This weekend, I sat down and decided to watch a show that I never finished. We are all looking for something, anything, to help us feel accomplished right now, and finishing a sitcom series seemed the easiest and least stressful way to go. There’s not enough wine at Costco for me to tackle the closet in the bonus room upstairs right now. Thankfully, I found that all three seasons of My Mad Fat Diary were available on Hulu.
I was obsessed in 2013 with the first season of My Mad Fat Diary, but when season 2 aired, it was hard to watch and find in the US. I finally saw the first couple of episodes, and the angst had me hanging up. I never finished season 2 and never watched any of season 3. So I have some epic catching up to do with my faves.
Set in 1996 in Lincolnshire, UK, this show follows Rae Earl as she finds new friends and new love after being released from a mental ward for depression, an eating disorder and self-harm. If that sounds heavy and un-fun, please know that this show is the definition of teenage girl hilarity and honesty, as we get all of Rae’s unfiltered thoughts (and doodles!) from her diary POV.
My Mad Fat Diary has the best nostalgia, the best soundtrack, the best romance, and the best accents. And the best angst. I’m finding that I have to take it in in small bits, because while it’s lovely, it’s also heavy at times.
British 90s Nostalgia
Like Rae (Sharon Rooney) and everyone in the gang on the show – I was 16 in 1996, and that makes everything about this show a nostalgia goldmine. It’s like they pulled it all directly out of my 8th-10th grade years. The fashion: chokers and Dwayne Wayne sunglasses, denim spaghetti strap mini-dresses and baby tees, rollneck sweaters, hunter green and navy Tommy Hilfiger shirts, grunge plaid tied around your waist. CK1. Going to raves. Spin the bottle. I’m pretty sure my best friend had the same alarm clock as Rae. Really bad teenage sex advice. Caesar cuts and tiny backpacks. Being worried about Toxic Shock Syndrome. That horrible time before everyone had cell phones. The detail paid to the decade is awesome.
This could easily fit in the “nostalgia” category, but it deserves its own mention. Music is a huge part of Rae’s life and a big part of the show. Pulp. The Cure. The Stone Roses. Blur. Bjork. Mazzy Star. The Beastie Boys. Depeche Mode. The Smiths. Radiohead. The Bluetones. A ton of British bands I’d never heard of, but now love. And of course, OASIS. I mean, a TON of Oasis.
Mainstream or indie or obscure-to-Americans, doesn’t matter. The music is like another character. Oh, and episode 5 of season 1 has the best use of a Cure song in a scene just EVER. I’m crying just THINKING about To Wish Impossible Things and this scene and Rae’s state of mind. GAH.
Mainstream or indie or obscure-to-Americans, doesn’t matter. The music is like another character. Oh, and episode 5 has the best use of a Cure song in a scene just EVER. Here’s a tiny, spoilery taste of where it is. I’m crying just THINKING about To Wish Impossible Things and this scene and Rae’s state of mind. GAH.
I could do an entire post on each character in Rae’s group of friends, but this is already too long. There’s Chloe, Rae’s long time “bezzie” who might just be the literal worst, played by a pre-Killing Eve fame, Jodie Comer, if you are into that. You should be. Izzy, who is the sweet one. Then the guys: Chop, Finn (Nico Mirallegro) and Archie – who Rae describes as “slice, epic slice and ultimate slice.” They use all these British phrases like “take the piss” and “proper serious” and “knobhead wanker.” I actually don’t feel quite so bad about my super nasal southern accent after having to use English subtitles just to understand what Chop is saying.
The EPIC Swoon
I flat out refuse to spoil it for you, but just trust me when I tell you there is a love story to rival all love stories in this show. Do you remember that AMAZING feeling you got when your crush makes it fully obvious that he prefers being around you above anyone else in your group? There are whole episodes that feel like taking BIG GIANT GULPS of that feeling. (And her crush even ghost-writes on her leg, hand, etc with his finger when he wants to tell her something but doesn’t want to say it out loud. It’s like a sexier 90s version of texting under the table. GAH.
ALSO I finally picked up the book that it’s based on (Rae Earl’s real life diary from when she was 17 in 1989), and it’s brilliant and funny and easy to read and a lot less angsty than the show. Yes, I bought it back in 2013, and yes, this is the first time I’ve cracked the spine. Shut UP.
So, if you’re looking for something to binge that’s complete and also wonderful, My Mad Fat Diary, one of my favorite shows of the twenty-teens, can be one of your favorites of 2020.
A version of this article first appeared on That’s Normal in 2013.
Beth is the proud sponsor of two little women and a huge fan of fandom. She took 3 years of Latin in high school and now speaks fluent pretension, which fully explains her current preference for gay wizard regency novels. She will roll over for a giant book with a map in the front. She takes comic book recommendations every day but Wednesday and TV recommendations never (she knows what's good).