If you haven’t been watching My Mad Fat Diary, you have been missing out. It’s been a while since I’ve loved a show as much as this one, and I think I’ll be hard-pressed to find another show this year—or even the next few years—that I like half as much. Which is kind of a big deal since it’s only been slated 6 episodes for the first season. That’s only six hours spent with Rae in her crazy, messed up world–and the last of those 6 episodes airs tonight. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been so little time, especially because I don’t know when Rae will be back. Cue my sobbing.
My Mad Fat Diary tells the story of 16-year-old, 220-pound, Rae Earl as she deals with mental illness coupled with body image problems and the normal pressures of being a teenager. She’s trying to reconnect with her best friend, Chloe, and form new connections with her gang: Archie, Izzy, Chop and Finn. Although I’ve only known about the show for about a week, from what I can tell, fans love it. I certainly love it enough to constantly recommend it to anyone who will listen. It’s hilarious, it’s heartfelt, it’s freaking fantastic! It’s, as Sam Wollaston at The Guardian said, “honest and painful, real, and very funny.” If you’re still not convinced, here are a few more reasons you should watch it.
Set in 1996, My Mad Fat Diary is so painfully set in the 90s that it’s awesome. The show had me at “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, which is the song that Rae uses as her initiation into the gang—and into my grunge-loving heart. All the characters are obsessed with Oasis and they wear flannel shirts. Finn even wears a shirt that says, “Grunge is dead” in one episode.
Of course, the decade this drama is set in doesn’t really matter, it’s just an added bonus. I grew up listening to the Beastie Boys and Oasis and my love of music rivals that of Rae and Finn. Seriously, I love all the music in this show so much that I hunted down all the songs on Spotify and made a My Mad Fat Diary MegaPlaylist. I’ve also been known to own a few flannel shirts (or like a dozen.) Even though I was six years old in 1996, I can appreciate all the 90s references. They’re just the icing on the cake of an already delicious Mad Fat Diary cake.
Rae’s group of friends consists of Chloe (Jodie Comer), Izzy (Ciara Baxendale), Archie (Dan Cohen), Chop (Jordan Murphy), and Finn (Nico Mirallegro) who are all bored with their lives in Lincolnshire, England. In the first episode, Rae watches as the gang gets into a full on food fight. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a group of people that can throw fries and squirt ketchup at each other and just laugh? I certainly wasn’t immune to their charms. From bright and bubbly Izzy to charmingly nerdy Archie to brash and loyal Chop and quietly endearing Finn, they’re all lovable in their own way. Even Chloe, Rae’s oldest pal, has her moments of being a truly decent friend amidst their complicated relationship. It’s the kind of gang that makes you wish you’d known them while enduring your own personal hell throughout high school.
Then there’s Tix (Sophie Wright) and Danny Two-Hats (Darren Evans), Rae’s friends from the mental hospital where she stayed, as well as Dr. Kester (Ian Hart), her therapist. Although they represent a less-than-normal side to the stereotypical teenage drama, they’re just as compelling and lovable as the rest of Rae’s friends. Dr. Kester especially, who has so much going on in his own life on the periphery of Rae’s problems, is one of my favorite characters. He cares about Rae despite all the crap going on in his life. Tix, too, is so sweet and broken you can’t help but love her. Danny is a well-meaning friend, though I sometimes have a problem with his ideas on how to help Rae. They may be a bunch of crazies, but they’re real. That’s what makes them great.
Which leads me to the crux of this whole thing: Rae, brought to life by Sharon Rooney. My Mad Fat Diary would not be what it is without this girl and she is one hell of a girl. When you first meet Rae, she’s leaving a mental hospital after a four-month stay. She tells her story through a diary where she writes all about her life. You’d think she’s a mental case, but after you get to know her—after you see that she’s not so different from yourself—you start to think maybe we’re all a little bit mental. Then, of course, there’s the fact that Rae—and Rooney—are overweight. The casting director for My Mad Fat Diary could not have chosen a better actress to play Rae. In an interview with RadioTimes, Rooney talked about her audition for Skins and how she felt out of place among the other actors and actress. She said:
“I wish so much there had been a Rae when I was growing up. It would have made my life so much easier to have had someone real on TV that I could have looked at and gone: ‘I kind of look like her. I don’t look perfect, but she’s got friends. People love her so maybe people will like me for being me. I don’t have to change. I can just be myself…’ How can kids and teenagers feel comfortable when they can’t see anyone who looks like them anywhere?”
How could you not love her, and the character she portrays?
My Mad Fat Diary is based on the book My Mad, Fat Teenage Diary by Rae Earl. If that name sounds familiar, it should. The book, as well as the show, is based on the real Rae Earl’s diaries. Earl grew up in Stamford, Lincolnshire in the 1980s where she suffered from anxiety, delusions, and OCD. The show reminds me of another diary-style book about growing up in England: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging. Although, while a lot of the slang is the same, it has to be said that My Mad Fat Diary is a lot less PG-13 rated—and more realistic because of it.
Tom Bidwell adapted the novel for television and he’s done a fantastic job. I can’t speak to whether he stayed true to Earl’s diaries because I haven’t read My Mad, Fat Teenage Diary (yet.) But Rae’s voice as she narrates her life through her diary is relatable, self-deprecating, and honest. Of course, Sharon Rooney’s acting brings life to the character of Rae, but Bidwell and Earl are the ones who breathed life into the character. Maybe it’s because the character Rae is based so closely on real life Rae but there isn’t a more honest character, surrounded by such an honest cast of characters, on television right now.
If you turn on your television, it’s easy to find a vapid show about 20-somethings playing high school characters talking about problems that seem very distant to the average teenager. Or, they’re talking about real problems, but not in a real way. That’s the state of most teen dramas right now: they’re not realistic. My Mad Fat Diary is heart wrenching to the point that viewers become emotionally distraught. I myself yelled at the screen on multiple occasions. Do you know why? Because I love Rae, and I love Finn and I love Kester and Tix and Archie and every other person on this show. I just want them to be happy because I feel as if I know them. That’s how great this show is: anyone can form a bond with it and feel exactly what the characters are feeling.
This isn’t a teen drama with some sort of gimmick like musical numbers or vampires; it’s a show about real people with real issues and real emotions. As sad as it is, it’s refreshing to see something so real on TV. My Mad Fat Diary is what television is supposed to be about. A show like this doesn’t come around very often—Skins was probably the last like it, but even that show wasn’t as easily accessible as My Mad Fat Diary—and I will be sad to see the season finale tonight.
On a much brighter note, this morning E4 announced that My Mad Fat Diary has been renewed for a second season! So let’s thank the TV gods for giving us another season of Rae (and Finn. I’’ll be happy to see more Finn—or Nico—on my TV screen.) However, they haven’t released any details about when the second season will premiere so we’ll just have to wait. Until then, let’s form a support group, yes? Yes. Good.