Sharon Horgan’s much-missed sitcom is very funny, but, perhaps more importantly, it broke all sorts of television taboos. Here’s Hannah Dunleavy on why you should put it on your to-watch list. Immediately.
Somewhere during the second episode of Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s superb Catastrophe I realised something. For the first time since 2007, I wasn’t pissed off that Pulling was cancelled.
Unlike many other glorious series that died too soon, there didn’t seem to be any good reason for BBC to call it a day on the BAFTA-nominated sitcom, which had won a loyal following, a lot of which came from outside of the usual BBC3 demographic.
But let’s not dwell on that. Instead, let’s bask in the glory of one of the most under-rated comedies of the 21st century, a deceptively simple and all-round horrific tale of three women who share a house in South London. Sound a bit like Friends? Yeah, it’s not. At least I don’t think Rachel ever washed her undercarriage with a flannel.
Donna (Horgan) is a borderline narcissist 30-something who, after walking out on her wedding plans with reliable but dull Karl (Cavan Clerkin), moves in with two old friends.
Louise (Rebekah Staton), is a sweet-natured waitress whose overwhelming desire to be loved takes her to some pretty weird places, while Karen (Tanya Franks), is a cynical primary school teacher with a drink problem. And an attitude problem. And arguably a drug problem. Depending on how much drugs you deem a problem.
“It’ll likely be something that happens in the third episode, probably when it teams the nadir of someone’s life with a Hitler moustache and a comedy erection, that will spark the question, ‘How have I not watched this before?'”
Written by the uber-talented Horgan (this time with Dennis Kelly), it’s a gorgeous piece of comedy benevolence as she takes on the least likeable role and dishes out most of the best lines to her co-stars. It’s brilliantly written, in a natural style, so it sounds like people actually speak. Donna, for example, starts a lot of sentences she never finishes and most of what Louise says isn’t so much an attempt to persuade other people of something, as an attempt to persuade herself.
A huge chunk of Pulling‘s success is down to the fact that it’s a reasonably accurate portrayal of house sharing. Sometimes it’s a drunken haze of great nights out, sometimes they grind on each other’s nerves. Sometimes they take the piss out of each other, sometimes things flare up. And it shows the way women behave towards other women in its many beautiful and ugly forms.
Because that all feels so normal, all the other crazy shit that happens to them starts to feel strangely routine too.
Sadly, there’s not that much of Pulling to enjoy. Two series and an hour-long special to bring it all to a close. Its opening episodes are funny, but it’ll likely be something that happens in the third, probably when it teams the nadir of someone’s life with a Hitler moustache and a comedy erection, that will spark the question, “How have I not watched this before?”
If the first series is funny, the second should have classic status. Like most sitcoms’ second series, everybody’s personality flaws and ticks are amped up a bit, but unlike many sitcoms, it feels very organic.
I might as well start with the arrival of Karen’s on-off boyfriend Billy. Because Billy. Paul Kaye literally (yes literally) throws himself into the role of a man so extraordinarily dosed with anything and everything, his miasma is almost visible. He and Franks are painfully funny together as her behaviour gets more and more extreme and they embark on some epic benders and some seriously bullshit conversations. In fact, I’d imagine when covering ‘drunk acting’, drama schools just show students the scene where Karen is frying an apple and say, “Do that.”
The second series also changes the dynamic between Donna and Karl, and gives him a storyline of his own, which is very funny. It means that Donna’s often on the back foot, which makes her a lot more sympathetic, despite her increasingly self-centred and sometimes cruel behaviour.
And Louise, lovely Louise, really starts to go off the rails. Which wouldn’t really have worked were it not for the fact that late in the first series we meet her mum. It’s the closest any character gets to a back story and it reveals a side of Louise we’ve not seen before, explaining so much about her and excusing almost anything she goes on to do. Most of which is completely batshit.
Needless to say it’s dark. No matter how liberal or, indeed, liberated you are, eventually one of the central trio will cross a line you wouldn’t. And no matter how black you like your humour, eventually they’re going to make a joke you wouldn’t.
Added to this, it’s about three women and includes stuff like abortion, infidelity and the question of who might be a slag.
All of which means it’s pretty pioneering stuff. Especially given how much praise Girls often gets for doing the same thing nearly a decade later.
A genuine groundbreaker. Which is fortunate, because you might well want the earth to swallow you up.7284 Views
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.