Frayed: Sarah Kendall's homecoming comedy will make you wince

Merman Productions
Merman Productions

“Every man has a lurking desire to appear considerable in his native place,” observed Dr Johnson. In his case, that place was Lichfield. For Sarah Kendall, a comedian from Australia who moved to London in 2000, it is Newcastle in New South Wales.

Frayed is a new comedy drama, scripted by Kendall, about the nightmare, which plenty of those struggling to stay in London will comprehend, of having no choice but to go back home, only to discover that the place has not changed and you are much less considerable than you supposed.

Kendall plays Sammy Cooper, a rich London housewife with two teenage children, whose life suddenly unravels to the point where she is forced to return Down Under. She has thoroughly misrepresented her background to her children as glamorous and impressive. What they find in Newcastle is a troubled family amid urban depression — set in 1989, Frayed is a sharp riposte to the sunny allure of Home and Away.

A Sky original commission with ABC in Australia, it’s made by Merman — the production company founded by Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford that was responsible for Women on the Verge and Catastrophe. Frayed is rude, direct and often quite painful to watch, rather than readily funny.

Frayed is a sharp riposte to the sunny allure of Home and Away (Merman Productions)
Frayed is a sharp riposte to the sunny allure of Home and Away (Merman Productions)

We meet Sammy as she dashes from her London mansion to hospital to learn that her husband Nick has died from a heart attack. With extras. He had a blood alcohol level just short of coma. His body held traces of marijuana, cocaine, amyl nitrate, methamphetamine, petrol... and pubic lice. And he wasn’t alone. The doctor tries to be delicate. “There was also an object which was stuck in... him.”

“An object?” Sammy asks. “It was his phone.” Sitting in the hospital corridor, a woman in a fun fur, scratching furiously, tells Sammy that she would have rung the ambulance sooner but she couldn’t get the phone out.

So that’s not good. Next we see Robert Webb as the family solicitor, telling Sammy that her husband died insolvent and that everything must go, including the family home. “I am NOT going back there, I’ve worked too hard, this is where I belong!” Sammy insists — one of those moments ensuring the opposite happens. She and her two thoroughly Brit kids pitch up in Newcastle, completely broke, although she’s still insisting it’s “a temporary crisis of liquidity”.

She hasn’t seen her mother, a recovering alcoholic, for 20 years. The children don’t even know they have an Uncle Jim (Ben Mingay from Home and Away), a lardy waster who wears a T-shirt reading “Freelance gynaecologist” and doesn’t want to share his Chocolate Bombs breakfast cereal

Sammy, a big fibber, has told her children that her father died in a plane crash. Uncle Jim sets them straight. “Dad drowned just out there — went swimming when he was sh**faced.” That was when she left Newcastle. Now she needs a job, and is thrown back on the mercy of the people she left to get away from. “You thought you were so much better than everyone else,” says one of them, now a sleazy politician, glad to have her in his power

Kendall herself, gawky, lantern-jawed, an awkward physical comedian, seems genuinely stunned by some of what she is processing in her own return to her roots. That’s a strength for the show. Nothing glib about home and away here.

Frayed is on Sky One at 10pm tonight and is available to stream on NOW TV

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