This Way Up

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
This Way Up TV Poster Image
Strong family love, great characters in low-key UK import.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Themes of empathy are clearly demonstrated in the way characters treat each other, while Shona and Aine show strong teamwork, spending a lot of time together, strategizing, and supporting each other. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

A diverse cast takes on realistic characters -- Aine's job teaching English to non-native UK citizens injects a multicultural note into the show, and her relationships with her students are touchingly genuine and thoughtful. Aine and Shona are both rich and realistic characters who make mistakes but atone for them and struggle to do their best; side characters are humanized and given relatable motivations. 

Violence

The threat of self-harm lingers around Aine; in an early scene, when she calls a mental health facility and is put off she asks "What if I were about to kill myself?" 

Sex

Characters are single and interested; depictions of dating and sex are frank and realistic, like when characters kiss in bed and start taking off their clothes; a man touches a woman's breasts and compliments her "cracking boobs" but then stops the action, explaining gently to her that they don't really "fancy each other." For her part, she cries she just wanted to "feel something." 

Language

Language includes "f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "bitch;" characters make rude hand gestures (the middle finger) at each other jokingly. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink at gatherings, and talk openly about having "drinking problems." Shona and Aine both worry they drink too much, and drink when they're experiencing stress or loneliness. Jokes may revolve around drugs, like when Aine says she's going to bring a "bag of ketamine" to a dinner party, or when Shona and Vish play a drinking game.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that This Way Up is a series about a woman recovering from a nervous breakdown with the help of her sister. The bond between the sibling pair is strong and realistic; they alternately goad and support each other touchingly. Language is frequent, though usually used for comic effect or emphasis: "motherf--king," "f--king," "f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," and "bitch." Violence is infrequent but it's clear main character Aine considers self-harm. Both Shona and Aine drink when they're sad or stressed as well as in celebratory times, and worry they drink too much. Sexual content is realistic and can be mature, like in a scene when Aine and a man kiss in bed and start removing their clothes before the man touches Aine's breasts (no nudity). Characters are rich and multifaceted; they demonstrate empathy and teamwork in caring for and supporting each other. The show's cast is diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, class, age, and body type. 

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What's the story?

Written by and starring comic Aisling Bea, THIS WAY UP centers on a pair of sisters: troubled Aine (Bea) and her long-suffering but loving older sibling Shona (Sharon Horgan, Catastrophe's co-creator). After a terrible breakup and what Aine calls a "wee bit" of a nervous breakdown, she's haltingly ready to return to her work as an ESL teacher. But Shona continues to see troubling signs of instability and desperation in her sister. As the two settle back into something of a routine, Shona struggles to find a balance between supporting and smothering her sister, while Aine stumbles towards something that resembles a happy life. 

Is it any good?

Low-key, and endearing, this humble series alternately charms and devastates viewers with painfully realistic plotting and characters you'll instantly root for. So often scripted series rely on gimmicky premises, unrealistically quirky characters, and heightened reality to draw in an audience and keep them watching; This Way Up is so different that careless viewers might be forgiven for passing over it in the long columns of Hulu content. No famous stars, a rather staid setup, it's from the UK, you say? But in Bea's inspired grasp, what could be humdrum is instead so very real, relatable, and emotionally engrossing. 

Aine and Shona are just a pair of ordinary sisters; a teacher and working in finance, respectively, living average lives of work and errands and quiet time at home. But their bond with each other is clear from the very first episode, when Shona lingers in the mental health facility Aine's checking out of to ask the staff plaintively "Is she fixed?" She worries over her sister, begging her not to walk aimlessly around the park at night alone, to spend time with other people. Meanwhile, we watch the clearly desperately lonely and lost Aine on her wanderings, trying to make connections with other people and sometimes failing miserably, sometimes succeeding beautifully. It's funny, and sad, and sometimes enthralling, and sometimes a little boring. Just like life. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how shows from the UK tend to differ from American-made TV shows. When comparing a typical UK show to an American counterpart, what's different about the casts? The settings? The costumes? The dialogue and plotting? 

  • How is mental illness conveyed in movies and TV shows? How are we told in This Way Up that Aine struggles with mental health? How does her health impact her life? Do we watch Aine improving over the course of the series? Is her path realistic, given what you know about mental health and how it impacts those who suffer from issues? 

  • How do Aine and Shona demonstrate courage and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

TV details

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