Dinosaur review: BBC sitcom about autism takes a while to find its stride

Storrie stars as a woman with autism whose life is turned upside down by her sister’s impulsive engagement

Katie Rosseinsky
Friday 19 April 2024 23:00 BST
Dinosaur trailer

When Nina (Ashley Storrie) meets her beloved younger sister Evie (Kat Ronney)’s new fiancé in the first episode of Dinosaur, she can predict exactly how he’ll respond as her neurodivergence comes up in conversation. “Autism is a superpower!” he trills, before launching into an irrelevant anecdote about an autistic classmate who ended up on Countdown. Cue a cataclysmic eye roll from Nina.

Dinosaur goes beyond those platitudes and stereotypes. The show started life in 2021 as a comedy pilot for the BBC, conceived by playwright Matilda Curtis; Storrie, who has autism, was cast as Nina and came on board as the show’s co-writer too. The broadcaster picked it up for a full series, and the resulting six episodes explore Nina’s close bond with Evie – and how the latter’s surprise engagement to Ranesh (Danny Ashok) threatens to upend the life the sisters share in Glasgow.

One of the ways in which Nina’s autism manifests is a reliance on routine. Her brother Bo (played by It’s a Sin’s David Carlyle) jokingly refers to her as “the most risk-averse person on the planet”. Flighty Evie’s decision to spend the rest of her life with someone she met six weeks ago means that the siblings’ rituals – like “takeaway Tuesdays” spent with Deliveroo and The Real Housewives – are under threat. But a chance meeting with her new barista Lee (Lorn Macdonald) encourages Nina to slowly embrace a bit of change: whether that’s by braving the horror that is a work team-building outing to a bowling alley, or by giving Ranesh the benefit of the doubt.

The first episode takes a little while to get into gear. When Evie arrives at the museum where Nina works to drop her big sparkly wedding bombshell (she is a palaeontologist who loves nothing more than cataloguing prehistoric poo, hence the show’s title), it’s possible to predict stretches of dialogue beat for beat. Of course, Evie’s going to take a “dramatic pause” before sharing her news, then ponder how long said dramatic pause is meant to be. Of course, Nina’s going to respond with “To who?” when Evie tells her she’s engaged.

Duty bound: Nina, left, is recruited as Evie’s maid of honour (BBC/Two Brothers Pictures/Mark Mainz)

But when the big plot points have been set up, Dinosaur finds its stride as a character-driven comedy. Nina’s parents Diane and Ade, played by Sally Howitt and Greg Hemphill, are a delight (“Our son-in-law, a creative strategist,” Diane coos upon hearing Evie’s news). Her future brother-in-law Ranesh is cringe-inducing: he’s the sort of person who bangs on about the pasta recipe he learned on a trip to “Firenze” and exclaims “Glass ceiling, who?” when a woman gets promoted at work. But despite the garbled internet speak, Ashok plays him as fundamentally well-intentioned, even when he wears a horrible cowboy hat-trilby hybrid to a party (grounds to call off a wedding immediately in my book).

Once she’s anointed as Evie’s maid of honour, Nina’s begrudging forays into the wedding industrial complex will prompt snorts of recognition from anyone who’s ever been added to a hen do WhatsApp group under duress.

“If Patrick Dempsey can do a good job for the first half of the 2008 romcom Made of Honour before he ruins the wedding, then so can I,” she tells herself – although a near-catastrophic engagement drinks do and a bridesmaid dress fitting that triggers sensory overload will push her good intentions to the limit. And Evie’s confession about why she said “yes” raises more serious questions about how we value women’s achievements: “Everyone’s really proud of me and I’ve never had that before,” she admits, admitting she wants to “hold on to it as long as possible”. Nina ponders her sister’s point before asking if she’d choose Ranesh over being friends with Taylor Swift. It’s a lovely balance of the silly and the heartfelt – just like Storrie and Curtis’s show.

‘Dinosaur’ is on BBC One and iPlayer

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