Okay, brief personal story. I think it will go a long way in explaining why I felt the way I did about the new dark comedy mini series Flowers.
I studied screenwriting in college, and in order to graduate, you had to write a screenplay. And first you had to pitch it. So I told everyone I was working on this script, and it was about depression, and the lead was borderline suicidal, and I explained all the crap she has to go through, reached the end, and realized that at no point had I mentioned that I intended for the script to be a dark comedy. So I tacked on “oh, and it’s a comedy.” Without missing a beat, my screenwriting professor asked, “are you sure?” I was, I wrote the script, and it was selected to be in the screenwriter’s showcase at my school.
My point is, there’s a universal understanding that certain topics are too taboo to make jokes about. Death really freaks people out, suicide even more so. Yet time and time again, it proves to be an excellent source of not only humor, but also healing. If it’s done correctly. Look no further than Little Miss Sunshine. Or Wristcutters: A Love Story. Or Flowers.
It premiered a couple of weeks ago on a BBC channel, but if you don’ t live in the U.K. (like myself) then you can watch it through a Seeso subscription (it’s cheap, and it’s worth it for this). It can be found under British TV, but curiously, Seeso is claiming it as a “Seeso Original,” so you can also find it under originals. It was written and directed by Will Sharpe (who also appears in the series), who’s apparently only 29, which makes me feel like I should stop everything I’m doing immediately and work on some screenplays. This is also annoying because he did all those things and, like, really bloody well.
For starters it just looks cool. It definitely has a tone, and a distinct one. The entire series felt like it had a forest green tint, the still frames are composed like paintings, and create an otherworldly quality, while the story never leaves out world (though the characters occasionally seem to pass in and out of reality).
The dysfunctional family dark comedy category has become a pretty popular one. It’s littered with selections. Some very good, some not quite as good. But for the most part, this seems a relatable topic. Every family seems to have dysfunction in some way. That being said, Flowers will most likely make you feel a lot better about your own family. It’s a character driven story with a shit ton of plot.
On that note, it’s brilliant binge-watch material. And binge I did, in it’s entirety the day it became available. 6 half-hour episodes mean that you don’t feel like you’ve wasted away a weekend (on the contrary, it’s only been 3 hours), but you do feel like you’ve just experienced a full season of TV. And you care about the characters so much, and the episodes end on just enough of a cliffhanger, that you want to get to the next episode right away. There were moments that seemed slightly outrageous, but they often didn’t seem completely outside the realm of possibility. Or at the very least were possibility adjacent.
I’d like to talk about the performance too, because the actors are part of what sold me on watching the show in the first place. Olivia Colman, who I’ve most recently seen KILLING IT in Broadchurch, is pretty generally brilliant. And OH MY GOD, I WAS SO HAPPY TO SEE JULIAN BARRATT ON A TV SHOW AGAIN! It’s been awhile, sir. Particularly in the U.S., you have to do a bit of digging. Most of the rest of the ensemble were new to me, but each expertly cast. The twin siblings were each excellent. The sister had an especially large roll of the two, and a tricky one, but it was performed wonderfully.
The series begins with a failed suicide attempt, so there’s no shortage of drama (while it’s billed as a dark comedy, creator Will Sharpe did refer to it as a comedy drama in one interview). Emotionally, the show is very complex, and really makes you feel a variety of emotions. It employs that maddening, but true staple where if the characters would just tell each other how they’re feeling and be honest they could have a much smaller mess on their hands, but shame and fear muddles things.
And then there’s just some other tough moments. Will Sharpe’s character, Shun, has a truly tragic backstory which goes a long way to explain what could otherwise be seen as misplaced loyalty. Colman’s character tries too hard to appear happy, Barratt’s character is too trodden down to even pretend, one of their twin children goes out of her way to play the freak, the other desperately trying to convince himself he cares more about his inventions then his family, and the illustrator is just living in the back house, wishing he could make everything alright.
That being said, the show is proper funny. And that is largely because of the characters and the situations they get themselves into because of guilt and/or repression and/or some combination. The unique voices carry the story. It also does that trick where a moment becomes increasingly awkward to the point where you have to laugh at it. Even if it comes in a moment of silence.
Have you ever experienced that thing where you’re going through a tough time and things keep getting worse and worse and you realize how absurd it is, and you start laughing? And it’s actually a terrific feeling? It’s like that.
Lastly, I’d like to note how relatable it is. The things that resonated with me may not be universal, but I think other people are probably finding other notes of reliability in other places. Already the premise seemed in a similar vein to the sort of thing I like to write, screenplay-wise. In the beginning they establish that the father/husband/Julian Barratt of the house is a writer. Let me refine that, a children’s book writer. This is literally my pay-the-bills job. Three different characters in the series share names with my co-workers, and after the first episode, I had to press pause and take a lap around the house, it was hitting me on so many different levels.
The other familiar thing I LOVED was the relationship between the brother and sister. I have a brother, and I feel like there are some films and TV shows that show really strong and realistic relationships between two or more brothers or two or more sisters, but not as many that have a positive brother and sister relationship. Part of what’s so great about it in this instance is how well it illustrates the balance between absolutely wanting your sibling to drop dead and being completly willing to sacrifice everything in order to save them. You can feel both emotions equally strongly at exactly the same moment.
What I’m saying is, yes. It’s lovely, subscribe to Seeso for month, and check it out.