I have been banging on about My Mad Fat Diary on Twitter for a couple of weeks now and I now I’m going to bang on about it here because it’s so good. I had never heard of it but happened across the title and decided to check it out, assuming it was some kind of diet reality show (judge away, but I secretly love British diet shows). I was a bit ‘Eh...’ when it started and I realised it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was one of those weekend afternoons when I couldn’t be bothered doing much of anything so I kept watching, and by the end of the episode I was straight on to the next one. I watched four episodes in a row, then when Noodles came back from a sleepover the next day I made her watch them with me all over again.
The story is about Rae, a 16 year old girl living in England’s north who is coming home after spending 4 months in what she calls ‘a mental hospital’ for an at-first unspecified reason. There are hints throughout as to what happened, and then a flashback in the final episode that tells the complete story. It’s not a mystery really – it’s not set up to be that hard to guess. It’s more that she doesn’t want to refer to it directly, and she is narrating the story via diary entries – the diary being part of her therapy. On the way home from the hospital Rae runs into Chloe, her childhood best friend from whom she has drifted, and the two hook back up, with Chloe eventually integrating her into her new group of friends. The series is about Rae’s attempts to be ‘normal’ with this group of teens, who happily accept her without knowing who she really is.
The actors who play the teenagers are largely unknowns, but all beautifully natural, especially Sharon Rooney as Rae. She is heartbreakingly real as a young girl with mental health issues, body issues and a longing to just be like everyone else and belong. It’s not all depressing – a lot of it is hilarious as her group of new friends are pretty goofy – but there are moments where Noodles and I cried buckets. The final episode in particular is both heartwarming and devastating. There are really only two main adult characters – Rae’s mother and her therapist (Ian Hart being particularly wonderful). Mostly it’s about the kids, but it’s not a show only kids can appreciate. If you’ve been a teenager, you will relate to it.
One other thing I need to mention is that it’s set in 1996 and has a fantastic Britpop soundtrack featuring bands like Oasis, Blur and Stone Roses. Man, that took me back!
My Mad Fat Diary is based on a book by Rae Earl, which is gleaned from her actual diaries as a teenager in the late 80s, so I could relate to both media versions. I bought the book after watching the first four episodes and devoured it over two nights. The show differs a fair bit from the book in the last couple of episodes, but the general vibe is true to its source.