[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]
One of the most savvy choices that “This Way Up” makes is right at the start. The show opens not with Aine (Aisling Bea) in the middle of her four-month stay at a rehab facility, but when she’s checking out. And there to help her through the process? Big sister Shona (Sharon Horgan), who also makes sure that Aine leaves with her concerns addressed.
The two seasons that follow (hopefully the first two of many more to come) are filled with plenty of different types of relationship anxiety. After working through the aftermath of a nervous breakdown, much of “This Way Up” is Aine figuring out how to connect with people, mostly on dates or at work as an ESL teacher.
Through all those other bits of uncertainty, her connection with Shona is the one she has to work on least. Fast forward to the beginning of Season 2, and that’s more apparent than ever. The two go for a 45-minute sauna session, and it’s another perfect season opener. They banter about priests (quickly rattling off a Hail Mary at record speed), splash water on each other, and very vocally endure being trapped inside a cramped heat cube. (One brilliant cut shows another sauna customer walking around outside, where you can clearly still hear the pair from their private room.)
There’s a certain joyful effortlessness and ease to their interactions that helps keep the rest of the series flowing along at the perfect pace. They’re loud, they tease each other, and their conversations cross in a way that you can still feel like they’re picking up what each other’s saying. (A post-sauna conversation as the two are putting on makeup isn’t quite Altman-level, but there’s still some healthy overlap.) The sisters are different enough to get in playful spats about personal choices. Sometimes those get far more intense than some sibling joking.
In Season 2, with Shona’s partner Vish (Aasif Mandvi, away filming another of the year’s best shows) stuck calling overseas on FaceTime, Aine has even more in-person time with Shona than the season before. It’s one of the clearest examples of a recent protocol-pared TV season actually working to the overall show’s advantage. “This Way Up” Season 2 still has its share of scenes at parties and public places, but the more excuses to see the ways this show addresses family, the better.
And, as mentioned in our Season 2 review when it premiered back in July, Bea’s series builds season over season in a way that certainly doesn’t forget about what came before. In a sign that the show isn’t only focused on one sister, Shona’s emotional entanglements at work get just as much attention as Aine’s own budding romance.
“This Way Up” is a show that crackles with each new passing scene. As the writer of the series, Bea knows how to show Aine covering up her insecurities. Aine’s quick with a joke to cut the tension, whether or not she actually succeeds. Director Alex Winckler, who’s also served in that role both seasons, capitalizes on the atmosphere, whether it’s in an office or a bedroom or out on the streets of London.
No matter how far out the show reaches, though, it always finds a comfortable home with two sisters just talking about their lives. The bookends to Season 2, with an uncertain future on the horizon, find Aine and Shona lying on the floor, with each other to help them through whatever comes next.