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Such Brave Girls, Stan review: scorching comedy

Comedian Kat Sadler lays her darkest hours on the line in this acerbic, ferociously funny show that tackles mental health head-on.
A young woman lies in bed with a concerned, confused look on her face, next to a very worn-looking duck teddy, in a publicity still for Such Brave Girls on Stan.

Content warning: self-harm, suicide.

The term ‘darkly comic’ gets bandied around a little too often these days* in such a way as to dull its meaning. But sometimes a truism sticks, and to avoid it would be wilfully obtuse. So it is with British comedian Kat Sadler’s BAFTA-nominated, taboo-bulldozing series, Such Brave Girls, in which she also stars as Josie, a young woman on the edge.

A co-production between the BBC, TV production company Various Artists and American powerhouse A24, it was conceived in the early days of lockdown, when Sadler felt sufficiently able to call her sister (and future co-star) Lizzie Davidson, telling her that she had twice attempted suicide and had been sectioned, a harrowing fact she had chosen to keep from her family.

Davidson felt it was only fair that she revealed, in turn, that she was struggling under the weight of £20,000 in debt. Slightly less traumatic, perhaps, but certainly not to be sniffed at.

Read: Such Brave Girls, Stan – streaming preview

Their scabs-ripped-off chat prompted Sadler to pen this six-part, roughly half-hour episode series, which splices the wounded-heart confessional humour of a show like Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag with the jaw-dropping ‘I can’t believe you actually said that’ bad vibes of Julia Davis’ Nighty Night, but zanier.

Bummed out sacrifices

Such Brave Girls opens with Josie in the car with her mum, Deb (Sherlock’s Louise Brealey), as they go to pick up Billie (Davidson), who inexplicably works in a soft play centre for kids while dressed as the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.

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En route, Deb thrusts her irksomely pinging phone into Josie’s hand so that she can read out whatever message demands attention. Excruciatingly, it’s Deb’s latest date, Dev (Paul Bazely), announcing that he’s in the toilet thinking of her, setting a low tone that regularly plumbs deeper in a show that’s unafraid of getting ickily sexy.

‘He’s got a massive house. Massive. Massive,’ Deb offers, establishing that this is also a working-class drama in which debt collectors hound their tenuous situation. Deb’s husband and the girls’ dad went out to get teabags ten years ago and never came back, with the bills stacking up since. ‘I can only afford one daughter having a breakdown at a time.’

Reeling from this psychic wound, both Josie and Billie threaten to end it all so alarmingly regularly that Deb barely blinks when they say it, instead castigating them for affecting her chances with Dev – a widower – and the financial anchor he offers, even if he is as emotionally available as a stone. ‘Can you not drag everyone into your vortex of misery?’

Barbs

Glorious barbs tined with disappointment prickle throughout. Deb’s best life advice, when Josie refuses to get out of bed and go to her bookstore day job where she regularly startles co-worker Claire (Amy Trigg), is that ‘Work isn’t about fulfilment, it’s just so you can buy stuff to make you feel fulfilled’. When the sisters suggest they shouldn’t have to hide their depression, Deb insists, ‘And I shouldn’t have to hide the stress shingles on my arse, but we all have to make sacrifices’.

Josie and Billie are regularly at each other’s throats, sometimes threatening to slit them, as when a home bleach job transfers a supermarket plastic bag’s logo onto the new do, but their messed-up bond is also oddly wholesome. As is their attachment to their bewilderingly blunt mum, even if Josie does have to contend with walking in on her and Dev in flagrante in the kitchen between the main course and dessert. ‘Pudding’s cancelled.’

Swing for the fences

It’s the mark of Sadler’s gifted writing, ably harnessed by herself, her sister and the rest of the ensemble – including The Power actor Sam Buchanan as Billie’s totally uncommitted and actually blocking her number ‘boyfriend’ Nicky – that these wild tonal swings land in this suburban limbo of false hope and truth bombs.

Beyond the gasp-worthy insults, the show takes an unvarnished look at the realities of depression and the long arm of trauma. It’s cathartic, in its own weird way, and also intriguingly queer, as Josie begins to wonder if her total lack of chemistry with wildly space-invading ‘boyfriend’ Seb (Freddie Meredith) – yes, ambiguity in relationship status is a big thing here – might have something to do with her sudden interest in androgynous bar worker Sid (I Hate Suzie’s Jude Mack).

Billie’s yo-yo-ing between adoring Nicky and wanting to enact vengeance on his near-total disinterest also leads us in an unexpected direction.

Such Brave Girls. Image: Stan
>Such Brave Girls. Image: Stan

Directed, perhaps surprisingly, by The Inbetweeners actor Simon Bird for the most part, with Marco Alessi handling one episode, it’s a refreshingly sex-positive whilst also blow-torching this most human of interactions.

There are gross-out moments involving cum, an outrageously mangled feminist mantra ‘My body, his choice,’ and Josie informing Billie that ‘If someone says I love you during sex, it doesn’t count’. Is she wrong?  

A refreshingly downplayed abortion segue is a series highlight, as is a classic family dinner gone wrong centrepiece. Your tolerance of just how dark Sadler’s Such Brave Girls gets may wobble, like when Billie snaps that ‘Therapy is a scam. You don’t need to spend £70 for someone to tell you your childhood was shit. I can do that’.

But I reckon this bleak but brilliant show is well worth the price of entry, with Sadler and Davidson electrically eccentric.

*often by me, stop that Stephen.

Such Brave Girls premieres on Stan on 18 April.

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4.5 out of 5 stars

Such Brave Girls

Actors:

Kat Sadler, Lizzie Davidson , Louise Brealey, Paul Bazely

Director:

Simon Bird

Format: TV Series

Country: UK

Release: 18 April 2024

Available on:

Stan, 6 Episodes