokes easily. Chloe’s parents may be well-off and allow her more freedom, but the flipside of that is that they are very snobby and uncaring. Then there comes the fact that men find her attractive. This seems to be the only quality Chloe knows for sure that she has, and as such seems to value herself on that only.
The final few episodes saw Chloe hanging around with a group of scummy, lecherous 24-year-old blokes, with her dating their leader, Ian, who calls her a “stupid slag” and threatens her if she doesn’t come back to him. He clearly sees her as nothing more than something for he and his mates to use for sex. In the final episode Glue Chloe goes missing and in a heartbreaking scene where Jodie Comer shows what a great actress she is, Rae finds her at Ian’s house, quivering and crying on a bed, lying, as much to herself as anyone else, that she is fine where she is. Thankfully, Rae manages to convince Chloe to come back home with her and get her out of the terrible situation.
Rae’s other close friend Archie (Dan Cohen) also develops a lot during this series with his struggles dealing with the fact he is gay. At first he tries to fit in with college lads, wearing a rugby shirt and taking up smoking. His friendship with Rae becomes strained. Rae catches him laughing along with a group of lads while Simi, who is essentially the college bully, slags her off. In one of the highlights of the whole series Archie apologises in a brilliant way by getting some helium balloons and writing a song which goes “My Rae of sunshine”, and serenading her outside Rae’s window with his acoustic guitar. But what almost ruins their friendship forever is when Rae outs him to a girl named Lois (Kirsty Armstrong) who Archie was going out with. She does this partly because she believes Archie should be out and proud and partly because Archie is stringing Lois along. But it was a moment which made a lot of fans turn against Rae, as she had no right to force her friend out of the closet, especially as he clearly hadn’t fully come to terms with his sexuality. Rae tries to apologise (it’s a rubbish copy of Archie’s attempts; she can only afford air balloons and can’t play the guitar, but she offers to say sorry literally a million times), but then Lois gives Archie an ultimatum, come out by the end of the week or she’ll tell people the truth about why they broke up.
In Friday we see that Archie is terrified about the prospect of coming out, but ultimately decides that he wants to be proud of who he is and that he doesn’t want to hide this part of himself away anymore. Dan Cohen was fantastic, saying a lot with just facial expressions. The scene where he comes out to his friends is very moving, with him trying not to cry. After being worried about Finn’s reaction, thinking someone who he has been friends with for most of his life will suddenly judge him differently, it turns out Finn already knew, and has known for a long time, and didn’t say anything because he saw it as Archie’s prerogative whether he came out or not. I think the coming out storyline for Archie was handled well. I hope if there is a third series that, having got over the hurdle of coming out, Archie is able to get a boyfriend.
In Alarm Chloe attempts to get with Archie, which is funny as he isn’t interested for reasons we know are obvious, and her reaction to Archie coming out in Friday raises a laugh too, as she says “That’s why you wouldn’t get off with me!”, as at first it seems typical self-obsessed Chloe. But it seems different in hindsight after Not I. Archie likes to talk about history and other academic subjects, and this is an area Chloe doesn’t know much about. It is clear that Archie isn’t interested in her, but at this point she has no idea that it’s because he isn’t interested in women in general, so it just reaffirms Chloe’s insecurities.
Many of the best scenes in this series were with Rae and her mother Linda (Claire Rushbrook). At the start of the series Linda is going through a mid-life crisis and thinks she’s starting to have menopause. She says once “Weird things are happening to me. I cried at Wheel Of Fortune today”.
One of my favourite scenes of the entire series was in Radar where Linda says she wants to have cosmetic surgery. Rae’s reply is hilarious. “Are you actually insane? How can we even afford that?” She goes on to say that Linda has been asking her to keep using the same teabag to make at least 3 cups of tea to save money, and Rae says how stupid it is to drink tea that tastes terrible just so Linda can “waste money getting your baps remoulded, getting your bingo wings clipped. No bloody way, mum!”
But then Linda starts crying, and it becomes a poignant scene, where we see that Linda has similar insecurities to Rae, that she is punching above her weight with having a younger husband, Karim (Bamshed Abedi-Amin) who she sees as way out of her league and may soon lose interest in her. Linda may have unintentionally passed on the same insecurities to her daughter.
It turns out Linda is pregnant with Karim’s child rather than going through menopause. This makes her happier, though it causes other issues for Rae, who is a bit resentful of the fact that she is “about to be replaced”. In Inappropriate Adult Rae and Linda have big arguments. Rae doesn’t want to be treated like a kid anymore, and it is in this episode ironically enough that Rae is at her most immature. Linda tells her that she isn’t an adult yet in the eyes of the law, and Linda has a right to ground her, not least because Linda has to buy her food and take her places. There is an even bigger argument when Rae stays out all night, coming home at six in the morning. Linda has been up all night worrying, having called all of Rae’s friends she knew and even the hospitals. Rae is quite a sulky teenager about it, so Linda tells her to move out if she’s going to keep behaving like that. I was on Linda’s side through most of this, but she crosses a bit of line for me when she tells Rae she doesn’t want her baby growing up around “someone like [her]”. That said, Rae later makes this comment back tenfold in a later argument in the series finale Glue, saying Linda screwed up her life, so why screw up another kid’s life, then when Linda asks her if she cares at all about the new baby, Rae answers no. Later in the episode Rae finds Linda covered in blood because of complications with the pregnancy. She takes her to hospital, and thankfully both her mother and her new baby sister are fine. Rae and her mum make up after a turbulent series. It all shows that sometimes people can say very hurtful, cruel things to those they love the most.
While all this is going on, Rae meets her biological father Victor (Keith Allen). He lives locally, but hasn’t got in touch all those years, and doesn’t even know when Rae’s birthday is! Rae tries to get to know him, and he gives her a record player as a birthday present, but it turns out to be an old present he gave Linda. He’s also quite nasty with his comments about Linda. Ultimately, Rae decides not to continue seeing him on a regular basis.
There were many good new characters introduced in this series, not least an in-crowd group of popular girls. The episode which focused on them was Girls, when Rae tries to fit in with them, but all had important contributions outside of that. The queen bee, Stacey Stringfellow (Sacha Parkinson), was also Finn’s ex-girlfriend, and Rae felt bad that she wasn’t as pretty as her. The show managed to convey just what a manipulative bitch Stacey was, but unlike many of those type of characters in teen shows, she was also charismatic enough that we could see why people would be drawn to her. Amy is a tomboyish hardcase, and dates Liam, threatening to fight Rae when she thinks they are going out behind her back. I liked how the show didn’t completely demonise Amy, as it would have been so easy to do that. Rae’s therapist Kester (Ian Hart) tells Rae that she should think about how humiliated Amy must feel about the situation, and Chloe says she can see why Amy is suspicious. When Rae tells her she has kissed Liam, we expect Amy to hit Rae, but she instead runs off in tears showing deeply she was effected by the revelation.
Lois also isn’t presented as needlessly vindictive. She seems fairly sweet and innocent most of the time, and genuinely had feelings for Archie. She only decides to give Archie the ultimatum after hearing people at college gossip that their relationship didn’t work out because she was “frigid”. The only one of the group not to get a storyline outside of the gang is Vicki (Jodie Hamblet), the most outwardly bitchy one of the group. She’s also a stirrer and a sycophant. I find her the most dislikeable of the girl gang, but she’s still a good character, and she is the only one of the group to get a significant role in the finale.
While we had good new characters to explore in this series with Liam and the girl gang, it meant characters we knew already from series one were put to the sidelines. Chop (Jordan Murphy) and Izzy (Ciara Baxendale) were always the ones in the pub gang we see the least, and in this series they kind of disappear for half of it. It may be partly because with them, what you see is what you get. They don’t seem like they have any dark secrets, compared to Rae, Chloe and Archie so there isn’t as much room for development.
Having said that, Izzy does gets a bit more development this series compared to series one. In Alarm she imagines an idealised romantic way in which she will lose her virginity; a 4 poster bed with balcony windows hearing church bells, with a butler bringing them chocolates, champagne and roses. Her actual first time is on Chop’s sofa with Crimewatch in the background, but she still enjoys it. We also learn that she studies Performing Arts, and like Rae she worries that she isn’t as pretty as Chloe.
Izzy and Chop’s storyline is when they temporarily break up. Chop isn’t going to college, so they don’t see each other as much as they used to. Chop also seems to be the one who isn’t as accepting of Archie coming out, and doesn’t stand up for him when Simi and other laddish guys say homophobic things to him. This, Izzy says, is a contributing factor to her kissing another guy and breaking up with Chop. Archie also falls out with Chop over this. In the final episode Glue, Chop makes amends when Simi and his freind comes in the pub and start bullying Archie. Chop stands up for Archie in front of the whole pub and tells Simi and his friend to leave, then kisses Archie before kissing Izzy and getting back with her.
Danny Two Hats (Darren Evans) only makes sporadic appearances in this series, though we get to see his struggles for the first time in group therapy sessions, and he is finally to leave the psychiatric ward.
Rae is continuing to see her therapist Kester as well as attending group therapy. These reveal more about Rae’s deepest thoughts even more than her day to day inner-monologue does. Rae says “It’s easier to like yourself when someone else likes you isn’t it?”, to which Kester replies “You should like yourself because you’re a good person, not because someone else likes you”. It shows how deeply ingrained her low self-esteem is.
Rae turns up to Kester’s home a couple of times, which probably annoys his girlfriend. He tells Rae on the second occasion she can’t just show up whenever she fells like it, which is fair enough, but it was extremely unproffesional of him not to set boundaries in the first place. Not that he isn’t a good therapist for Rae. He turns out to be correct with most of the advice he gives her. In Glue he tells Rae that she just uses other people’s problems and her inability to fix them as another excuse to hate herself. He asks her to go back to when she first started feeling bad about herself, and what it is she doesn’t like about herself. Rae tearfully says that she’s fat, ugly and causes problems, and she’s felt that way since she was about ten, so Kester says this is something she formed about herself a long time ago. She should imagine her ten-year-old self and tell her all the bad things she thinks about herself. Rae can’t do that, so he says that’s what she’s doing every day, so she needs to tell her the good things about herself every day instead. Sharon Rooney was great all series, but she was particularly excellent in that scene.
The series and Sharon Rooney were nominated for RTS Awards this year. I am pleased the show is getting some recognition. It’s a fantastic programme. It’s uncomfortably close to home at times. A lot of people can relate to the issues in the programme. For me, I can definitely relate to Rae’s lack of confidence. I have had counselling in the past, and have to admit I have thought and said very similar things about myself as Rae has, word for word sometimes. I can also relate to Archie, as I too had struggles coming to terms with being gay, and like him I’m ashamed to say when I was about his age there were times I did just go along with it if a girl fancied me because I was too scared to come out.
The comedy-drama saw a shift generally more towards drama this time, but balanced both very well. It has also shifted away from the real Rae Earl’s diaries, though she is still involved somewhat, and has given them themes to explore. It’s probably a good thing the series is allowed to take on a life of its own as that gives it more scope. Tom Bidwell, who is the executive producer and wrote or co-wrote every episode, is a brilliant writer.
Rae is a lot less likeable, but it’s good that her issues are is presented realistically, and more importantly she realises she has behaved badly, there are consequences to her actions, and she learns from them. The end makes a great point “Everyone’s the protagonist of their own story”. She adds that not all stories have a happy ending, but hers does, when she manages to mend her fractured relationship with her mother, her gang of friends are back and she finally gets back together with Finn. I’d love there to be a third series, but if there isn’t they wrapped everything up nicely.
Favourite and least favourite episode
My favourite episode was Girls. It was the Mean Girls episode they’ve probably been wanting to make for a while, and was the funniest and most enjoyable. Chloe has got herself into the popular girl gang, and tries to bring Rae into it. Rae enters a world of “Girl talk” (hair, clothes, boys, make-up), gossip and bitchiness. Rae tries to fit in with them doing something she hates, like playing The Backstreet Boys, and after spending an early part of the episode wanting to buy Weezer’s Pinkerton album, when she gets the money she buys some jewellery instead. Worst of all she joins in a bitching session of who’s the biggest loser in college and starts mentioning a loner girl who reads books all the time, who unknown to Rae is standing right behind her.
Queen bee Stacey has an ability to get people to open up to her, and Rae confesses to her that she can’t eat in front of people, because she can’t win. If she eats unhealthy food, people would think “No wonder she’s fat”, and if she eats healthy food they would think “Who’s she kidding?”. Stacey says she won’t let anyone pick on her, but after she arranges the girls to go to a restaurant knowing full well Rae would have a problem with that, it becomes clear she’s only friends with any of the girls because it allows her to have minions who she can exploit as she knows their vulnerabilities. Rae realises she doesn’t like the person she’s become, calls Stacey out on her actions and apologises to the girl she was bitching about.
There’s a hilarious awkward moment when after finding out Rae broke up with Finn, Lois innocently mentions that Finn and Stacey used to go out, but he broke up with her. But the Crowning Moment Of Awesome is when Chloe brings Stacey down by telling the whole group what Stacey said about them, even including a sticker-covered tape recorder as proof. As Rae puts it “Chloe – Queen bitch”.
My least favourite episode was Inappropriate Adult. It still isn’t a bad piece of TV by any means, but it is hard to watch. Rae herself is quite frustrating as a protagonist this series, but none more of than in this episode. Her behaviour towards her mother, and towards Finn makes her look bad. Finn tells her he’s thinking about moving away “because I’ve got nothing to stay for here, have I?”. He’s very obviously hoping for Rae to say something, but she just brushes him off as she is going to a party.
But then things take a turn for the worse. At the party there is a disturbing scene where Rae is nearly sexually assaulted by Saul, a friend of Ian’s. Fortunately Rae manages to get herself away from him. We get something of a breather after that, but the last few minutes of the episode are a depressing run of events. She has a massive argument with Chloe, she finds out Finn has moved away, she phones Victor, but he isn’t answering, she goes to Kester’s house and he tells her she can’t just come when she fells like it, she goes to Liam’s house and tells her they should keep their clothes on while she gives him a blow-job, and when she gets home she finds out her mum has been and gone to an ultrasound scan Rae was supposed to go with her to support her.
’90s nostalgia is one of the biggest appeals to this show, and some we get this series include:
* Finn mentioning not owning a mobile phone as he isn’t a millionaire.
* Rae and her mother talking about which Spice Girl they’d be. Quite fun, as Claire Rushbrook appeared in Spice World as their assistant Debra.
* The Eva Herzigova WonderBra Hello Boys poster becomes a plot point for both Rae and Chloe.
* References to Teletext.
* Rae, Chloe and Izzy eating Callipos during the summer holiday.
* A scene with Liam in Friday recreating Trainspotting.
* Liam having Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pillow and playing Sonic The Hedgehog.
* Archie has dinosaur wallpaper (Dinosaurs were very, very much popular because of Jurassic Park).
* In a drama group some students do an acapella version of ‘Stay’ by Shakespears Sister, when I was in high school some girls did that for Performing Arts.
(And an often commented anachronism, Chloe owns Britney Spears’ Fantasy perfume not just over a decade before it existed, but years before Britney Spears had even released ‘…Baby One More Time’).
Then there’s the great soundtrack. There’s too many to list, but these were some of my favourite tracks used in this series.
Oasis – ‘She’s Electric’
Oasis – ‘Cast No Shadow’
Oasis – ‘Supersonic’
Oasis – ‘Wonderwall’
BLACKStreet – ‘No Diggity’
The Cardigans – ‘Lovefool’
Beck – ‘Loser’
Primal Scream – ‘Loaded’
PJ Harvey – ‘Down By The Water’
Suede – ‘Animal Nitrate’
Placebo – ‘Nancy Boy’
Space – ‘Female Of The Species’
Bush – ‘Swallowed’
TLC – ‘Waterfalls’
The Cure – ‘Boys Don’t Cry’
The Wannadies- ‘You And Me Song’
Skunk Anansie – ‘Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good)’
Tom Petty – ‘Free Fallin’
Blind Melon – ‘No Rain’
Fugees – ‘Ready Or Not’
No Doubt – ‘Just A Girl’
Livin’ Joy – ‘Dreamer’
Coolio – ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’
Green Day – ‘Basket Case’
Ash – ‘Angel Interceptor’
Everything But The Girl – ‘Missing’
Sinead O’Connor – ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’
The Smiths – ‘How Soon Is Now’
U2 – ‘One’