Un­ex­pected cou­plings

The sex­ual bad­lands and Lon­don’s mean streets are the set­tings for two out­stand­ing new series

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell The Bi­sex­ual, Bul­let­proof,

Ihave just dis­cov­ered The Bi­sex­ual, re­cently added by Stan to its bur­geon­ing slate — and ter­rific it is, too. Cre­ated by De­siree Akha­van — who also writes, stars and di­rects — and Rowan Ri­ley, this rather astrin­gent com­edy drama comes at a time when many are ques­tion­ing the cul­tural mean­ings at­tached to men’s and women’s roles and their sex­ual iden­ti­ties.

Akha­van is known for her funny, caus­tic fea­ture film de­but Ap­pro­pri­ate Be­hav­iour, which put her on the map (and prompted an out­break of press that quickly cast her as “an Ira­nian bi­sex­ual Lena Dun­ham”) back in 2014. She also co-wrote and di­rected the Sun­dance grand jury prize-win­ning The Mise­d­u­ca­tion of Cameron Post, which starred Chloe Grace Moretz as a teenager sent to a gay con­ver­sion camp.

Her new six-part half-hour com­edy series be­gins with trans­planted New Yorker Leila de­cid­ing to leave Sadie, her girl­friend and busi­ness part­ner — they’re co-cre­ators of an app they call “Shazam for clothes” — af­ter she turns down Sadie’s mar­riage pro­posal in the toi­let of the of­fice they share with their hip­ster staff.

“We’ve talked about kids and mar­riage,” Sadie (played bril­liantly by Max­ine Peake) says, in­cred­u­lous. “We’ve talked about it ab­stractly,” Leila says. “We’ve also talked about eu­thana­sia.” She wants a break be­fore they can move for­ward, she says. But there’s more to it, of course. Leila, who has only ever been with women in the bed­room, feels that she has never re­ally ex­plored her sex­u­al­ity and that just maybe it’s time to have a shot at het­ero­sex­u­al­ity. Or pos­si­ble even bi­sex­u­al­ity — if such a thing is re­ally pos­si­ble. Leila sus­pects bi­sex­u­al­ity is “a myth cre­ated by ad ex­ec­u­tives to cre­ate flavoured vodka”. There’s also her ide­o­log­i­cal worry that bi-cu­ri­ous girls are merely “sex tourists”.

For­sak­ing her rather en­ti­tled, com­fort­able life with Sadie, she, a lit­tle in­di­rectly, moves in with a “stranger off the in­ter­net”, neu­rotic nov­el­ist Gabe (Brian Glee­son), a bearded straight Bri­tish bloke whose only other fe­male “flat­mate” was his mum. He once, a long time ago, wrote a novel called Tes­tic­u­lar, now com­pletely for­got­ten. He’s rather opin­ion­ated and his flat is a mess.

Work­ing as a univer­sity lec­turer, he’s hav­ing it off — loudly, it must be said — with his 22year-old stu­dent. It’s in his dorky com­pany that Leila must be­gin to ten­ta­tively ex­plore re­la­tion­ships with men. Gabe has no ex­pe­ri­ence what­so­ever of les­bians and Leila has hardly ever hung out with het­eros, and from the start their in­su­lar worlds awk­wardly in­ter­sect as he helps her nav­i­gate her new dat­ing life while Leila in­tro­duces him to the queer scene.

The dy­namic be­tween Leila and her les­bian friends seems au­then­tic and never alien­at­ing and is caus­ti­cally funny, like the series it­self, an un­apolo­getic take on the “last ta­boo”, as its cre­ator calls bi­sex­u­al­ity — and the de­struc­tive stereo­types and mis­ap­pre­hen­sions about it that per­sist in the queer com­mu­nity. (Bi­sex­ual in­vis­i­bil­ity and bi­pho­bia are of­ten re­ferred to as the LGBT com­mu­nity’s “dirty lit­tle se­crets”.) Then there’s sex it­self. “Sex is com­pli­cated,” Leila ad­mits. “You strate­gise how you’re gonna get it. And then you an­tic­i­pate it. Then, once it’s fi­nally hap­pen­ing, don’t you wish you could fast for­ward?”

The series is the first to be cen­tred on a bi­sex­ual char­ac­ter and Akha­van un­der­stands why the idea has been un­ex­am­ined so long. “All it means is that gen­der isn’t a qual­i­fier for you, but for both en­tirely gay and en­tirely straight peo­ple it can be hard to wrap your brain around what it means to be nei­ther.” Peo­ple mis­un­der- stand bi­sex­u­al­ity, she says, as­sum­ing that if you can’t choose a gen­der, you can’t com­mit to ei­ther. It’s a con­fu­sion ripe for comic eval­u­a­tion and ex­plo­ration.

Akha­van’s ap­proach is char­ac­terised by a quirky, con­fronting wit, closely ob­served de­tail gleaned from her ex­pe­ri­ences nav­i­gat­ing the sex­ual bad­lands, a pro­nounced ab­sorp­tion in the sheer messi­ness of sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence — the sex scenes are ir­re­sistibly hys­ter­i­cal — and a sense of be­ing dis­con­certed, not quite in the mo­ment.

“I’ve al­ways had a dif­fi­cult time iden­ti­fy­ing with any­thing,” she re­cently told jour­nal­ist Sarah Car­son.

“I’m the child of im­mi­grants, I was raised in New York, I live in Eng­land, my par­ents are from Iran, I’ve never quite felt Amer­i­can, never felt Ira­nian. I’ve been openly bi­sex­ual but when I’m in a les­bian re­la­tion­ship, I al­ways feel not gay enough, when I’m in a straight re­la­tion­ship, I al­ways feel not straight enough. My life has been de­ter­mined by be­ing some­where in be­tween, and not quite be­long­ing to any of the heav­ily or­gan­ised com­mu­ni­ties that I was raised in.” Well, she now fully be­longs to us with this quite be­guil­ing lit­tle com­edy. In Bul­let­proof, an­other new show that has just be­gun on Fox Show­case, we ven­ture out into Lon­don’s mean streets in a cin­e­matic crime series that mixes drama, ac­tion and com­edy in a new take on the po­lice buddy genre. No, not the white-white ver­sion of the genre, or the more re­cent black-white it­er­a­tion, but the black­black in­no­va­tion; a new wrin­kle in this very small piece of cre­ative fab­ric.

Noel Clarke plays Bishop and Ash­ley Wal­ters is Pike, two Lon­don cops who play by their own rules and get re­sults as they vi­o­lently track down hard­ened crim­i­nals in the East End. Yes, the show rather pred­i­ca­bly and know­ingly ad­heres to genre con­ven­tions, but this ob­ser­vance pays off.

It was cre­ated by direc­tor Nick Love, re­spon­si­ble for the slick re­make of The Sweeney star­ring Ray Win­stone, and his flu­ent di­rec­tion obeys all the rules with no di­rec­to­rial neu­roses get­ting in the way of the ac­tors (who prob­a­bly di­rect them­selves), or in the way of the ac­tion (as Lon­don’s free­ways are turned into Swiss cheese). Love pokes some droll fun at cop-show con­ven­tions and in­fuses many well-made ac­tion se­quences with mo­ments of amus­ing silli­ness.

Bishop and Pike’s uni­lat­eral ap­proach to law and or­der may see heads shak­ing among their by-the-book col­leagues but in the first episode an in­for­mant is run down be­fore their eyes, leav­ing a baby back in her flat, and they’re soon on the hunt for a gang of Ser­bian car thieves who are armed with heavy-cal­i­bre ma­chine­guns and run­ning lux­ury ve­hi­cles into Europe.

The episodes are self-con­tained, a rather con­ven­tional story-of-the-week for­mat in this new age of heav­ily se­ri­alised sto­ry­telling. Wal­ters and Clarke came up with the orig­i­nal con­cept and have cited Michael Bay’s Bad Boys as an early in­spi­ra­tion. It’s pleas­ing to see two young ac­tors al­lowed the op­por­tu­nity to emerge from sup­port­ing roles and suc­cess­fully cre­ate their own win­ning ve­hi­cle, es­pe­cially one that po­si­tions black men as leads (even if the show has been in the pipe­line for al­most a decade await­ing a more en­light­ened ap­proach to cast­ing di­ver­sity).

And if the plot is a bit flimsy, what does com­pute is the chem­istry. Clarke and Wal­ters click: they hum, they purr, they squab­ble from the first scene where we find them spar­ring rather tor­ridly in a box­ing ring. And it’s through their bond that our bond to the series ar­rives. This is a series where the emo­tional is worked out more neatly than the nar­ra­tive point of view and it’s been a huge hit in Bri­tain, go­ing straight to a sec­ond sea­son. stream­ing on Stan. Wed­nes­day, 7.30pm, Fox Show­case.

Noel Clarke and Ash­ley Wal­ters in Bri­tish po­lice buddy series Bul­let­proof

Brian Glee­son and De­siree Akha­van in com­edy drama The Bi­sex­ual

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