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.