Season one, episode one of Flowers opens with a voice-over reciting what at first sounds like a children’s verse but quickly takes a slightly disturbing turn. It allows a few moments of sheer terror that this is what the entire six-episode series is going to be like, delivered in rhyme, but thankfully it’s only a device that is employed with restraint, in this British Channel 4 black comedy available in South Africa on Netflix.
At the end of his rope
It later becomes apparent these verses relate to the work of Maurice Flowers (Julian Barratt), who writes children’s books. This in itself is somewhat worrying, because Maurice is deeply depressed, and heaven only knows what he could project onto young, fertile minds. The aforementioned opening plays out over him trudging outside with a rope, flinging it over the branch of a tree, and climbing on a rickety chair before placing his head through the noose.
But, as with so many other things in his life, Maurice fails dismally when the chair breaks, and he slopes back inside, burdened not only with the weight of his secret suicide attempt but with yet another defeat.
A family held together by string and tape
Mrs Flowers, Deborah, is played by the wonderful Olivia Colman, currently on the big screen in The Favourite and enjoying multiple award wins and nominations, and soon to be portraying Queen Elizabeth in the next two instalments of The Crown (Netflix). Deborah is bewildered by Maurice’s behaviour, which has grown increasingly distant and detached, and in the style of the Brits who are so averse to laying out their innermost feelings for all the world to see, Maurice is not forthcoming with any insights. And so, they squabble and snipe at each other without really knowing why, or what the root cause of this is. Thus disadvantaged, Deborah misguidedly looks outside their marriage for solutions.
The Flowers children are fraternal twins Amy (Sophia Di Martino) and Donald (Daniel Rigby), both still living at home in the ramshackle Flowers homestead (the metaphor does not go unnoticed) at the ripe old age of 25. Daniel is an avid inventor of ridiculous machines, and has an enormous crush on the girl next door; Amy is a bit mad too, in the way most creative and sensitive people are.
Original and unafraid
The family is rounded out by Maurice’s well-meaning Japanese illustrator Shun, who lives with them. He is played by series creator and director Will Sharpe, and oftentimes a sympathetic character who bears the brunt of the rest of the Flowers’ drama while trying to make sense of it all while not understanding them or the English language very well.
Visually, the series is equally original, with scenery and locations dovetailing with the theme of broken and damaged humans, and dreamy fantasy sequences providing insight to Amy’s state of mind.
An honest exploration of depression
While its billed as a black comedy and certainly does fit into that pigeon hole some of the time, Flowers does spiral down into more of the darkness than the laughs. Which is fitting, given that it is essentially a study of depression and various other mental conditions, like narcissism and bipolar disorder. These are not things we would normally laugh about, and you certainly shouldn’t be put off watching this because of it either.
Flowers is outrageously entertaining and filled with all manner of appallingly awkward and absurd (but completely believable) situations and misunderstandings that make you want to curl up and expire from embarrassment on behalf of the characters.
It’s this empathy that will keep you watching, at the same time challenging you not to look away from this portrait of family dysfunction (which, if we’re to be brutally honest here, most of ours are, in one way or another). Flowers should be applauded for its approach to mental conditions which are so often misrepresented and sugarcoated on film and television.