‘IN MY SKIN’ (HULU)
Sad comedies are everywhere now, especially on British television, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. “Fleabag” and “I Will Destroy You” are among the more high-profile entries, while “After Life,” “Flowers,” “The End of the Fcking World” and even a couple wonderful series that haven’t made it to our country — Toby Jones’ “Don’t Forget the Driver” and Karl Pilkington’s “Sick Of It” — are just some others that have filled out the genre with general excellence.
Add to the ever-growing list “In My Skin,” a coming-of-age story if you want to put it in the simplest of terms, though any coming of age worth committing to the screen should be anything but simple. As 16-year-old Bethan Gwyndaf, actress Gabrielle Creevy commands the screen and draws out your empathy in such a way that you recognize your commonality with her even as you can’t imagine handling what she is challenged with.
Bethan is one of the weird kids and struggles with how to be true to herself while allowing herself to not be stuck in that role, but that’s a hard thing to manage. There’s the bullying that comes with the role, and that’s made much worse by Bethan’s determination to embrace her queer self unapologetically and the homophobia that exists in the student body. There’s also the feelings of betrayal from the other weird kids, which creates hesitation when opportunities come Bethan’s way and her first impulse is to reject them because she can’t figure out how to walk the line.
There’s also Bethan’s home life. Her father (Rhodri Meilir) is a horrible human being whose neglect of Bethan is matched only by his disdain for her. And as a husband, he’s no better. Bethan loves her mother Katrina (Jo Hartley), but finds herself to be the primary caregiver for her. Katrina suffers from a mental illness that thrusts her into delusional states and combative periods, and largely shrugged off by her father, Bethan takes matters into her own hands and has her mother placed in a hospital.
Bethan ends up juggling her academic opportunities as well as unlikely romantic possibilities and tests of friendship with frequent and devastatingly emotional visits to her mom in the hospital, but there’s one other factor that makes the whole situation entirely untenable — she keeps every aspect of her personal life a secret from those who are part of her school life. Actually, she takes it to such a degree that she makes up an entirely different life to present to her school friends. Not even her best friends in her weirdo gang know the truth. And the struggle to keep these worlds separate is becoming ever more desperate and impossible for Bethan.
Despite the dark subject matter, “In My Skin” is more touching than depressing, and even hilarious. And unexpectedly inspirational and hopeful as well. Creevy is a true revelation, and the series has an even larger impact thanks to Hartley as her mother. Wavering between frightening outbursts and pathetic, almost childlike attempts to grasp at her situation and express her thoughts and feelings to her daughter, Hartley is amazing at capturing the various aspects of a person in her situation, particularly the helplessness, even when she is a force to be reckoned with. She also gives Creevy something important to play off of, a chance to show her character’s maturity and compassion, as well as the depth of the wounds that she carries.
“In My Skin” is a remarkable show about the small corners of human existence, about the power of brokenness to create bonds and the level to which humans need each other even as our behavior repels those we need the most.