Lucy Man­gan Our sex­u­ally fluid so­ci­ety is thirsty for a taboo-break­ing drama about sex­u­al­ity – but this isn’t it

★★ ☆☆☆

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Su­per­fi­cially, at least, a com­edy-drama en­ti­tled The Bisexual – about the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of a woman who comes out of a 10-year les­bian re­la­tion­ship and finds her­self be­ing drawn peniswards – is a com­e­dy­drama whose time has come. As a so­ci­ety, we are in­ter­ro­gat­ing gen­der, bi­ol­ogy, queer­ness and the flu­id­ity of all these things and more. Why, we are even learn­ing to cope with a fe­male Doc­tor Who! And, sex – or the prom­ise of it with any com­bi­na­tion of gen­i­talia – al­ways sells.

Alas – for The Bisexual, at least – what­ever con­ducive con­di­tions cur­rently per­tain, what also per­sists is the hu­man de­sire to be en­ter­tained. It is here that this six­part com­edy-drama (cre­ated by De­siree Akha­van, who also plays Leila, the p-ex­per­i­menter) stum­bles, be­cause it is nei­ther comic nor dra­matic.

The episode opens with the power cou­ple Sadie (played in a hand­ful of mostly ex­pos­i­tive scenes in the opener by the mighty Max­ine Peake) and Leila. They are be­ing in­ter­viewed by a semi-cretinous jour­nal­ist (yes, yes, insert jokes about tau­tolo­gies here; we are a democ­racy) as they pre­pare to launch a new busi­ness project, but it be­comes clear from their di­ver­gent an­swers to the jour­nal­ist’s ques­tions about how they met (“That is not true. That is Sadie be­ing an ass­hole and shit­ting on a nice mem­ory”) and plans for a fam­ily (“Of course!” “We talked about it ab­stractly. We also talked about eu­thana­sia”) that all may not be well in thir­tysome­thing gay par­adise.

This is con­firmed when, dur­ing a break in the in­ter­view, Sadie asks Leila to marry her and Leila re­sponds by ask­ing for a cou­ple of months’ apart in­stead.

Leila moves out of their shared home and – for some un­fath­omable rea­son, given that there is ev­ery­thing to sug­gest she is per­fectly well-off and noth­ing to sug­gest that she is friend­less or des­per­ate – into a shit­hole Gumtree flat­share with a stranger who soon turns out to be a shit­hole him­self. Her new flat­mate is Gabe, a self-cen­tred novelist liv­ing off the glo­ries of one decade­old suc­cess­ful book, Tes­tic­u­lar. He is now a uni­ver­sity lec­turer who is, to the sur­prise of no one in the whole world, bang­ing one of his stu­dents, Fran­cisca.

On a night out at a gay bar with her friends, to which Leila in­ex­pli­ca­bly brings her bel­lend flat­mate, he proves his bell-endry by try­ing to ini­ti­ate a con­ver­sa­tion about Blue Is the Warm­est Colour. The crush­ing si­lence that greets this is sadly one of the best mo­ments of the 30 slowly tick­ing min­utes of this episode.

Leila, mean­while, takes a shine to the coat-check man­boy. They go back to his place and are about to shag when she re­veals that he will be her first man. He gets cold – well, let’s say feet – and the deal is off. Up­set, Leila in­vei­gles Gabe and her best friend Deniz into break­ing into her old flat so she can pre­pare it for a pro­posal to Sadie. Who is, of course, asleep in bed with a new woman; the uber-cool sec­re­tary from their of­fice, be­cause that is a boss move that binds all de­mo­graph­ics.

There are a hand­ful of mo­ments – apart from the crush­ing si­lence greet­ing Gabe – that work. Coat-check boy’s “Can you pass me my charger?” to Leila as she leaves his flat is ev­ery one-night stand (or near as, in their case) dis­tilled to its dis­af­fected essence. I would base a whole spinoff series around Fran­cisca for her con­tem­pla­tive anal­y­sis over Gabe’s sex­ual per­for­mance alone: “Be­cause of your book, I thought you would be dif­fer­ent. But you do not fuck like you write. It is in­ter­est­ing.”

But for all its prom­ise to be a pioneer­ing ex­plo­ration of bi­sex­u­al­ity as, ac­cord­ing to Akha­van, “the last taboo”, and of how sex and who we choose to have it with can shed light on the prej­u­dice that lives in­side even those who pride them­selves on be­ing the wok­est of the woke, it is a bleak, af­fect­less and suf­fo­cat­ingly joy­less af­fair. Cyn­i­cism and de­tach­ment is the pre­vail­ing mood and one of the main el­e­ments of ev­ery role so far. Fur­ther­more, while of course char­ac­ters do not have to be lik­able to work, they do have to re­deem them­selves with some de­gree of wit or in­ter­est. Air, light and shade are what ev­ery­thing needs to sur­vive.

Cyn­i­cism is the pre­vail­ing mood ... De­siree Akha­van in The Bisexual

For all its prom­ise, it is a suf­fo­cat­ingly joy­less af­fair

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