Review: Back to Life, BBC Three/BBC One

back to life

Back to Life is not the first comedy about someone trying to get their act together after coming out of prison. I can just about remember Going Straight, the spin-off of Porridge in which Ronnie Barker's old lag tried to make it in the outside world. Back to Life is very different. 

In fact I'm not even sure if it should count as a comedy. It is certainly not a traditional sitcom, but it does seem to fit in with the current trend for drama-heavy "sadcoms" such as Mum, Home and Don't Forget The Driver. Daisy Haggard plays Miri Matteson, who moves back in with her nice middle class parents after eighteen years inside. It is not initially clear what crime she committed, but given that she has been in so long, it must be pretty serious.

And as the story evolves we certainly get a hint of the severity. When her mum, played by Geraldine James, for instance, hides all the sharp knives. Or when Miri gets an abusive message on the phone or when someone writes Psycho Bitch on the fence.

The humour comes largely from the juxtaposition of life now and when Miri was last on the outside as a teenager. Her bedroom posters feature two dead pop stars – Prince and Bowie – and one surprisingly slim Jamie Oliver. She still has her Discman that she borrowed from her boyfriend, but when she takes it round to him he turns out to be married with kids.

The script, written by Haggard and Perrier Award winner Laura Solon, deftly juggles the comedy and the drama, but the emphasis does feel as if it is on the drama. No amount of gags about now-defunct Blockbusters and Woolworths can make up for the undertow of what Haggard's character is dealing with. 

The setting – a blowy seaside resort, as in Don't Forget The Driver – adds to an overriding sense of bleakness. Haggard is extremely watchable (look out also for comic Liam Williams who suddenly twigs who she is during a job interview) in a role that's a big contrast after to her smlling exec in Episodes or, for that matter, anything else she's done.

Journalists tend to ask actors what they've drawn on when they play a role. I cant imagine what Haggard could draw on for this. Not exacly a laugh riot, but there is more than enough going on here to keep me watching.

Back To Life, Mondays, BBC One, or all on iPlayer now.

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