The Flatshare, review: a romcom tailormade for the cost-of-living crisis

Jessica Brown Findlay and Anthony Welsh in The Flatshare - Paramount
Jessica Brown Findlay and Anthony Welsh in The Flatshare - Paramount

Anyone who has rented in London has a horror story about their living arrangements. My first room had an exposed sewage pipe running from ceiling to floor. The estate agent described it as a feature, “like a Roman column”. For many young people, the notion of living alone in a one-bedroom flat where the kitchen doesn’t blend into the bathroom is an idle fantasy.

The first UK original commission from streaming service Paramount+ imagines a bleak solution: sharing a bed with someone you’ve never met and splitting the rent. Adapted from Beth O’Leary’s bestselling novel, The Flatshare (Paramount+) follows chaotic twentysomething Tiffany (Jessica Brown Findlay) who moves in with palliative care nurse Leon (Anthony Welsh) after breaking up with her boyfriend.

Mercifully, they don’t actually sleep together, because they’ve sworn to never cross paths. Tiffany gets the flat at night , while Leon, who works the graveyard shift at a local hospice, comes back to sleep in the day. There’s a neat sequence early on when Leon steps off the bus home as Tiffany sweeps past on her way to work.

As a premise, it could have been plundered from Ken Loach’s dustbin. But rather than a harrowing tale of housing insecurity, we get a breezy comedy where the most pressing dilemma surrounds the affections of Tiffany’s insufferable ex.

The reason for Leon’s unusual sub-letting scheme is revealed when Tiffany collects a call from his brother, Richie, who is appealing a sentence for armed robbery and needs money for a lawyer. Calling from jail, he says the appeal has been denied.

Dustin Demri Burns is easily the funniest thing about the show - Paramount
Dustin Demri Burns is easily the funniest thing about the show - Paramount

She leaves a Post-it Note telling Leon the news, and initiating their only line of communication: an onslaught of little coloured squares which survive as the defining motif of the book. The exchanges range from cutesy to savagely passive-aggressive, and chart a slowly brewing flirtation, but they’re so obviously “a device” it’s hard to stay engaged. Why can’t they text? Nobody seems to know.

Brown Findlay and Welsh are great together, a ball of energy counterpoised by dry, laconic charm. I’m forbidden to describe it, but their first face-to-face meeting is a thing of beauty, one of the most finely tuned moments of TV comedy since Fleabag – which, incidentally, hovers over The Flatshare like a spectre. The parallels are stark: a London-based comedy about a dysfunctional young woman with a tragic love life.

Tiffany writes for a trendy media website hellbent on disrupting the digital “space” by churning out clickbait. Their office is a WeWork nightmare of exposed brick, bean bags and wheelie chairs, headed by sleazy hack Phil who, despite limited screen time, is easily the funniest thing about the show. Played by British sitcom stalwart Dustin Demri-Burns, it’s a performance which points out the relative paucity of genuine comic talent around him.

After a promising start, things begin to lose focus. A patient at Leon’s hospice tricks the duo into taking a train to Brighton, where they are tasked with reconnecting an elderly gay couple. Meanwhile, Tiffany’s ex becomes the Batman of stalkers, bugging her phone and riding around on a sleek motorcycle. There’s barely a hot-button issue left untouched, meaning nothing quite gets the attention it deserves. The Flatshare is always playing to an audience beyond the screen, with one eye on the interminable churn of social media discourse.