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If I were to put together an enormous focus group of Gen Xers and boomers, get them riled up with unlimited orange squash and party rings, and force them to collaborate on a word cloud to describe their millennial counterparts, I strongly suspect that the big, bold descriptor in the centre of that constellation of insults would read: “ENTITLED”. It will take about 10 minutes of Everything I Know About Love, the new BBC adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s bestselling memoir, to appreciate that millennials are not exactly helping themselves in this department.
The show begins in 2012, in an almost extravagantly spacious and well-decorated house in Camden (brought to you by the Friends school of inexplicable metropolitan living standards). Four pals are beginning their post-university lives. At the heart of both the domestic set-up and the show itself is Maggie (Emma Appleton, who’s also currently starring in Pistol), a fictionalised proxy for author – and the show’s creator – Alderton. Maggie is a booze-fuelled dreamer, only kept from floating away by the anchor of her best friend and flatmate, the oppressively grounded Birdy (Diary of a Teenage Girl’s Bel Powley). When Maggie makes the mistake of setting Birdy up with muscled dolt Nathan (Ryan Bown), she is forced to watch as the sole meaningful relationship in her life is stretched to breaking point. “In every love story there are unavoidable junctions of change,” Maggie observes, as her simple co-dependent lifestyle gets turned upside down.
Appleton is supremely charismatic as Maggie, a woman whose foundational trauma is being slightly taller than average. Powley, meanwhile, teeters on the brink of hammy as the fastidious Birdy, but just about keeps it onside. The rest of the cast, including Marli Siu and Aliyah Odoffin as the other housemates, and guest stars like Line of Duty’s Craig Parkinson and Four Weddings and a Funeral’s Sophie Thompson, round out the ensemble admirably.
The direction, from China Moo-Young and Julia Ford, captures the main quartet’s slow descent into the trappings of adulthood, as the pace and timbre changes over the seven episodes. “According to the Mayan calendar the world is about to end,” Maggie’s voiceover proclaims in the opening sequence, “which would’ve been a real bummer because I was 24 and my adult life had just finally begun.” By the show’s conclusion, adult life has truly swept her away.
Everything I Know About Love is really Maggie’s story. It is, after all, a loose composite of everything she knows about love (spoiler alert: not much). Maggie is a tremendously overindulged narcissist, following in that noble tradition whose antecedents range from Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw to Girls’ Hannah Horvath. But for all the obvious similarities to the latter series (millennial protagonists, authorial aspirations, a vision of poverty that looks like an i-D photoshoot), it is a closer tonal sibling to the former. Its mild grottiness (a cigarette in bed or a party-sized Jameson) is balanced out by the inherent glamour of the sexy. And Maggie’s flighty vanity is offset, ironically, by Birdy’s rooted and devoted affection. “I’m the tragic drunk who buys all the rounds,” mopes Maggie. “You think being fun is easy because it comes naturally to you,” Birdy corrects her, “but being fun is not easy!”
And being fun, as a TV show, is also not easy. While the dialogue sometimes skews slightly towards the self-conscious (“We are in a boom of mediocre girls making a name for themselves by being moderately funny on the internet,” Maggie announces, “This is my time”), the show rips along at a jaunty canter, propelled by nostalgia for pop music and the, now quaint-seeming, optimism of that Olympic summer. Somewhere on my focus group’s word cloud, buried behind “SNOWFLAKES” and “WOKE MOB”, you’d see the smaller, subtler tag of “SELF-AWARE”. Everything I Know About Love is a refreshingly candid and uninhibited portrait of a maligned generation.
‘Everything I Know About Love’ can be streamed on BBC iPlayer now, and screens at 10.40pm on 7 June on BBC One