TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 1)

In the spirit of Black Lives Matters and an inspiration from Noma Dumezweni, I’m turning my attention to the TV shows, I haven’t gotten round to watching that I should have done by now, starting with Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum 

“Do you want a Fruit Pastille?”

Michaela Coel’s comedy show Chewing Gum was born out of her play Chewing Gum Dreams which played in the Shed at the National Theatre in 2014, a rare moment when a monologue like that could be programmed at a theatre like that. I didn’t catch it then and on the evidence of this first series, the loss is most definitely mine.

A proper British sitcom (6 episodes, no fuss), the show stars creator and writer Coel as Tracey, an East London shop assistant in her early 20s who is determined to cast off the shackles of her religious upbringing and learn about the world. Oh, and she really really really wants to get some.

Chewing Gum is refreshingly frank in a number of ways. As Tracey finds herself a new fella (Robert Lonsdale’s would-be street poet Connor), it probes deep into honest depictions of (hetero)sexuality and is completely unafraid to show how messy and funny and random and awkward sex can be. From threesomes going awry and horny cousins to blowjob lessons and gay fiancés, it’s all going on.

There’s also something about the way in shows contemporary working-class life. Issues of class and race and their multiple intersections are ever-present but in the background, an everyday hum, which rarely gets in the way of the sparkling optimism of Coel’s comic voice. Just see the deftness with which the drug-dealing assumptions are dealt to see the sophistication at work here.

And it is a fantastic voice, richly funny with laugh-out-loud turns of phrases packed into every episode.  Susan Wokoma is frigging fantastic too as Tracey’s even more repressed sister Cynthia, forever pulling focus, and I particularly enjoyed the work of Danielle Isaie as her best friend Candice and Kadiff Kirwan as her boyfriend Aaron, whose nose gets out of joint when he doesn’t get the response he expects in a gay honey-trap.

If like me you’ve been remiss in watching Chewing Gum, then there’s no time like the present. Find it on All 4 now.

Photos: Dave King



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