Michaela Coel’s ‘I Will Destroy You’ will make you laugh, cry and think about consent

Have you ever had something really, really terrible happen to you and – in the middle of it all – managed to laugh about it a tiny bit? That’s potentially the smartest trick in Michaela Coel’s smart new show ‘I Will Destroy You’. It’s a story with a date rape at its centre and many other terrible transgressions orbiting around it, but still – it makes you laugh. Even if it’s just a little snort as you sob at your laptop screen. And that makes it all feel very, very real.

The generational drama, which is written and partly-directed by ‘Chewing Gum’s Coel, runs as 12 half-hour episodes, which will air weekly on BBC One in the UK and HBO in the US. It follows Arabella (Coel), a social-media personality who has got famous off a PDF book called ‘Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial’ and is now struggling to meet her publishers’ deadline for book number two. In the middle of pulling a work all-nighter, she sacks it off to go clubbing. By the time morning rolls around, her memory is wiped and she’s having flashbacks of having been sexually assaulted.

Finding the answers to the mystery of Arabella’s lost night are a driving force of the show, as are questions about consent generally: what does it mean if someone takes the condom off when you’ve asked them not to or if you’re lied to by a partner about the circumstances of your hook up? (Spoiler alert: both are bad.) But the show’s strengths go far beyond the sensitive treatment of these issues.

As well as watching Arabella’s life play out, we follow her friends Terry (Weruche Opia), an actress, and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), a Grindr-obsessed aerobics instructor as they navigate their daily (and sex) lives too. The result is a story that takes us from watching Arabella and Terry gurn at each other while rolling on MDMA to app-organised threesomes to brands cashing in on empowerment culture to prejudice. It’s a perfect distillation of modern life and its highs, lows and talking points. But, most importantly, it’s just really good, funny, heart-smashing storytelling about what it means to have friends now. 

We’ve reviewed this series based off episodes one to four.

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