There She Goes episode 5, review: David Tennant convincingly goes against type as an ugly, unfunny drunk

David Tenant in 'There She Goes': BBC/Merman Productions/Kevin
David Tenant in 'There She Goes': BBC/Merman Productions/Kevin

There She Goes (BBC 4), which has concluded its (presumably) first series, would have probably succeeded even if everything about it was dire. Why? Because the makers have thrown such a formidable quantity of quality talent at it: David Tennant and Jessica Hynes play Simon and Emily, parents of severely-learning disabled Rosie (Miley Locke – outstanding), while Nigel Planer plays Rosie’s granddad. They even have the super-sardonic Miles Jupp in a bit part as a Simon’s nerdy drinking partner.

So no shortage of star quality here, and Shaun Pye’s scripting gives them all they need to go on. This week, Rosie and the family head out for a meal celebrating her brother Ben’s birthday. The usual, not-that-hilarious consequences follow, because Rosie is a girl what daddy calls “very few words and moments of explosive violence”. One of Ben’s school friends asks that’s “actually wrong” with her, to which he replies: “I dunno. She’s just Rosie”. True enough, actually; her chromosomal deficiency syndrome is so rare that it hasn’t yet been named.

Rosie is non-verbal, unpredictable, screeching and screaming as she takes off her dress. She bites and rocks back and forth in a manner so disturbing that we aren’t even allowed to see it in dramatic form. She’s quite the distraction, even in a busy restaurant.

Poor old granddad manages to blurt out the key (ie forbidden) words “Pizza Express” and “presents”, which sends Rosie into a heightened sense of excitement – because she has an affixation with the letter “X” and likes presents but can’t understand why they aren’t hers. The highlight of the luncheon is Rosie letting loose and smashing a huge vase in the restaurant. Not funny, but very dramatic, which is the point of this unusual alloy of heavy drama and wry wit. Like all alloys, it is very strong too – as strong as Rosie’s indefatigable willpower.

If, as Pye himself says, these stories are broadly based on his own experiences of bringing up a daughter with learning difficulties, then he has been brave in doing so. As the action moves from the present to 2006, when Rosie was a baby showing the first signs of her disability, and back again, we see how much alcohol plays in saving Simon and Emily’s marriage. In the early years, Simon drinks, usually down the pub, to escape his responsibilities, pushing far too much of the work onto his wife. Tennant, as Simon, pulls off quite a good act against type as an ugly, unfunny drunk, asking his (soon-to-be-ex-) friend (Jupp): “How can a vegetarian get so fat?”

But the booze was a sort of support; where some people have prayer, others have Peroni. When baby Rosie, at long last, laughs for the first time, he gives the pub a swerve, and things start to stabilise – if not normalise. I never expected to see the case for mild alcoholism in parenting made quite so convincingly.