Well, holy fucking fuck. Would I be unreasonable if I said that I can’t really tell you anything about the hilarious, dark, unexpected, horrifying, weird, and heartbreaking show Am I Being Unreasonable? (2022)? Except to say that thank the holy banana it’s been given a second season? And that we clearly need to see more work from women—well, full-stop—but especially work from them when they’re using it to deal with some massively messy life changes? Because Daisy May Cooper and Selin Hizli have created something that touches on the palpable loneliness of motherhood, on the absolute miasma of joy and horror of friendships and aquaintainships and soulmates and school-drop-off-chat-ships, on the often unseen terribleness of men, and on the pervasive complexities of loving and parenting children while dealing with all their own shit and everyone else’s shit and unexpected shit. You could also probably make a decent argument that it’s not entirely about any of that, I guess, but I certainly won’t. Also, this sucker has more dark twists and turns than those damn skinny brightly colored plastic silly straws that keep showing up in my life and I know are just going to end up harboring untold colonies of unseen mold.
We first meet Nic (Daisy May Cooper) when she’s inside a snowglobe of a dreamy memory. She stands on a train platform, her long blonde hair all but covered in fat flakes of snow as slightly distorted Christmas music, like from a music box, plays. When a man calls her name it takes her a moment to respond, as if he’s pulling her out of a very pleasant reverie. He calls her over to show her how he’s written “Merry X-Mas” in the snow with his own urine and they both throw their heads back in laughter and she asks how he managed to do the X. They seem blissfully in love, but in a way that, if you’ve watched enough television or if you’re a jaded pessimist, gives you a very deep sense of dread and impending doom. The train, which it seemed would never arrive, finally does. She gets on, he does not, but his coat gets stuck between the closing doors. They laugh at first, but then realize the seriousness and begin to panic as, even as the train starts to pull away from the station, they cannot seem to free the fabric.
Then Nic gasps and she is suddenly on her couch with her almost nine-year-old son, Ollie (Lenny Rush), bowls of cereal balanced on their laps, watching some Real Housewives spinoff. Nic points to the television and says, “She’s vile.” (Is she talking to herself as well?) Ollie readily agrees. “A pig,” he says, before adding, “She’s just a narcissist.” Ollie then points out that they are running late for school. Again. And prods his mother to get moving. She complains heartily. Asking for two more minutes. Ollie insists and snaps off the television to get her moving.
Ollie is disabled—though it’s never discussed what condition he has, the actor who plays him has spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita (SEDC)—and he rides a small Segway scooter for covering longer distances, which he takes off on without waiting for Nic to catch up. In the street, they see Lucy (Karla Crome), a well-put-together mother whom Nic despises, but she is still deeply offended that she doesn’t offer them a ride to school. “Do you think it’s because I haven’t signed up to help with the hedgehog hunt?” she asks Ollie, who looks somewhat embarrassed, confused, and deeply concerned. At the school gate Nic has a brief interaction with Jen (Selin Hizli), a mother who has just arrived in town, which she doesn’t realize, but will be life altering. Back at home she returns to the Housewives and posts “Don’t think I’ve ever really loved my husband” to an anonymous message board, so that’s concerning and confusing. Her cleaning woman, Viv (Juliet Cowan), who she desperately tries and fails to avoid, shows up with a long story about a pheasant that she hit. Viv, it seems, is always having the worst day of her life, and she is also always concerned about bad energy and ghosts. It’s played for laughs, but perhaps it also touches on a deeper part of the trauma Nic is working hard to suppress, given her own flashbacks to the train station and hazy hallucinations of a mysterious teenage couple. While Viv cleans, Nic goes to the graveyard to numb herself with more Housewives drama until her phone battery dies. Finally left with her own thoughts, she has a flashback to a rush of wind and metal scraping and a man screaming, “Stop the train,” which causes her to scream so loudly she scares the bejeezus out of an older woman walking her dog. Now, I realize I could have summarized this more succinctly, but I needed you to know that we are, at this point ten fucking minutes into the first 30-minute episode. So, my point is, buckle up, my bingers.
Later, Nic’s husband, Dan (Dustin Demri-Burns), arrives home, and he is, you know, alive and very much not the man from the train station, and I also do not love him. So, the plot thickens, as it were, but trust that this is, like, a fraction of how thick it’s going to get even by the end of this episode. Ollie greets Dan with a kind of untroubled warmth and glee that may only rankle you if you’ve spent several often isolated years staying home to raise small children through seemingly endless days of very important and often difficult milestones and then watched your spouse come home to glorious untroubled welcomes. Nic and Dan discuss how their cat, Mr. Meowgi, is missing, and this will be an important plot-line (and a difficult one if you like cats). I’m just warning you now. Nic brings up how Lucy was “really off” with her and Dan says absently, but mostly to his beer and the television, “I thought you didn’t like Lucy.” To which Nic responds adamantly, “I don’t, but I want her to like me.” When Dan asks her why she states bluntly, “Possibly because I’m insecure and got no mates,” which is some incredibly soul-bearing stuff that it feels like she’s probably said before. Dan only burps and farts in response. Soon after, he mumbles something about “not watching this shit” and changes the channel away from Nic’s Housewives without so much as a glance in her direction. (You’ll be shocked to learn that this isn’t actually the part where I decided I hated him with the most vehemence. That’s coming later.)
So, given all this background, it makes sense that when, at the school carnival (or some such thing), Jen makes a seemingly off-hand comment about thinking that Lucy is a “cunt,” Nic practically leaps upon her like, well, like a very lonely, isolated, friendless woman who feels constantly judged, stuck in loveless marriage, mourning the traumatic and violent death of her lover in secret, while raising her son under the microscopic eye of life in a small, apparently mostly well-heeled town. Jen is also quite ready to embrace Nic, though it will be some time before we learn more about her reasons, which are also quite interesting, complex, and juicy.
Nic runs into Jen by chance the next day and Jen sort of invites herself and her son Harry (Ruben Catt) over to hang out that night, which Nic is pretty down with anyway. Upon meeting Dan, a very strange, fleeting look passes between them, which will raise your antennae, but Nic doesn’t catch because she’s caught up in herself. Even though it’s Ollie’s birthday the next day and there’s going to be an entire party of howling children, Nic, with Jen’s encouragement, gets blotto drunk, and Jen secretly films her admitting to having a years-long affair with a man named Alex (David Fynn), who she says was her “twin flame.” You read that right. It’s a turn so creepy that I almost had an out of body experience, but also later explained in a way that, well, I can’t explain it without giving away too much, but let’s say perspectives can change a lot. So basically the plot is so thick it’s pudding at this point (and yes I’ve mixed my metaphors with twisty straws and pudding, but that also feels appropriate) and the credits have only just rolled on the first episode.
In the reviews I skimmed, I saw a lot of varying takes on whether or not Nic is a good mother, which says a lot more about society’s insatiable need to cram motherhood into a binary of good or bad than it does about her character—a woman doing her best with the tools she’s got, and not a meme up for debate on a Twitter poll, or some such thing. Those that said she was doing a shitty job tended to cite the fact that she is an unlikeable, affluent woman, lolling the day away watching television they consider garbage, and drinking to excess. But can we just take off our misogyny smeared glasses long enough to see what absolute bullshit all of that is? I mean, I do not have the energy to break this all down, but please do always remember that mothers do not need to be likeable, productive, or, even (GASP!) perfect in order to perform a perfectly acceptable level of parenting that is likely imperfect, yet absolutely guided by love. They don’t have to enjoy going to school events. They don’t have to be like the other parents at school. They don’t even have to like the other kids. Don’t believe me? Just ask fathers. They’ve been doing it for millenia. For the most part I just want to make a large hand-printed sign that says THIS IS WHAT A RESPONSE TO TRAUMA AND GRIEF CAN LOOK LIKE and hold it over my head for hours while all of Nic’s scenes play, but my arms can’t actually handle that. Anyway! Nic is, of course, an absolute mess, which is the point, but she’s clearly devoted to Ollie and spends a great deal of time thinking about his needs and how to best meet them, which is also the point. Does she fuck up? Also yes. Give the woman some grace. Which brings me to the moment when I decided that Dan’s character was an absolute villain: He lets Ollie open his birthday presents—which Nic picked out, purchased, wrapped, and set up—without waking her up, probably because he’s annoyed she spent so much time with Jen, who he really can’t stand. Excuse me? Are you fucking kidding me? Nic mumbles something about having done so much work to set it up and asks Ollie if he liked the present she got him. Ollie tries and fails to recreate the face he made when he opened the present, and they agree maybe she should give him cash next year. Dan brushes it off, saying, without taking his eyes off his phone, how she was passed out and drooling. Screw you, Dan! This feels like classic undermining and abusive behavior, designed to further tear down her self-esteem. And I know for certain someone is going to point out that she had a whole affair, but that doesn’t excuse his actions. Women can wholly fuck up and still deserve not to be gaslighted. Just saying.
The relationship between Jen and Nic is fascinating to watch as it develops because it’s clear how desperately Nic wants to have someone with whom she can share all her broken bits, but also how terrified she is to do so. After she gets drunk and tells Jen about her affair, she deeply regrets having said anything, wondering if she said too much or made a fool of herself. (Of course, this is further complicated by the fact that she has been filmed without her knowledge, and the possible implications of that.) Her life until now, it seems, has been protecting herself from other women who feel distant and like an ill-fit through humor and snark, while simultaneously craving their approval or at least craving the possibility of real intimacy, which doesn’t seem possible, and only makes her end up doubting herself even more. Karla Crome as the pretentious, consummate apex school mom Lucy is just perfection in the role and the ideal foil to Nic’s brasher, moodier, disorganized model of mothering. If you’ve been on Nic’s side of things, you know how toxic it feels to be at the receiving end of that constant barrage of perky requests from school mothers who always seem to be performing a particular kind of smooth-faced, always cheerful, always available, hyper-organized mother role. So, it’s particularly fun to watch when Lucy starts to show her weirder side and asks Nic for the opportunity to practice her feminist stand-up comedy routine at an entirely inappropriate event. Perhaps Lucy does have the capacity for vulnerability after all? There’s also a very good moment early on when Jen, Nic, and Lucy are talking to the very attractive PE teacher, and you can feel the way his presence causes a negative shift in the dynamics—a kind of elbowing for front of the line that’s likely based on years and years of messaging about the importance of a woman’s likeability and attractiveness above all else.
But back to Jen and Nic, who fall into a friendship that feels quickly like something almost lustful and obsessive in the way they both need each other so deeply and so quickly, which I think will feel familiar to a lot of women. That desperate, insatiable need for emotional intimacy that is sorely lacking in so many relationships, and the opportunity to tell the truth about your feelings, yourself, your child, your marriage, and your darkness. You can understand as well why Dan immediately sees Jen as a huge threat. There are elements to their friendship that are unhealthy, as neither of these women are in entirely good places (an understatement of monumental proportions) and Jen is not able to be fully honest, but when they bare their broken parts to each other, share their mutual hatred of something, and bond together over failures it feels like a success on the road to true friendship. In one scene, Nic jokes that she wishes Jen had a cock, which leads to them musing about how it would be if Jen were her partner. How she would put up the shelves the first time she was asked, without expecting a blow job in return or going to the pub first to complain. Or how she’d watch RuPaul’s Drag Race with Nic with a bottle of wine and discuss it in great detail. That’s love, my friends. And respect.
There’s a lot more I want to say about this series, but to say much more would be to spoil all the utterly unexpected moments. I do think I can safely say that there is great joy in watching Ollie and Nic interact with each other. These two have incredible chemistry together and play off each other so well. Ollie’s grandmother gives him horrendous, infantilizing gifts, which Nic doesn’t even pretend to find appropriate. Watching the two of them kvetch and moan their way through the process of dealing with her phone call is so rich. Though these two are so close and similar that it’s not surprising that when their relationship also takes some darker turns, the pair are also incredibly agile and adept at making those scenes feel equally destabilizing and distressing.
It would be reasonable, at this point, if you were unsure about diving into this series, and I felt the same way before I started watching. And it’s reasonable to say this isn’t for everyone and to be aware that these narrators are unreliable and not easy to like, which, maybe that’s a dealbreaker for you. But, imagine enough mystery shoved into a small village that you expect Miss Marple to pop up at any point with her knitting in hand to offer some salient points about train schedules or someone’s last known whereabouts along with incredible amounts of comedy, coupled with incredibly interesting perspectives on relationships, backed by some really stellar acting and interesting writing. And so, I think it would be unreasonable not to give it at least a binging chance.
One thought on “AM I BEING UNREASONABLE? (2022): Hilarious, Dark, Unexpected, Horrifying, Weird—and I Want More”
Totally bananas. And yet, so relatable. Needs trigger warning for cat people. The actor playing Ollie is a young, comedic genius. This show has me cringing but I’ll watch Season 2 just for him.
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