E4, Monday

TV review: My Mad Fat Diary - Whoever said that fat was funny?

If you like 'Skins', says E4, you'll like this teen memoir. Hmm. But C4's new drama is a dazzler

The first word of My Mad Fat Diary is an obscenity, uttered by an adult who turns out to be the lead character's new psychiatrist. A decade ago, that might have offered a jolt, but in these post-Skins times, it felt a bit meh. Which goes for the rest of the programme, too.

Set in 1996 in Lincolnshire, this comedy drama is based around the real-life diary of Rae Earl. We join her as she's leaving the psychiatric hospital she's called home for the past four months; she mentions that she doesn't binge any more – and, given that she's 16 stone and has body-image issues, it's a fair shout that's why she was in there.

Soon enough she has bumped into her former best friend, stick-thin with but a wisp of charisma to match, who invites Rae to join her new mates at the pub. The boys are archetypally dishy or disgusting, while the other gal in the group is ditzier than Zooey Deschanel.

One previewer suggested that the sight of a sausage flying through the air and hitting one of the lust objects in the face in a slow-mo food fight was worth the price of admission alone, but really it wasn't half the value of the Grange Hill banger. Meanwhile Rae found herself the butt of various other embarrassments – being turfed on to the street with only a plastic crocodile to cover her bra, getting stuck on a slide at a pool party (who has pool parties?) – that felt not only contrived but also less than mortifying when we've seen worse on The Inbetweeners.

If such comparisons are unfair, blame it on E4, whose continuity announcer declared: "If you like Skins, The Inbetweeners and Misfits, you'll like this." Well, sorry, I do like those three shows, but, even with a great soundtrack (if only the Mack really would return …) and the odd nice line, My Mad Fat Diary is a long way from the equal of that trio in invention, edge or humour.

An hour in the company of these adolescents felt long; an hour-and-a-half in Utopia (Channel 4, Tuesday) was far too short. If you haven't yet seen it, go to 4oD this instant and catch up, because it's nigh-on impossible to review without a few spoilers, and it's best seen with no prior knowledge. Suffice to say for now, it's one of the best TV dramas I have seen.

I'm going to assume at this point that you've watched it. Are you sitting comfortably? Of course not. You're sitting sweat-drenched, terrified that someone is about to enter the room and ask you where Jessica Hyde is. And you won't know. And then you'll be killed. Or tortured. And then killed. If none of that makes sense … go and watch it!

But for those who really don't have the time, here are the basics: a student investigating her father's premature death, a pair of murderers and a blackmailed Department of Health civil servant provide the focus of seemingly disparate strands that entwine in a tense and teasing way.

The student, Becky, is researching a man-made disease that appears to have been presaged in a graphic novel. The two assassins (a nattily dressed Mark Ronson-alike and Kill List's convincingly psychotic Neil Maskell) are slaughtering anyone who can't help them find the proof (and only) copy of the novel's second instalment. And the DoH man is ordering quantities of a Russian flu vaccine that is, we are expected to infer, related to that disease.

Lovely touches abound: when one character is thrown off a balcony, for instance, he lands in car-parking space M17 – next to M15 and M16, the "1"s doubling for "I"s. A maguffin?

Wilson Wilson, a conspiracy theorist and friend of Becky, would no doubt think not. It is the actor Adeel Akhtar's luck to get many of the best lines – "Want to see my nuclear bunker?" – but his is also a stand-out performance, which says a lot given the all-round excellence on show.

There is a fair bit to keep up with, but it's so sharply written and pacily directed, not to mention shot in a way that evokes the dark brutality of many a graphic novel, that you can't tear your eyes away for a moment.

Speaking of eyes … that torture scene. And here, a warning: graphic description to follow. Twitter has been abuzz with suggestion that the sequence in which chilli, sand and salt are ground into Wilson Wilson's eye, is gratuitous. But the direction is such that all the horror is inferred – yes, all right, his eyeball is spooned out, but the screen fades to black, mimicking his loss of vision; and the violence serves to reveal the mentality of the torturers.

Daring, disturbing, visually dazzling: this is a Utopia it would be a shame to miss out on.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect