Women on the Verge review – a scabrous creation from Sharon Horgan that doesn’t quite hit the peaks

This forensic examination of the lives of three thirtysomething women veers too often into Bridget Jones territory, but it certainly has its moments

Five minutes, two vaginas and three exquisitely sharp lines jabbing you in the solar plexus. We can only be in the presence of a Sharon Horgan production. Women on the Verge (W), her new six-part series, is actually a co-creation with writer Lorna Martin. Based on Martin’s similarly titled bestselling memoir, it is the tale of three thirtysomething female friends whose lives are not quite turning out as promised. As the creator of the cruelly and absurdly axed Pulling (late twentysomethings in late-twentysomething meltdown), the crashingly brilliant Catastrophe (whose delineation of two late starters negotiating a new relationship after a surprise pregnancy continues in an imminent fourth series) and Motherhood (40+, shit bouncing off the fan in every direction), this is very much Horgan’s scabrously specialist subject.

We open with Dublin-based magazine writer Laura (Kerry Condon) having sex and negotiating the parameters of dirty talk (“I’m not saying that!”) up against the sink in a disabled loo with her boss. Coitus is interrupted by a call on his phone. “Didn’t we say …” he murmurs into it, “not bevelled?” Laura’s face falls as unignorable evidence of an entire and ongoing marital relationship arrives in two syllables. You don’t argue about bevels with anyone but your nearest and dearest.

We turn then to a new vagina and the character it belongs to, Katie (Nina Sosanya), who is up in stirrups and about to undergo IVF. “We do have to get you wide enough,” says the doctor, clacking his speculum. Katie, ultimately, decides not to go through with her plan to furnish Ella, her daughter by her ex-husband, with a sibling.

Finally, there is Alison (Eileen Walsh, who played Sharon’s bracingly amoral maid of honour in the first series of Catastrophe), sitting across a cafe table with her ex – another of the nervously hapless men ruined by the very unhapless women with whom Horgan customarily peppers her productions. He accidentally knocks over a vase. “Oh God,” he says, dabbing at the water. “No wonder you dumped me.” But he discovers, to his delight, that she is here – after one too many disastrous Tinder dates – to reverse the break-up.

Later on, her friends query her decision. “You used to fantasise about him dying in an avalanche,” says Laura. “You used to encourage him to go climbing on his own. Without his phone.” “You told him ropes were for wimps, remember?”

“I was young and idealistic,” Alison explains. “I’ve realised it’s perfectly normal to hate your partner and wish they were dead most of the time.”

Over the course of the half hour, Laura – an emotionally and aurally pulverising friend I would pitch into the Liffey within an hour of meeting (it is not quite clear what either of the other two sees in the exhausting woman) – tries and fails to break up with her boss and gets effectively demoted at work. Meanwhile, Katie learns that her ex-husband’s new wife is pregnant (“I was just saying how embarrassing it was for me to find out your news through Ella,” she tells him. “Thanks!” he says, obliviously – another perfect encapsulation of an entire, if not ongoing, marriage).

The Horgan bones, it is clear, are there – as indeed is Horgan herself, in a brief closing scene, as the therapist Katie very understandably recommends to Laura over lunch (she re-appears as the contemptuous Dr Fitzgerald in future episodes just often enough to make you long for a whole series to be built round her). The flesh on them is slightly flabby. The sit and the com veer too close too often into Bridget Jones territory – viewers may long to shake sense into the three protagonists more often than they want to roar in recognition – and their world isn’t fully realised enough for Women on the Verge to come near challenging Pulling or Catastrophe for their crowns. But as a placeholder while we await the fourth series of the latter, the new one of Motherland (if that floats your boat. I can’t bear it, but that’s possibly because I can’t bear motherhood) and Horgan’s turn as a woman worried about her unstable sister in Aisling Bea’s forthcoming Happy AF, it will do nicely. And if therapy actually works on Laura so I don’t have to drown her before episode three, it will do more nicely still.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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