My Mad Fat Diary: E4’s new comedy drama is funny and poignant but it did make me feel really old

by Matt D

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As much as there is a lot of drama in the present day it appears as if TV is increasingly looking to the past whether it be the 1950s of Call the Midwife or White Heat which took us from the fifties into the present day. The latest British show to do this is E4’s My Mad Fat Diary which travels in time all the way back to 1996 when I myself was a teenager. I have to say the fact that this programme now considers my adolescence to be historical enough to base a TV show around makes me feel incredibly old. The show is based on diary entries by Rae Earl who was an overweight, boy-mad, music-loving Lincolnshire teen however her diaries were written in the 1980s rather than the 1990s.

In the televised version Rae, played by breakout star Sharon Rooney, is having her first session with Ian Hart’s psychiatrist a week after being released from a mental hospital. At first we’re not quite sure why it was Rae was admitted to the hospital but over the course of this episode we’d seen that she had scars all over her legs and had basically had a full mental breakdown. As Rae is released back into the arms of her mother, who has told everyone that Rae has been living in France, and back to the House of Pain which has a new occupant in Rae’s mothers new partner Karim a Tunisian who is on the run from immigration. Rae also catches up with her old friend Chloe, who she’d somewhat lost contact with which was another contributing factor to her breakdown, who in turn invites her down to the pub to meet her new cool crowd of sixth form mates.

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These new friends are ditzy Izzy, sluggish Chop, cool-and-he-knows-it Finn and Archie the slightly geeky music-loving guy who Rae instantly falls in love with. After her music tastes get her an in with the gang she is then horrified to learn that Chloe is hosting a pool party which means the overweight Rae will have to squeeze into a swimsuit. Rae’s embarrassment is heightened still when she has to run out of a shop while trying on a bikini only to get mocked by the passers-by on the street. She decides to go back to the hospital however, after a stern talking to from her old friend Tix, decides to go to the party and not let her weight be an issue any longer.

Though I doubt I’m in the target demographic for My Fat Mad Diary I absolutely loved it as I found it funny and touching throughout with a great central performance. A while back I criticised BBC3’s sitcom Some Girls as I felt its teenage girl characters didn’t ring true and were far too one-dimensional. The same cannot be said for Rae Earl who is identifiable to anyone of either gender who has ever felt awkward as a teenager which basically means all of us. I suppose the writing team did have the benefit of their central character being based on a real-life person but even some true-life tales can be overwritten but here Tom Bidwell’s script captured the frustrating nature of adolescence perfectly.

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I would say that this is the most accurate portrayal of British teenage life in a long while and it rung more true than both Skins and The Inbetweeners did. What My Fat Mad Diary did have in common with The Inbetweeners was in its foul language, which Rae regularly uses, and I’m sure that ‘Gushington Central’ will become the new ‘Clunge’. Unlike The Inbetweeners though My Fat Mad Diary was also rather sweet and the combination of Rae’s animation and the nostalgic element did put me in mind of Sky’s Moone Boy. Never did I really feel that My Fat Mad Diary lapsed into over-sentimentality with even the bonding scene between mother and daughter containing an anecdote about the former’s fat arse. In fact if I were to pick any scene that didn’t feel as realistic as the rest of the show it would have to be Rae’s sessions with Dr Gill as the smashing of the pictures in his office felt too much like a scene from a Hollywood coming-of-age film. Though I’m sure these scenes will grow on me thanks to the fact that Ian Hart play the therapist and an actor of his calibre always tries to make you believe in his part even if I couldn’t figure out what accent he was trying to do.

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The star of the show though is undoubtedly Sharon Rooney who captures the part of Rae brilliantly from the talking to a picture of Damon Albarn to the deeper scenes where she relives her mental breakdown. I would imagine the part of Rae is quite a tough one as Rooney has to combine the fact she is playing a typical horny sixteen year old teenager but at the same time a character who is still trying to adjust to outside life after four months in hospital. I have to say I totally believed her in the role, the fact that she is a complete newcomer helps, and would have to say that after this show she’ll have a bright future. Familiar face Claire Rushbrook also provides great support as Rae’s mum who at times is completely awful but at the same time you know she truly loves her daughter. One more positive about My Mad Fat Diary was the 1996 soundtrack which included Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene, Manic Street Preachers, Kula Shaker and Eels as well as oddly Mark Morrison’s Return of the Mack.

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I personally feel it would take a hard-hearted person not to like My Mad Fat Diary as I liked it almost from the word go and identified with it thoroughly throughout. Both the central character of Rae and the central performance from Sharon Rooney had plenty of depth to them while both were instantly likeable. The script was both funny and touching as Tom Bidwell created characters you could believe and a genuinely complex leading lady who you really cared about. My only real problem is the fact that my teenage years are now considered nostalgic makes me feel really old I’ll just have to console myself with a good book and a mug of Horlicks.

What did you think to My Mad Fat Diary? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Leave Your Comments Below.

1 Comment

  1. Louis Stead on January 21, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I am from Stamford, I’ve not yet seen any of Stamford in the programme the 21st Jan 2013 is today’s date. I don’t have a local accent as I have moved around a lot despite my main residence being Stamford (where I spend most of my time)and I think the accent is not correct at all. I think the objective of the programme is fantastic, there are far too many people whom are absolutely not prepared to give someone with mental health issues a second glance. The worst people of all for this are in fact the people of Stamford, I have found over the years that Stamford people are very ignorant indeed to this type of health issue – if you mention to them that a broken arm is what someone has they are very understanding, it is a huge shame that they are not so regarding mental health. I sincerely hope that the UK are hit with the objective of the programme and inparticular so the ignorant people of Stamford.

    A very well done indeed to Tom Bidwell!!

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