I May Destroy You - show set to become the stand out drama of the year
The creator of Chewing Gum wrote, co-directed and stars in this modern, surprising and difficult story of consent.
As we enter the world of I May Destroy You, there is a sense of familiarity and ease, even when we are aware of where it will take us by the end of the first episode. And while you may know that Michaela Coel's new series centers around the way in which her character's life is changed by sexual assault, how the writer and director approached this subject is full of small surprises – at least during the first two episodes already aired.
We first meet Arabella – starring Michael Coel - in Italy, where she was sent by her agents to finish the first draft of her second book, but spent most of the time with a man who she is unwillingly falling for. Unwillingly, perhaps, because he seems to be one of those charming, yet infuriating types who end up only caring about themselves.
And as we are treated to a montage of their summer to the sounds of Whack's „Only Child“, Arabella heads back to London. Here, we find out, her Twitter feed has made her a celebrity of sorts and the book based on it - The Confessions of a Fed Up Millenial - has turned the writer into a voice for young black women who quote her book to her on the street, as she encouragingly joins them. This millennial, being in her early thirties, seems to be confident in the way she lives her life, but Arabella's existence is far from free of occasional emotional messes or career induced freakouts she shares with her best friends and a roommate.
The night before her deadline, Arabella spends the evening writing, but decides to take a one hour break and joins a group of friends at a bar. After a couple of shots, "Flowers" by Sweet Female Attitude comes on, and they end up on the dance floor, taking the most out of an unplanned night out. What starts as an exuberant dance scene, gradually transitions into a haze like state, as our protagonist struggles to stand up straight, is knocking down chairs, and bumping into people on her way to the door.
Cut to the next morning; Arabella is sitting at her computer, wearing clothes from the night before, with a finished draft. Everything seems okay, so much so that it would be easy to miss details that point to something strange happening after we saw her leaving the bar – e.g. a broken phone. That is, until the meeting with her agents, where a hangover, but seemingly pleased Arabella hears the ending of her draft - the one she wrote sometimes during the night - being described as „abstract“. While she stares somewhat confused, the cut on her face, unnoticeable until then, starts bleeding.
What starts as an anxiety-inducing, disorienting trip home, ends in a vision of a man sexually assaulting someone. With a slight head tilt and a confused "hmmm", Arabella reacts to this... memory? She wonders. Fabrication of the mind?
While Coel has been actively acting, this is the first series she has written since 2017 Chewing Gum. The personification of her teenage experiences sort of described in the show was Tracy, a 24-year-old shop assistant, religious, and a virgin keen on exploring her sexuality. It was described as hilarious and bold in exploring all the messiness of young experiences, and in I May Destroy You (unfortunately) Coel again turns to her own life, as the abuse portrayed mirrors what happened on a similar night, of which the series creator spoke during the Edinborough International Television Festival.
What stands out from the beginning is that the entire first episode is dedicated to showing us who Arabella is before the assault and what makes her world– including her friends, whose storylines are given time in each of the 30-minute episodes. Whether it is her girlfriend Terry – Weruche Opia – an actress going from one awkward audition to another, friend Kwame – Paapa Essiedu - a fan of Grindr hookups or Simon and Kat - Aml Ameen and Lara Rossi - a couple who decides to try a threesome after Kat's suggests it, only for it to go in an unexpected direction – these dynamics have potential to be explored, and it will be interesting to see how each character will move forward and what their story will contribute to the conversations the series seems to be starting, all circling today's dating culture.
With her point of view, Coel builds a universe familiar especially to a certain generation, that will be turned upside down by the events of the first episode. With a strong story, terrific cast, and even perfectly placed moments of humor, the solid starts hold promise to a great series.