Dinner time, bath time and bedtime are familiar battlegrounds for any parent. But for Simon (David Tennant) and Emily (Jessica Hynes), even the simplest routines are almost stupefyingly difficult: their disabled nine-year-old daughter Rosie can’t form sentences, and they have the scars to show how uncooperative and mischievous she can be.
But what makes BBC4’s new five-part comedy There She Goes so moving, authentic and uplifting is the honesty of Shaun Pye’s scripts, based on his own experiences as a parent of a child with a disability.
Emily’s bonding difficulties, Simon’s dark coping mechanism jokes and the familiar domestic rows such things generate are shown in the raw and without censorship.
But so too are breathtaking moments of breakthrough, joy and love which weave their way in to this beautiful, believable family unit.
The series cuts between 2015 and flashbacks to the time around Rosie’s birth in 2006 when Emily was pregnant.
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The shift between the two timelines helps lift the sometimes dark material. When Simon and Emily find out that their daughter is not developing properly, the scenes are hard to watch. But exchanges in 2015 show how much they have moved on; how, in many respects, Rosie helps them come together as a family.
That is what Pye wanted most when he first conceived the idea, in close discussion with his wife and with his cast, including Tennant who plays a version of him.
Pye and his wife are parents to a little girl who has the same condition – a rare, undiagnosed chromosomal disease – as the one depicted in the series.
“The first decision we made was it was going to be as honest as possible,” Pye tells RadioTimes.com.
He adds laughing: “But when I wrote the first draft I did it on my own. And if you read that draft now – it’s in a drawer somewhere – it’s this story of this poor bloke who has this learning-disabled daughter. And his wife’s so lovely and well-meaning, but she can’t half bang on! It’s all about his struggles though life. I showed this to my wife and she said, ‘No, no we’re not doing that.’”
So it was re-written: if anything, in the finished product it’s Tennant’s character – the Dad – who comes closest to losing our sympathy.
It’s not just the way Tennant’s Simon is constantly trying to get out of bath times and the other difficult jobs required when looking after Rosie. At times he’s quite harsh verbally too.
There is a particularly uncomfortable moment in episode two when Simon makes fun of Rosie and later jokes about landing a child “from the wonky box”.
“I think in real life people talk about their children, whoever they are, in an intimate way in a way that comes from a position of love,” Pye says. “Even if it’s a way that may not be politically correct. So we agreed Simon would say things I would say to my daughter or indeed my son. When he makes these jokes it’s all coming from a place of total love and not from a place of anger or malice to Rosie.
“In the real world that is how people talk as well. As long as it’s honest I don’t care about how my character is portrayed. I don’t have any vanity. But also, I haven’t set out to offend anyone by this. Anything Simon says is something I would just say. That was our rule.”
The good news is that there could be more There She Goes after these five episodes have aired.
“We have more stories to tell definitely,” says Pye. “But we’ll see how this goes down first.”
There She Goes is on BBC4 on Tuesdays at 10pm