Edge-less but whips­mart

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Tv And Radio - TV re­view by Barry Did­cock

OPEN­ING with a crash course in how not to in­ter­view a les­bian power cou­ple and end­ing with an equally eye-wa­ter­ing demon­stra­tion of how not to spring a late-night sur­prise on your ex, episode one of The Bi­sex­ual was more about hes­i­ta­tions, floun­der­ings and mis-steps than it was sure­ness and con­fi­dence. Which is ex­actly how its cre­ator and star De­siree Akha­van wanted it.

Akha­van is the Ira­nian-Amer­i­can di­rec­tor of ac­claimed 2018 film The Mise­d­u­ca­tion Of Cameron Post but for this six-part com­edy drama she has swapped her na­tive New York for some hip en­clave of Lon­don. From the hair­cuts, I’d say Hack­ney.

Akha­van plays Leila, who we first meet in the trendy of­fice she shares with busi­ness part­ner and long­time girl­friend Sadie (the won­der­ful Max­ine Peake, in hip­ster glasses and an­gu­lar hip­ster work clothes). Tak­ing a quiet mo­ment af­ter an ex­cru­ci­at­ing press in­ter­view about their start-up, de­scribed as Shazam for clothes, Sadie asks Leila to marry her and have a child. Akha­van tele­scopes what hap­pens next – the re­crim­i­na­tions, the tears, the late-night con­ver­sa­tions that end up go­ing nowhere – into a sin­gle, tight scene and the up­shot is that Leila and Sadie de­cide to “have a break”. Which means see­ing other peo­ple. Which, for Leila, means see­ing men. She is, you see, the bi­sex­ual of the ti­tle, de­spite hav­ing spent her en­tire life iden­ti­fy­ing as les­bian.

En­ter the rest of the cast, no­tably Deniz (Saskia Chana), Leila’s brusque, say-it-like-it-is friend, and Gabe (Brian Gleeson), the Ir­ish writer Leila moves in with. He had a book out in 2005 but hasn’t been pub­lished since. Deniz and Gabe have both been given hard shells, Deniz be­cause she’s fun­nier that way and Gabe be­cause he needs it: thanks to his las­civ­i­ous cu­rios­ity about Lon­don’s les­bian scene, he’ll tag along with Leila no mat­ter how rude she is to him. And she it at times very rude.

She’s also very funny. Like a bi­sex­ual ver­sion of Lena Dun­ham or Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Akha­van plonks her­self cen­tre-stage and lets loose her neu­roses, prej­u­dices, doubts and wor­ries to wreak quiet havoc on the char­ac­ters around her. Like Dun­ham in Girls and Waller-Bridge in Fleabag she also cel­e­brates her char­ac­ter’s sex­ual agency but doesn’t flinch from show­ing its darkly funny side (even when the joke is on her) or the dents to her self-con­fi­dence and sense of self-worth which can re­sult from it. She is su­per­fi­cial and self-ab­sorbed but also vul­ner­a­ble. It’s a com­bi­na­tion that works, though not ev­ery­thing else does. Akha­van has de­scribed bi­sex­u­al­ity as “the last taboo”. Re­ally? Last time I looked the B that de­notes it was snug­gled com­fort­ingly be­tween G and T in the fam­ily of let­ters mak­ing up the now-fa­mil­iar LGBTQ acro­nym. But if her claims for the show’s edgi­ness are mis­placed, she doesn’t put a foot wrong any­where else: this is a whip-smart com­edy of man­ners with a cast and a sen­si­bil­ity which is re­fresh­ingly di­verse.

Brian Gleeson as Gabe and De­siree Akha­van as Leila.

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