Sky’s latest series Dreamland is a comedy drama that takes place in the sunny seaside town of Margate, looking at both the humour and the tragedy of family dynamics – and marks pop icon Lily Allen’s television debut.
If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s based on Sharon Horgan’s BAFTA-award winning short of the same name - and because TV sequels, it’s been spun out here into six episodes (by Horgan and co-founder Clelia Mountford’s production company Merman) of pink lilos, screaming and family infighting.
Trish (Freema Agyeman), the eldest of four sisters, is pregnant with her third child with her partner, Spence (Kiell Smith-Bynoe). With two boys already, she’s decided the third will be a girl, so has gathered her friends and family for a “mani-festival” to eat pink-dyed food and manifest the baby girl into existence.
But things turn sour quickly when Trish’s sister, Mel (Lily Allen), shows up to the celebration with a six pack of beer and a chip on her shoulder. Her sudden reappearance after having lived in Paris for some time shocks her family, and she harbours secrets that threaten to destroy the lives of the people she cares for the most.
And as if that weren’t enough, there’s a budding romance for youngest sister Leila and a later-life lesbian love story for the girls’ mum Cheryl (Frances Barber). Plus, Sheila Reid plays the family matriarch and all-round Margate legend Nan.
The female influence in Dreamland’s writing is clear – not least because of its funny, richly drawn female characters, which have been constructed with care. Though each falls into obvious places within their family dynamic (Mel is the black sheep. Trish is controlling and determined. Clare is straining under the pressures put on her by her family. And Leila is very ditsy) watching them bicker and squabble and show up for each other is a real joy.
The performances pack a punch. Lily Allen’s brooding Mel brings an edge that balances out the sillier family members, especially Leila and Nan. As one of the few male leads, Smith-Bynoe – typically known for his comedy performances in shows like BBC’s Ghosts – shows a serious side that we don’t often get to see.
However, it’s Agyeman and Gabby Best (who plays Clare), who deliver the stand out performances. Trish is the core of her family and Agyeman shines. Middle child Clare’s position in the family is more subtle, but hers is one of the more heartfelt storylines. She represents the child often dismissed, but heavily relied upon, and Best brings the depth as well as the comedy of the character.
There are times when Dreamland’s writing can be a bit simplistic, and its dialogue unnatural. Certain subplots are underbaked when time would have perhaps been better spent focusing the main story.
Despite its flaws, Dreamland offers a lot of heart. It shows the female experience in many of its guises and is a breath of fresh sea air in more ways than one.
Dreamland will air on Sky Atlantic and NOW from April 6