Moving out of the flat I’d lived in since 2017, I found a near-empty Marc Jacobs perfume that had been kicked under the bed and left to fossilise. As the last drops came wheezing out of the bottle, they had the disorientating effect of transporting me back to my early twenties, complete with visceral hangover. I had a near-identical response when watching the opening episodes of Everything I Know About Love.
Semi-fictionalised from Dolly Alderton’s wildly successful memoir, which reached every-millennial-woman-on-the-tube-is-reading-this levels of ubiquity upon its release in 2018, it careers along in a giddy rush of nostalgia that is hard to resist if you came of age around the time that Kate Moss was flogging pansy-print tea dresses for Topshop.
The year, Alderton stand-in Maggie (Emma Appleton) tells us, is 2012. Waist belts are the scourge of women’s wardrobes, and “mediocre girls [are] making a name for themselves being moderately funny on the internet”. That’s narrator Maggie again, her voice both self-deprecating and entirely self-conscious. Along with childhood best friend Birdy (Bel Powley) and their university pals Amara (Aliyah Oddofin) and Nell (Marli Siu), she has just moved to a flat in Camden to pursue a dream of becoming a writer who is “amazing at comments and witticisms”. Will your enjoyment of the show be directly proportional to your tolerance for the main duo’s implicit Private School Energy? Probably, although Amara and Nell’s storylines do provide some counterbalance as the series goes on.
“Moving to Camden in 2012? Whatever you’re looking for, it’s already left,” points out one of Maggie’s love interests; although he is allegedly named ‘Street’ (“It’s where I was conceived”) and constantly wears a trilby, it is difficult not to snort in recognition. Maggie meets Street (a name designed to be said in inverted commas) on a train when her card is declined; he quotes Philip Larkin, later making her a CD of “actual music” and expounding his theories on how smartphones are altering the shapes of our brains.
He is the human embodiment of a red flag - so thankfully, this is not his and Maggie’s love story. Instead it’s a celebration of the enduring, opposites-attract bond between her and Birdy. Maggie is desperate for experiences, obsessed with embracing every facet of this “grubby, golden phase of life” in the city. She is never knowingly understated; Birdy, meanwhile, is genuinely passionate about John Lewis and, unlike her bestie, would rather have a quiet, solid, “plug adaptor” sort of love. “I don’t want to end up with someone dazzling,” she says. “You make it sound like everyone needs to go out with Elton John.”
That dependable, “plug adaptor” boyfriend eventually materialises in the form of Street’s flatmate Nathan (Ryan Bown). This new romance presents a stumbling block for Maggie and Birdy’s platonic love affair, with the former left feeling like the latter is “backing out of [their] relationship in slow motion, hoping we won’t realise.”
Alderton is good at bottling these familiar but often unspoken dynamic shifts; the scenes in which Maggie et al moan in hyperbole about this new male interloper - then tot up the cost of all the hot water he is using - will probably have played out in every other houseshare across the capital. So too will the moment when the girls’ landlord (Line of Duty’s Craig Parkinson, stealing scenes as a man who presents a TV show called Dodgy Dealers but is quite patently ripping off his tenants) turns up to survey the vast stretch of black mould that has engulfed a corner of the flat. “I think that’ll just clear up by itself, to be honest,” he bluffs.
The adaptation really sings (and does a co-ordinated dance routine to boot) in these recognisable moments, which Alderton has written with warmth and affection for her twenty-something avatars. Are these characters often a bit insufferable? Undoubtedly, but perhaps accurately so. The joke’s normally on them, and if you can’t be a pretentious nightmare at 24, when can you?
A sweet tribute to female friendship crossed with a 2010s period piece seen through Camden Market Ray-Bans, Everything I Know About Love is comforting viewing that pulls off an amazing feat - making you long for your chaotic, mould-ridden flatshare days, corner shop rosé hangovers and all.
Everything I Know About Love is on BBC One and BBC iPlayer from June 7