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First episodes of HBO’s ‘I May Destroy You’ set up for an intimate and powerful story

First episodes of HBO’s ‘I May Destroy You’ set up for an intimate and powerful story

First episodes of HBO’s ‘I May Destroy You’ set up for an intimate and powerful story
June 16
22:24 2020

Content trigger warning: sexual violence

At the start of HBO’s new series “I May Destroy You,” young Londoner Arabella (Michaela Coel) returns from a trip to Italy, where she spent time writing and visiting her almost-boyfriend (mainly the latter, though). On her first night back in London, what was supposed to be an all-nighter to meet her story deadline, turned into an outing with friends that went terribly awry. After being spiked with a date rape drug and waking up with almost no recollection of the night, Arabella grapples with her new reality.

Two episodes into the season, “I May Destroy You” is set up to be an earnest and authentic depiction of sexual violence, complete with grounded storytelling and powerful acting.

The premise is dismal enough, and so far the actual show lives up to being a dark and uncomfortable watch. Yet it’s also quite charming and kind of funny. First, Coel is a striking lead. There’s nothing too lofty about her performance — instead, its raw and gritty and a little rough around the edges, giving her this cool charisma that seems so truthful. You can tell from the first two episodes her character is extremely well-designed, and the way Coel melts into her role feels like you’re watching a real person, like watching someone you very well could be friends with in real life.

Coel, along with the other cast members, are aided by the show’s aforementioned grounded storytelling. Huge props to the writers for building such an earnest and realistic script. I think it’s quite common for shows touching on subject matter as dark as this to get tangled up in the theatrics. They often try to weave extra drama in for drama’s sake, overloading the dialogue to add to the already grim tone and really drive it home that yes, this stuff is very sad and very scary. But that often can dilute the reality of the situation, and “I May Destroy You” instead opts for unapologetic honesty and sincerity. The dialogue is often short and snappy, nothing too verbose or elevated. Arabella’s conversations with her friends, both before and after being drugged, seem to mirror exactly how these conversations would look in real life. The script offers a wholeheartedly authentic look at this type of trauma. It’s so honest that watching the episodes feels like reading a real person’s intimate diary.

I’m also thankful this show doesn’t take too long to get moving. Too often do shows spend an excessive amount of time setting up the scene and introducing characters. Here, though, we’re already well into the plot by the end of the 30-minute first episode. The show drops us seamlessly into Arabella’s life, from saying goodbye to her kinda-boyfriend Biagio (Marouane Zotti) to reuniting with her friends Ben (Stephen Wight), Terry (Weruche Opia), Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) and Simon (Aml Ameen). We already feel like we know them from the start, without spending forever on dialogue that exclusively serves to catch us up to speed on the relationship.

Then there’s the setting, which takes place mainly in the northeastern area of Hackney. It’s nice to see something set more in the outer boroughs instead of the typical Westminster or City of London. This kind of applies to all major cities represented in TV and film — it’s weird to see young characters disproportionally positioned smack in the center of Manhattan or LA or London or any other wildly unaffordable area. I know it’s a seemingly minor thing to pay attention to, but it really does add to the show’s authenticity to accurately represent what it’s like to be young in a big city.

Overall, the hour of “I May Destroy You” that has come out thus far is extremely promising. I’d go ahead and catch up now before the next episode airs on Sunday at 10:45 p.m.

Final rating: 4.5/5

Featured Image: Courtesy HBO

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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