During lockdowns one, two and three, we’ve all been catching up on the television that we didn’t have time to watch, or just simply missed, the first time around.
We’ve been bingeing The Sopranos, chasing a real-life presidential election with reruns of The West Wing, and catching up on every series of Real Housewives ever made. So thank you Netflix for adding one of the strongest homegrown comedies in years to your catalogue.
Nearly two years after it aired on BBC One, Back To Life has debuted on Netflix, and before you press play on episode one of Friends for the fourth time, soak up the genius of this hilarious, dark gut punch of a series.
Back To Life, written by and starring the exceedingly watchable Daisy Haggard, is the story of a woman named Miri who, we find out, has just been released from jail after an 18-year sentence. For what? In episode one, we’re not sure, but by the reaction to her return of those around her, including any possible employer, it was something pretty bad.
Miri’s parents Caroline (Geraldine James) and Oscar (Richard Durden) seem to have been living in limbo since their daughter was put away, and are walking on eggshells now that she’s back in the family home, attempting to hide the fact faeces have been sent in the post and ‘psycho b****’ has been sprayed on their wall. Miri’s bedroom is still a shrine to her teenage self, with posters of George Michael, David Bowie and Jamie Oliver plastered on the walls. We learn Miri’s best friend Mandy (Christine Bottomley) never visited her in prison. Miri conceals her true identity from her charming neighbour Billy (Adeel Akhtar), who is oblivious to her past. Meanwhile, a mysterious Scandinavian man appears to be stalking Miri around Kent.
It all sounds pretty dark, and it is. Details of the crime Miri was convicted for come to light early on, and we realise why the locals are so hostile towards Miri, despite her naive, kind and sunny disposition. Much like the Black Mirror episode White Bear, we are introduced to the person behind the crime first, and the two are sharply contrasted as if to ask – are you still on her side?
We also see how Miri’s incarceration affected her parents, who withdrew from the community and now live in a sexless marriage. While Oscar stoically rides out the storm, in private moments away from his family, he pines for the grandchildren he could have had by now.
But first and foremost, this is a comedy, and it is delicious. The darkness is tempered with laugh out loud moments (like Miri confusing the Human Centipede with the Very Hungry Caterpillar) and you immediately care for Miri and are invested in her reintegration into society.
When it was released, Back To Life was widely compared to Fleabag, a) because it shares some of the same producers as Fleabag and b) it’s a dark comedy fronted and created by a woman so of course, it’s the same as Fleabag. There is a few similarities – the darkness, the unwillingness to flinch away from difficult moments, the star quality exuding from both Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Daisy Haggard, the stellar writing. But Back To Life isn’t Fleabag. It is its own brilliant story, and deserved the critical acclaim it received upon its release.
However, being aired at half 10 on a Monday meant that Back To Life maybe wasn’t seen by as many people as it deserved to be, so its prominence on Netflix is a treat for those who missed it back in 2019. At six half hour episodes – the perfect length for any TV show – Back To Life can be binged in one satisfying feast, and will leave you wanting more.
Luckily for us, series two has already been commissioned, so there’s still time to get ahead of the curve and announce that you were a fan way before it hit the big time.
Back To Life is available to stream on Netflix.
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