There’s something otherworldly about Flowers, Channel 4’s new comedy drama. Set in a rambling, chaotic house in the countryside, its non-specific time or place makes you feel like you’ve entered another, unknown universe. And it’s an intoxicating feeling.
Written by the very talented Will Sharpe, who had never written anything for TV before, Flowers feels more like an indie film than a Channel 4 comedy, with a little fairytale weirdness thrown in. Think Little Miss Sunshine mixed with a Brothers Grimm fairytale.
Olivia Colman plays music teacher Deborah, who is married to Julian Barratt’s Maurice, a children’s book author. She is desperately lonely in the marriage, and sexually frustrated too, while Maurice is secretly depressed. As their relationship quietly shatters, they try and fail to find meaning in their children, Sophia Di Martino’s Amy, who stays in her room composing dark poetry and piano pieces, and Daniel Rigby’s Donald, who invents machines that nobody could possibly want or need.
Then there’s Shun, a Japanese illustrator (played by Will Sharpe himself) who lives with the family and keeps Maurice company, understanding his torment better than anyone else.
The idea of a family in crisis isn’t new, but the way the characters’ pain is played out feels unlike other shows. And from the extremely bold first scene (which I won’t ruin for you), it’s clear this is going to be the darkest and funniest of black comedy.
Colman plays Deborah’s despair so brilliantly, forcing a grin as if her life depends on it and taking tea and biscuits to some builders (not hers) who fancy her. All she wants is for her husband to pay her attention again, for everything to be fixed. But she has no idea that Maurice isn’t interested in her because he isn’t interested in anything at all – in himself, his work, his family or even his existence.
That’s what’s particularly good about Flowers – its depiction of depression. As he sits in his studio shed, his mind empty of inspiration for his children’s books and unable to tell his wife, Maurice’s quiet anguish and shame is palpable. And the fact that he’s forced into darkly funny scenarios including an ill-timed family party, makes his melancholy seem all the more profound.
And the more you watch of Flowers, the rambling, muddled house seems to close in on Maurice, getting increasingly claustrophobic as his mind gets more jumbled with sadness. It’s a series which jolts you from tears to laughter in the space of a minute and finds the humour in the grimness of life, without making a joke of the characters’ suffering.
I loved Flowers, and I hope more channels will take risks with unusual comedies like this.
Flowers will begin on Monday 25th April at 10pm on Channel 4 with a double bill, and then throughout the week with the finale airing on Friday 29th April.