I May Destroy You, the new HBO/BBC series

I May Destroy You

In the Mac­Tag­gart lec­ture she gave at the 2018 Edin­burgh TV Fes­ti­val, Michaela Coel, the star of Chan­nel 4’s sun­ny sit­com Chew­ing Gum, told a stunned audi­ence that she’d been sex­u­al­ly assault­ed. She’d been out on the tear try­ing to avoid a writ­ing dead­line, and the fol­low­ing morn­ing she began get­ting sin­is­ter flach­backs. It’s just such a night that her daz­zling­ly impres­sive 12 part dram­e­dy series I May Destroy You cir­cles around.

Coel plays Ara­bel­la, a thir­ty some­thing doyenne of the Twit­terati who is expect­ed to build upon the suc­cess of her sur­prise best sell­er Chron­i­cles of a Fed-up Mil­len­ni­al by deliv­er­ing its sequel to her agent and publisher. 

And, faced with a 9am dead­line she does what any respectable writer would, and heads out on the town. The fol­low­ing morn­ing, as the haze of the night before begins to slow­ly clear, she starts to get flash­backs of being raped.

Over the rest of the series, she and her clos­est two friends, aspi­rant actress, Ter­ry and their gay part­ner in crime, Kwame, slow­ly piece togeth­er the events of the night. 

But the ‘event’ of that night is as much the back­drop as it is the focus for the sto­ries that the series fol­lows. As the char­ac­ters exper­i­ment with drugs and sex, work and play in search of what they assume will be revealed as their true iden­ti­ties in a world where iden­ti­ties, cer­tain­ties and all man­ner of lines have been seen to dis­ap­pear ‘neath per­pet­u­al­ly shift­ing sands.

What’s so exhil­a­rat­ing about the series is the way in which Coel steers, and fre­quent­ly veers between com­e­dy, pathos, iron­ic detach­ment, gen­uine pain and back again. And often, all in the course of the same, sin­gle scene.

We flash­back to Arabella’s Ital­ian boyfriend, and the trip she and Ter­ry make to Ostia, on the out­skirts of Rome. To her child­hood, and her estranged and ide­alised father. And to an event at school that is looked back upon in a very dif­fer­nt light. And all the while, every­thing is slow­ly but sure­ly help­ing to cre­ate a pic­ture of exact­ly what it was that hap­pened that night.

The writ­ing is flaw­less, both struc­tural­ly and dia­logue-wise, it’s impec­ca­bly put togeth­er and all the per­for­mances are note per­fect. Most impres­sive­ly, not to say unusu­al­ly of all, Coel man­ages to deliv­er on the season’s finale, which I’ll obvi­ous­ly not spoil by say­ing any­thing about here.

I May Destroy you is that rare thing. A series that com­fort­ably lives up to and deliv­ers on all of the entire­ly jus­ti­fi­able hype.

You can see the trail­er to I May Destroy You here.

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