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'Back to Life' Skates Artfully Along the Edge of Dark Comedy and Drama
November 10, 2019  | By Kim Akass  | 5 comments

Back to Life
, initially aired on digital channel BBC3 – the channel only available online and the place that the BBC airs series that are deemed a "bit of a risk" or "aimed at a young audience." You know, the channel that first aired that breakout, Emmy-award-winning hit, Fleabag.

And if you enjoyed Fleabag, you need to give this series a go (premiering Sunday on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET).

For Lucy Mangan in The GuardianBack to Life filled that Fleabag style hole in the viewing schedules. But Fleabag it isn't. Starring Daisy Haggard and co-written with Laura Solon, this series is much darker in tone than the now infamous brainchild of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. This is certainly not a series for the faint-hearted, or for those that are easily offended by adult humor and bad language, as it straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, and is propelled by a well-written, sharply observed script, standout performances and deeply compelling storylines.

The premise is this: Miri Matteson (played by Haggard) has been released from prison and returns to her childhood home to get her life back on track. We don't know exactly what she did, but over the course of the next few episodes, the truth is slowly revealed.

Trying to settle into a life with aging parents – wonderfully played by Geraldine James and Richard Durden – in the sleepy seaside town she calls home is never going to be easy. Miri manages to secure a job in a newly opened Fish and Chip shop, befriends Billy, the gardener next door, and negotiates a relationship with her allergy-ridden and somewhat inept social worker (hilariously played by Jo Martin). At the same time, she is the recipient of feces through the post, graffiti on her wall, bricks through the window, and is subject to regular abuse from the woman next door who shouts at her from an upstairs window. Easy it isn't.                                                                                          

At only six episodes long, this series is not much of an investment of time, but it is a surprisingly intense experience and, only two episodes in, I found myself so totally immersed in Miri's story that I watched the whole series in two sittings. For co-writer and star, Haggard, the story behind the series reveals her fascination with what happens to women when they are released from prison: "You've had this extraordinary, massive, enormous experience but you haven't actually had some quite fundamental, day-to-day life experiences and I thought that was just a really interesting story." An understatement as, returning to her childhood bedroom, Miri is confronted by walls covered with posters of her childhood heroes: David Bowie, George Michael, and Prince, all of whom have passed away in the past few years and sum up how much of life Miri has missed.

As the series progresses, Miri is beset by trouble after trouble. Word gets out that she is back in town, much to the occupants' chagrin, she is followed by private detective Samuel (Frank Feys) and attempts to cross the border of a difficult relationship with her mother. It doesn't take long for us to discover why her mother keeps her at arm's length and, in a series that sends shockwave after shockwave of relationship issues (including the sex lives of her aging parents), it certainly treads a fine line of laugh out loud comedy intertwined with deep tragedy.

For me, Back to Life is one of the best series I have seen in a long time. The script is sharp, it takes you to places you never thought you would go, and the final payoff is worth your emotional investment. If the first episode seems a little slow, sit with it; it soon gathers pace and packs a huge narrative punch at the end.

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