There seem to be so many “diaries” out in the television world at the moment, but none really abide to the essence of diary keeping: brutal honesty, in good hearted moments and truthfully shameful ones. But with only six episodes in the first series, though a second is on its way, My Mad Fat Diary had me hooked immediately because of its format. Set in 1996 Lincolnshire, England, this show centers on Rae (Rachel) Earl and her departure from a psychiatric hospital and all the difficulties assimilating back into teenage life. Adapted from the real life novelized diaries of the real Rae Earl in 2007, My Mad Fat Diary stays true to the voice of a girl trying to sneak back into normalcy while coping with weight and self- image issues, heaped onto all the issues that inevitably come with being sixteen years old.
The format echoes what you feel a diary in high school would be: narration and doodles with fantasies and dreams completely exposed to you as a viewer. If this were handled a different way, it could come off as cheesy or even pretty basic, but because the show walks that tenuous line between hilariousness and extremely serious topics like suicide and self-harm, you feel the gritty edge of a show like Skins.
But why should you care about Rae Earl and her diary? SO many teen shows exist right now, and they’ll always exist, so what separates this one from all the rest? My Mad Fat Diary does not have a skinny ex-Ford model as the protagonist, nor any particularly ethereal leading cast ( a la Effie in Skins). Rae Earl, played by Sharon Rooney, is heavy-set and not in the Hollywood way, where she’s gained 20 pounds and now she’s pudgy, but actually represents the situation of her character in a realistic way. The cast is not CW-level sexy where no “real” looking people exist. And the show is better for it, because a show surrounding a protagonist with weight and body image issues should have a helmed by someone who can bear the brunt of Rae’s emotional journey realistically.
Because it’s set in the nineties in suburban Lincolnshire, we get nineties fashion: overalls, chokers, flannel, acid wash jeans, terrible track suits, and a hell of a lot of denim. The fashion is not overdone, like the alleged eighties aesthetic of The Carrie Diaries (that borders on fetishized) , but instead actually places you into this world of Rae’s with a dash of nostalgia.
Music is a celebrated facet of Rae’s life, in that she is a music snob and makes that very clear to all her friends; it is her confidence in her musical taste that propels her into conversations with the gang in the first place, and her confidence in herself follows from there. And no show in the nineties could ever ignore the musical aspect of the era, either. There is literally an episode where Rae and the gang plan to go to an Oasis concert. If that doesn’t sell you on this gem of a show, I don’t know what will.
Rooney does a spectacular job of allowing you into Rae’s head, and her voice speaks to you, not as a skinny or fat girl, but as a lonely person looking to find real friends, which something universally relatable. This show is unabashed and daring, focusing on what growing up feels like with all the rejection, unrequited love, and crippling self-doubt thrown in your face. You’ll be laughing one minute and tearing up the next as the show progresses because the writing really hits home.
I feel justified in saying that My Mad Fat Diary is an accurate portrayal of being a teenager. Rae’s life in My Mad Fat Diary is a fascinating journey of dealing with who she is as a person, and what that means when hurled back out of the psychiatric hospital and into high school life. My So Called Life was a very close, albeit very angsty rendition of nineties teenage life, but My Mad Fat Diary has the added bonus of humor. Because when life feels so melodramatic you need to laugh at the absurdity of it all. And man, will you laugh and cry (and cry because you’re laughing so hard).
So laugh off the angst with Rae, because this is a must-read Diary.
Art by Jasmin