Much like Fleabag and Chewing Gum before it, Mood (BBC Three) is a TV transfer of a one-woman play. This six-part series started life as the well-received Superhoe at the Royal Court theatre in London, and though the name did not survive the transition, writer and star Nicôle Lecky reprises her role as Sasha here. Sasha is 25, lives at home with her mother and stepfather in east London, and in the tradition of all good dramas, she kicks off proceedings by blowing up her life.
Almost literally, in fact. In the first episode, Sasha wakes up in her bedroom at home, next to a half-full kebab tray, and attempts to piece together the events of the previous night. Mood’s ability to cook up an atmosphere of anxiety is remarkable: when Sasha checks her phone to see 44 outgoing calls to a man named Anton, I felt my chest tighten. There is a voice note that she musters up the courage to listen to – with growing horror – and short flashes of scenes that may or may not be helpful revivals of her memories. The fact that her hands look distinctly fire-blackened suggests the night did not end well.
If the small matter of arson wasn’t present, this might seem like a standard self-destructive sad-girl drama. But it has a clever way of sidestepping expectations, and feels fresher than its component parts initially suggest.
Sasha is a singer and a rapper who is desperate to make it big, but has no idea where to put her talents. Frustration makes her angry and reckless, and her family show little support for her dreams. Her mother, Laura (a barely recognisable Jessica Hynes), pours scorn on her for trying to “record an EP that no one’s ever going to listen to”, while her stepfather, Kevin (Paul Kaye), decries social media culture and its obsession with image. “Social media has convinced you that you’re all going to be the next Lisa Stansfield,” he scoffs. “I don’t even know who that is, bruv!” Sasha snaps back.
There are enormous cracks between the truth of any situation and what people put online, and this tension continues to fascinate storytellers. The recent Chloe, on BBC One, had a similar line in teasing out the reality behind the filters. But this is more surreal. Sasha’s pop-star ambitions are played out as imagined music videos. At the start of the opening episode, she twirls and moves through her estate, flanked by backing dancers and clouds of flare-pink smoke. Then the music grows tinny, she lifts her phone, and that world falls away. She is irritated that it disappears, which sets the tone nicely: she is not going to be an easy-to-root-for heroine, but someone far more complicated and nuanced.
The music is a big part of the show, and Lecky performs original tracks that she wrote herself. It can take a bit of adjusting to the frequent appearance of songs that reference characters by name, as it’s not a musical as such. Occasionally, when a song breaks out, it lends this a more amateur feel, which jars with the rest of the story, which is so confident and assured. But when it works, it works. There’s a self-loathing rap as Sasha figures out what happened at her ex’s house, and in the second episode there is an exquisite scene at the jobcentre, when Sasha’s internal critic turns the whole thing into a foul-mouthed song and dance.
Mood has an outrageous streak. Sasha’s relationship with her family is strained, and a showdown with Kevin that starts as a fairly straightforward row turns into a near-slapstick mess that is as funny as it is horrifying. Inevitably, Sasha has to find somewhere new to live, and it takes her off into an entirely different world.
There is a boldness to how the show explores its themes. During a drug deal, Sasha meets the vivacious, chaotic Carly, a party girl who brings her into an even messier orbit. Under Carly’s influence and tutelage, Sasha starts to see the sex work of “camming” – performing in front of a webcam – as a potential solution to her money troubles. Carly wonders if it’s really any different from bikini pics on Instagram. We are sure to find out soon.
Darkness is there from the beginning of Mood, and always threatening to intrude. Yet it creeps up on Sasha slowly, with almighty power. Sasha is a woman in pain, and this can be painful to watch. But this drama is invigorating, and refreshingly easy in its own skin.