Sally4Ever, episode 1 review: Deeply engrossing comedy series from Julia Davis

Even the most dedicated Davis fan might not be quite ready for this new Sky Atlantic series

Sean O'Grady
Friday 26 October 2018 09:43

You pretty much know what you’re going to get with a comedy that has had anything to do with Julia Davis: dark, bleak, depressing, grotesque, obscene, sadistic, masochistic, weird, and deeply, deeply engrossing – for precisely those reasons.

Still, even the most dedicated of her fans might not be quite ready for Sally4Ever, which is brilliant, but more than usually disturbing. It also contains the first comedy merkin I’d witnessed since the mentally tortured heyday of Spike Milligan’s Q series. I lack wide experience in such matters, but in my judgement it can only be a pubic wig, such is its ambitious hirsuteness. We catch just a snatch of it, but sufficient to observe it being tended to with a Ken Dodd-style tickling stick. “It” belongs to the eponymous Sally. It is probably as good as things are going to get for her as she embarks upon a seven-episode sexual and emotional saga of victimhood. I have a feeling, though, that for us viewers, Sally4Ever, is just going to get better and better.

The premise is simply stated. Sally (Catherine Shepherd with appropriate understatement and atomic precision) has a dull job in a marketing company, Bluefish, where she and her colleagues (including Julian Barratt, real-life partner to Davis) figure out inane ways to try to “put the sexy back into eggs”, for example. The wrong side of 40, and a woman who is so English and mousey that she says “sorry” pre-emptively, Sally also has a domineering mother (Georgie Glen) who torments her with exquisitely cruel remarks, such as: “You’ve got a limited number of eggs. Dropping out every month. And they lose quality the older you get. That's why I had you. I’d have loved to have had another stab”.

Most dispiriting of all, for her and for us watching their pitiful relationship, she has the world’s worst boyfriend, David, mastered with a fine sense of the absurd by the always superb Alex Macqueen. We meet him first as he deals with his athlete’s foot with meticulous attention, much to her disgust. We watch as he dresses as a balaclava-clad rapist and attacks her, just to put that little bit of spice back in their relationship. He follows this traumatic error of judgement with a proposition to marry her. She agrees, out of exasperation. We grow frightened by his Norman Bates-style obsessive insistence that she tries on his mum’s old wedding dress, upon which he experiences a rampant sexual arousal. He is the sort of chap who whispers to his fiancée in bed: “I’m gonna have a biccie and then I thought we might have some intercourse”. To which she can only reply “I’m good, thanks”. The jammie dodger gets stuck in his teeth, which is a fine metaphor for his love-making.

Then she meets rock chick Emma (Davis) – Chrissie Hynde meets Rose West I suppose, a modern-day sexually indiscriminate suburban succubus who catches Sally’s listless eye on a train. Soon they get it on.

There is a wonderful elongated sex scene between them (co-starring the merkin), bosoms bouncing, Emma’s big toe sensuously pushed up Sally’s, presumably, virginal jacksie, all with Sally mostly wearing David's mummy’s wedding gown, intercut with David, who is away, flossing his teeth. Pervy, kinky, gruesome, cringey – it is one of Davis’ finest scenes yet (she is writer and director of Sally4Ever). Setting the whole lesbian jamboree to T’Pau’s "China in Your Hand" was inspired, and you could sense Sally’s moans of long-overdue satisfaction even though you couldn’t hear them – Davis and Shepherd both just indulging in the right touch of over-acting to ensure parodic effect. (Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman might have worked even better than T’Pau, but I guess there’d be contractual issues there).

After that Sally dumps David, and becomes the perfect, unprotected prey for Emma. We can but fear for her future safety and sanity: will she somehow survive?

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Julia Davis has made a glittering career out of creating manipulative monsters: Nighty Night, Hunderby, Camping… The standard Davis character engages in disingenuous wanton seduction, followed by control followed by possession followed by some sort of lethal assault. Evil is engrossing, and Davis usually surrounds herself with the best talent around, just as she does in this series (also including Felicity Montague, Vicki Pepperdine, Mark Gatiss and Sean Bean). It’s all blissful, but as a viewer I almost feel like Sally, half loving it, but half wondering what on earth I am doing.

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