This review originally appeared on The Arts Desk.
By the end of its first series, My Mad Fat Diary had departed far enough from memoirist Rae Earl’s frank, funny source material that the adaptation taking on a life of its own shouldn’t have been a cause for concern. Still, there’s always that niggle when something that got it so completely right first time around returns: can it possibly repeat that magic, or live up to expectations?
Hence why it was such a relief to hear the inner monologue of Earl’s semi-fictional counterpart (Sharon Rooney) during her first sexual experience – well, non-solo one at least. “What if I don’t feel anything?” she said, panicking. “What if I get so nervous that my vagina turns to stone?”
As series two begins Rae claims to be in a better place than she has ever been: part of a close-knit gang of friends, including new boyfriend Finn (Nico Mirallegro), and ready to tie up last year’s dramatic threads before starting college. We join Rae shortly after she used her speech at her mother’s wedding to her undocumented immigrant toy-boy Karim to tell her friends the truth about the four-month incarceration in a psychiatric ward that predated the show. Hot best frenemy Chloe (Jodie Comer) stage-manages the fallout at the fish and chip shop that became the gang’s second home last year, allowing an open forum for questions to whoever holds the ketchup bottle.
But Rae’s got more important things on her mind than mental illness – she has even dropped the diary of the show’s title to write instead to Tix, her best friend back on the ward, about the gang’s plans for a pre-college camping trip during which Rae and sweet Izzy (Ciara Baxendale) – who have formed a “shaggus pactus” – plan to lose their respective virginities after getting together with Finn and Chop (Jordan Murphy) respectively at the end of the last series. This leaves Archie (Dan Cohen), Rae’s secretly gay closest friend, alone in the group with the man-eating Chloe; a subplot that’s certain to end with some more secrets being told before too long.
If any of this sounds trivial, you’ve probably never been a teenager – a demographic for whom Sharon Rooney remains a refreshing everygirl. What set the first series of My Mad Fat Diary apart was its expert blending of Rae’s obsessions with boys, bands and boozing with her mental health problems, and Rooney’s sympathetic performance – never more than a beat away from either hilarious or heartbreaking – is the show’s secret weapon. The dialogue is as razor-sharp as ever, the scenarios and soundtracks as believable to those of us who listened to Babybird, Blur and Oasis first time around as those now living through the agony of first love, the embarrassment of underwear shopping with your perfectly-proportioned best friend and the misery of your menopausal mother bursting in on you and your boyfriend. Claire Rushbrook remains comic gold as Rae’s mum Linda, while Ian Hart as Rae’s therapist Kester is still the show’s rock – even if Rae herself is convinced that she doesn’t need him anymore.
No, college isn’t going to be smooth sailing for Rae – particularly once last season’s other tangled thread, regarding what happened to Tix, is resolved – but it looks as though those troubled waters are still the best thing on television. I’m glad that she’s back.
My Mad Fat Diary continues on Monday nights on E4. Catch up with recent episodes on 4oD.