My Mad Fat Diary returned as a final series with only 3 episodes, written by George Kay rather than Tom Bidwell who wrote most of the first two series. While there wasn’t much of a gap between the events of series 1 and 2 both set in 1996, the third series saw them skip to the end of their time in Sixth Form college, in 1998.
A shame is misses out 1997 completely, I remember that being an interesting year. But it wasn’t a bad idea to broadcast the series in June of this year, as it was set in June 17 years ago. Some people watching this now will have taken their exams in 1998. Some viewers are Rae’s age now and would be taking their exams now, and some like me are in between. Sixth Form was quite some time ago for me, the Noughties rather than the ’90s, but this series still bought back memories.
When we begin in episode one ‘Who Is Stan Ford?’ not much has changed, but some stuff has. Danny Two Hats now works in the pub collecting glasses. Chloe wants to go to business school, and is already wearing business dress. Finn is renting a flat above the bookies. Rae is working part time in a record shop, which is her “dream job”. Archie has long wanted to go to university, and is going to Durham to study History, but wants to lose his virginity before he gets there.
Rae sets Archie up with Rob (Karl Davies) who works at the same record shop as her. He finds Archie cute but prefers him without the glasses. (I couldn’t disagree more with Rob there, I love guys with glasses!). Archie’s initial nervousness is endearing when he’s pretending to look at records. We’re told their first date in a pub doesn’t go well as they don’t speak, but they go to Rob’s house, and they have sex, which Rae sees through a window after she goes to check that Archie is OK. I liked this storyline, I liked Archie getting a muso boyfriend, and I liked the casting of Karl Davies in the role, but it is a shame it was crammed into one episode. A full series allowing it to develop would have been good.
Rae messes up her interview for Bristol university. The stuffy professors initially seem snobbish towards her, but she tells them that she doesn’t always have time to study as she has to look after her baby sister and that real life gets in the way. I didn’t like that they did that “someone tells a panel board how much they suck and they are so impressed with their passion they let them in ” cliche. But here the point was that Rae thought she’d failed and so didn’t need to decide whether to go to uni or not, as the decision had been made for her. Now she had an offer, the ball was back in her court again.
Rae doesn’t know what she wants. She has an opportunity to go to university, but she loves her home town and her friends. To top it off, Finn wants her to move in with him. She screws up her university acceptance letter and throws it on her bedroom floor, but her mum finds it and is delighted. Rae will be the first in their family to go to university. When talking about it to Kester, he thinks she should accept the offer. Rae doesn’t know what’s out there, and he thinks she’s holding herself back. He also thinks she has come a long way and is ready to end therapy.
Katie Springer (Faye Marsay) who has gone to Bristol university is back at Stamford City College there to talk about it to students about to take their exams. She uses a George Eliot quote. “It’s never too late to be what you might have been”.
Rae talks to Katie about her dilemma, as she doesn’t want to tell any of her friends and family. She hasn’t told Finn she’s got in and hasn’t told her mum she doesn’t want to go. But soon it gets out that Rae got into Bristol, and when Finn finds out he’s upset. He didn’t want to offer her to move in until he was sure she hadn’t got into university, as he didn’t want her to feel she had to give up the opportunity for him. She didn’t feel she could tell him the truth. Rae is still insecure about the relationship even after all this time. “It’s a joke, and we both know it. People must think I’ve won a competition” she says. Finn says they should go on a break. Rae scratches her knuckles on a brick wall to try and relieve her stress.
Finn also cancels a planned flatwarming party, but Rae tries to get it back on, getting the gang together in a car. Chloe is driving and notices Rae’s bruised knuckles. She nearly crashes into a car while taking her eyes of the road, but it misses and she stops the car in front of a lamppost. She asks Rae what happened to her hand and that she wants to help her. Suddenly another car crashes straight into them!
This was a big shock. I expected them to be in a car accident, but it was cleverly done as a double subversion. After Chloe regained control of the car and stopped it, I thought they’d be OK, but then the other car came! Chloe is seriously injured, as she was in direct impact of the car, and is unconscious.
In Episode 2, ‘Rewind’ Rae feels guilty about what happened to Chloe, as it was her idea for them all to be in the car in the first place, and it was Chloe noticing Rae’s bruised hand which caused her to take her eyes off the road. Chloe’s parents won’t let Rae see her, as they blame Rae for the accident too.
Rae’s deadbeat dad Victor (Keith Allen) arrives in her record shop. (“It was like seeing a ghost” notes Rae. “A ghost who couldn’t be bothered to haunt you half the time”). She asks him in the back for a cup of tea, out of desperation for someone to talk to more than anything. She tells him he should say sorry to her mum. Victor tells Rae “You only get one chance to fix your fuck ups.”
It’s Linda’s 45th birthday, and her husband Karim has thrown her a surprise party. Victor turns up, starts drinking too much and plays on the piano and singing Elton John’s ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’. It’s really beyond awkward and the guests start to leave. The icing on the cake is that Rae forgot to buy a cake. (One of my favourite quotes was that when she turned up seeing a party, the only two options were that she’d forgotten about her mum’s party or that “Michael Aspel was about to appear and say “Tonight Rachel Earl, This Is Your pathetic excuse for a Life“).
Rae’s guilt about what happened to Chloe begins to get on top of her, with her imagining a zombie version of Chloe and seeing Chloe instead of Katie while talking to her at one point. A misguided Rae takes Chloe’s Sociology exam on her behalf, thinking she should miss out on the exam rather than Chloe.
Rae in this episode feels even more bad about herself than usual, like she causes problems for everyone. “Everything I touch turns to shit”. She tries to make things right, and she just ends up making things worse. It is mainly because of Chloe’s accident. Katie, Linda and Kester all tell Rae that what happened to Chloe wasn’t her fault, but she doesn’t believe them until she sneaks in the hospital to visit Chloe, and Chloe herself tells her that the accident wasn’t her fault. Chloe also doesn’t want Rae to miss out on taking her exams just because Chloe will. This scene with Chloe in the hospital bed was quite moving, as it was a nice moment of their friendship, saying what happened was “because we’re friends”. Finally, Chloe mentions that she doesn’t trust Katie.
Kester tells Rae he went to football trials when he was a teenager. He turned out to be useless at it, he kind of knew before he started that he wasn’t good enough, but he’s still glad he went, as if he hadn’t he’d always be wondering “what if”. He says “Just because I didn’t deserve a place doesn’t mean I didn’t deserve a chance”.
Rae owns up to taking Chloe’s exam for her, and after an impassioned “oscar winner” speech from Linda, Rae is given another chance to re-sit her Sociology exam.
After retaking the exam, Rae goes to visit Finn. It was predictable that he would be with Katie, but the last few moments of ‘Rewind’ were upsetting intense, and compelling. Rae goes to the psychiatric hospital to see Kester, and finds out he hasn’t worked there since April. This is the final straw for Rae, and it all gets on top of her. She begins to scratch her knuckles on the wall again, missing her English exam she’s supposed to be taking. The receptionist who told her about Kester takes her into the psychiatric ward.
In episode 3 ‘The Final Chapter – Voodoo’ Rae is talking to a different therapist, Dr. Juliet Allen (Lolita Chakrabarti), and tells her she wants to go back into the psychiatric hospital and be on the same pills she was prescribed last time. Dr. Allen doesn’t believe it is necessary. While Rae has gone through difficult times, currently the problems she faces aren’t uncommon for most people Rae’s age (Self-esteem, worries about her future, relationship problems). She does prescribe a short course of pills on Rae’s request though.
Rae runs into Kester, and is angry he lied to her. He reveals that he was suspended after complaints he was “difficult to work with”, but kept coming back for patients he cared about, and Rae in particular. He takes the same view as Dr. Allen on Rae’s issues however, that problems are a fact of life, and Rae is ready to deal with them now. “I’m scared” says Rae. “You and the rest of the world” says Kester.
Karim is going to Tunisia to find work. Rae thinks Linda and the baby should go with him. Linda says that’s what she wants, but she’s worried Rae won’t be able to cope.
Katie picks Rae up in her car, and assures Rae that she and Finn aren’t together, at least not anymore. But she also tells Rae that Rae brings her problems onto Finn and is bringing him down, and that it is true for all her friends, saying Rae’s injuries bring them pain rather than her. On hearing this, Rae compares herself to a voodoo doll.
Rae says to herself that her problems poison her mind, and the people she cares about, and the closer they get the worse it is for them. We see her taking an overdose of her pills, and submerging herself under water in a bath, in an attempt to drown herself. Then there’s a slow-motion scene where Finn breaks down the door and rescues her, which looks really cheesy, but it turns out that most of this scene is a fantasy sequence. Rae realises that only she can save herself rather than relying on other people to save her and if she’s a voodoo doll, it’s because she puts the pins in herself. Therefore, she can pull them out. She is determined to do well on her final exam, Performing Arts theory, as having missed one exam she needs this one to make up the points.
Remembering Kester’s advice to re-read her diary there is a montage of scenes from all 3 series, and Rae sees how far she has come.
Chloe throws rubbish from a bin on Katie’s car… except it turns out it’s someone else’s car, Katie’s car was across the road from it. This was a bit corny sitcom-esque, but it was funny.
The friendship between Rae and Chloe had some moving scenes. There was the hospital one, and even more so for me was the one in Chloe’s bedroom where a tearful Chloe is sad that “everyone’s leaving” and going their separate ways. Rae says that the gang will stay in touch for a bit. But it’s likely they will mostly lose touch over time. It’s a fact of life that friends come and go, but Rae believes that her and Chloe’s friendship will last.
They are on their way to the leavers ball (and all credit to the show for getting that right. It in no way would have been called “the prom” in Britain in the ’90s. “Leavers party”, “leavers do” yes, but never “leaver’s prom”). Everyone fancies Finn in a tuxedo. Finn and Rae break up formally. I thought this was going to happen, as apart from anything else Rae wants to move on while Finn wants to take root, and if I’m honest I never really thought it would last. They’re two quite different people, and as Rae herself admitted, she always put him on a pedestal. But the break-up did still seem a bit rushed.
The gang go to the pub after the ball, where Archie and Rob perform The Verve’s ‘Lucky Man’, which goes into the real version on the soundtrack.
Rae goes to Kester to open her exam results. She’s succeeded in getting what she needs to get into Bristol Uni.
The final scene has Rae on the train, and is great as it shows her seeing her friends and family in the reflection in the window, including an appearance of Liam from series two and Tix from series one. It was poignant to see them, especially Tix as she passed away, and Rae noting that she was closing this chapter in her life, but that all those people and everything that had happened would always be a part of her.
While it’s a good song, I’m not sure Radiohead – ‘Creep’ was the best to close the whole show. The other series with Oasis – ‘Champagne Supernova’, and ‘Wonderwall’ worked better. The endings to those series were more uplifting and happier, but this one hit home more emotionally and was more realistic. Rae’s going on to great things, but it’s still sad when you have to say goodbye.
To be honest, some creaks were beginning to show this series. It was becoming a bit more far-fetched, so at least it ended while it was still good. For example, Izzy ended up being a total ditz this series. She was always naive and innocent, but she was a bit more of a dim comic relief character this time. Like asking if George Eliot was a boy in college and taking a metaphor Rae makes about walking in a forests as if she’s talking about a literal forest. Sorry, but I find it hard to believe someone who’s taking English and Performing Arts Theory at A Level would do either of those things.
The Kester subplot was, as far as I can tell, pointless. Why was it necessary? I don’t see what it added, other than an excuse to cause more stress for Rae.
Katie’s character didn’t make much sense. When Rae asked her if her life is so amazing why is she spending all her time hanging around with people in Sixth Form in her home town I thought “Good question”. I would have liked to have seen a bit of an explanation for her actions other than just being a way to cause more problems for Rae. Katie was just a plot device, despite Faye Marsay’s best efforts to make her seem like a fully-rounded person.
I know this is really nitpicking, but the references to email and “the net” and how they were a mysterious new thing back in the ’90s were a bit ham-fisted.
A main problem was it was a bit rushed, but I suppose it was either a short series or nothing. Why I don’t know, could be budget reasons. There was a rumour that each episode would be 90 minutes rather than 60, and apparently a lot ended up getting cut out. It’s a pity we didn’t get a full series. If we had, I’d have loved to have seen more of Rob and the relationship with Archie. I’d also have liked to have seen more of Katie, just so we might know why she’s like she is, and for the break-up of Rae and Finn’s relationship to have been given more time to get across.
A few highlights from this series for me.
*Chop gets a tattoo which says “STAN FORD FOREVER”, when he meant to get “Stamford Forever”. Izzy later gets a matching tattoo.
*Chloe’s approach to revision is mainly highlighting books with coloured pens. Rae says to her “You’re highlighting whole pages. Which is the same thing as not highlighting at all”.
*Rae making Chloe a mixtape, titled ‘Now That’s What I Call Chloe Gemell’.
*Lois from series 2 makes a very brief appearance, but I found it interesting. She seems slightly less naive and doesn’t appear to be hanging round with the Mean Girls group any more, and seems to be on better terms with Rae and Chloe. Sometimes in Sixth Form, the group you hung round with at the start aren’t the one you hang round with by the end (that’s what happened with me anyway).
*To my shame, I also made the “only answered one question instead of 3” mistake Rae does, luckily it was only during a mock GCSE exam rather than a proper A Level one.
* Chloe on Katie; “How could she not remember me? I used to blank her like the whole time”.
*Linda talking about Karim losing his lollipop man job. “The council want to replace him with a pelican crossing”. That line made me laugh so much, even though it’s a fairly everyday one.
*Rae’s Ash t-shirt.
*Benny & Joon, a 1993 cult romcom starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson. Rae rented it from Blockbusters over a year ago and never returned it.
*Blockbuster video rental itself! We used to have one in my home town that I used all the time, it’s now been turned into a mini supermarket.
*Cassette tapes! Particularly Rae’s bed headboard made from them.
And of course, the soundtrack, including:
Supergrass – ‘Sun Hits The Sky’
Divine Comedy – ‘National Express’
Enya – ‘Orinocco Flow’
Eels – ‘Electroshock Blue’
Eels – ‘The Medication Is Wearing Off’
Blur – ‘Song 2’
Blur – ‘Beetlebum’
Morrissey – ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’
Bjork – ‘Army Of Me’
Massive Attack – ‘Teardrop’
Radiohead – ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’
All Saints – ‘Never Ever’
Fatboy Slim – ‘Praise You’
My Mad Fat Diary was a great series. I think this will be remembered as one of the best TV shows of the 2010s, and I’m glad of what we got. I can’t think of any TV series which has hit home as much to me, and it has to a lot of people, so it’s certainly one which will stick. I’d quite like to see perhaps a one-off special which shows what became of the characters in the present day, but perhaps it’s good that it left things open ended. I have mixed feelings about it finishing, I think it was the right time to end it, but I still wish we would have got more.