I May Destroy You: why Michaela Coel’s drama is a true TV gamechanger

I May Destroy You: why Michaela Coel’s drama is a true TV gamechanger

July 11, 2020

Novelistic and uncompromising, the Chewing Gum creator’s series about the legacy of sexual assault feels like an ambitious new high point for the small screen

There is a moment in episode one of I May Destroy You likely to send the heart rate of anyone who has ever procrastinated into overdrive. Author Arabella, played by Michaela Coel – also the series’ creator, writer and co-director – is about to pull an all-nighter at her agent’s Soho office. The agitated rap of Little Simz’s Picture Perfect soundtracks her journey on a bus, windows typically filthy, through the streets of London. A Twitter star, she has been signed up to write a follow-up to her hit debut Chronicles of a Fed Up Millennial, a book you imagine could have been glibly sold as “a black, British Sex and the City”.

Except, the all-nighter never happens. Arabella assembles her belongings, which include caffeine tablets, into a neat pile. She opens her laptop. The scene turns silent, soundtrack on mute. She stares at her screen, and stares a little more, restarts her music, smokes a cigarette. She glares at the pat sentence on the screen: “So Tina, being in her 30s, couldn’t understand why you, Terrell, also 30s, would take her there on a first date. Nor could I.” The cursor blinks. She Googles a phrase that solidifies both hers and the viewers’ panic: “How to write quickly.” So she takes a break. A Technicolor blur of pink hair and multicoloured cardigan, she meets her friends at a bar named Ego Death – that is, a total loss of one’s identity. A procrastination nightmare becomes a fun night out and then something far more serious. Drugs are taken. A drink is spiked. The next morning she remembers nothing bar a figure looming over her, raping her. She stuffs it down but, as such ordeals have a habit of doing, it bubbles up again.

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