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Ackley Bridge is the only show on TV that represents me

Why the Channel 4 series excels where others fail.

Laila Zaidi as Asma and Yasmin Al-Khudhairi as Fizza in Ackley Bridge.
Channel 4
Published: Wednesday, 3rd August 2022 at 12:14 pm
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Finding a TV show that represents me, a Gen Z Muslim from the North of England, is often (but not always) a fruitless endeavour. But there is one show that ticks all the boxes: Ackley Bridge.

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The Channel 4 comedy-drama is set in a historic Yorkshire mill town and a stone's throw from where I live. Season 1 followed the coming together of a divided white and Asian community after the amalgamation of two segregated schools into a new, state-of-the-art academy, accurately portraying both the challenges and benefits of the merge.

From there, the show, which has an impressive five seasons to its name, turned its attention to a multitude of issues that impact every group, from family conflict to financial problems. And crucially, it also highlighted how characters from differing ethnic groups respond differently to similar complications.

Take Nasreen Paracha (Amy-Leigh Hickman), who concealed her sexuality from her community due to a very valid fear of rejection, mirroring the reality for many Muslim people off-screen right here in the real world. But while the family of Sam Murgatroyd (Megan Parkinson) was accepting of her sexual orientation, they were aghast to learn that she was dating Nasreen.

Ackley Bridge. Channel 4

Fast-forward to season 5, which introduced Asma Farooqi (Laila Zaidi), a former lawyer who joined the school's English department. Her father was not supportive of her career change and consistently urged her to return to her previous role, which he believed to be far more "prestigious".

Asma's storyline conveyed the identity crisis that so many Muslims are mired in and saw her turn towards alcohol to cope – a dilemma that she eventually confronted head on after being in denial. Through that character, Ackley Bridge also illuminated another issue which I've recognised within my own community: double standards.

Like Farooqi, many of my Muslim friends are all too happy to criticise non-Muslims for their gallivanting but are themselves partial to drinking and partying on the weekends.

Ackley Bridge
Ackley Bridge. Channel 4

Ackley Bridge's success stems from its authenticity, which is so often lacking in shows which place diversity and representation front and centre. Often, the end product is superficial and more concerned with virtue signalling rather than entertainment. Bridgerton has failed to adequately acknowledge the discrimination that people of colour would have faced in Georgian society. By contrast, Ackley Bridge doesn't shy away from the uglier sides of human nature, with the show willing to delve into multi-stranded issues without sacrificing heart and humour.

The series also features scenes which you would expect to see in a modern version of The Inbetweeners. For all its success, Damon Beesley and Iain Morris's comedy made numerous missteps with language and diversity. But setting aside its failings, it had its moment of genius, reflecting what really happens inside some teenage boys' heads, albeit with a heightened approach. And Ackley Bridge also does the same, refusing to sugar-coat just how crass some youngsters can be.

"Gohri (white) girls are for fun," said one character when Saleem Paracha (Yaseen Khan) is checking out girls on social media.

Ackley Bridge
Ackley Bridge. Channel 4

But what speaks to me the most is the ambition of Ackley Bridge's characters. Despite hailing from low social and economic backgrounds, their tenacity and ambition to enhance their lives burns bright, with several teachers encouraging Fizza to apply to Oxbridge in the latest season.

It's a crucial rebuke to the tired tropes about northeners – unintelligent and unmotivated – and Muslims – monolithic, secretive and a threat to society, instead showcasing life as it really is: the people of Ackley are trying to live their best possible lives, just like everyone else.

Ackley Bridge is available to stream on All 4. Take a look at our other Drama coverage, or find out what else is on with our TV Guide.

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