Friends I have positively fantastic news. AppleTV+’s new eight-episode comedy series is a hilarious, life-affirming delight.
In Trying, thirtysomething couple Nikki (Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall) have been together for three years. The series’ title refers to their continued attempts to have a baby. They monitor Nikki’s ovulations cycles (the series kicks off with them having sex on a bus so they don’t miss Nikki’s ovulation window. Not a great way to start, but definitely a way to get the viewer’s attention) and try IVF where they are unceremoniously informed that the chances of conceiving with Nikki’s eggs is very unlikely given her sub-par fertility numbers. “Are you sure? I definitely feel higher than that,” Nikki says.
Nikki and Jason thus embark on a journey to adopt a child, where they are faced with one of society’s most perplexing double standards. Anyone who can get pregnant can have a baby. There are no screenings. No home visits. No forms to fill out. No one assesses your health or your habits. No classes you have to take. You just … have a baby. But the adoption process is long and arduous. They have regular visits from Penny (Imelda Staunton), the case worker assigned to assess them and issue a report. They have meet-ups with other prospective adoptive parents. They go to workshops where they are lectured on things like “oppositional defiant disorder” and “object permanence.” And, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes, have to go in front of a panel to defend that they are worthy of adopting a child.
The adoption process makes them rethink all of their life choices. For Jason that means finally apologizing to an ex-girlfriend (a lovely turn by The Good Fight’s Cush Jumbo), and consider a promotion at work. For Nikki, it makes her want to redecorate their London flat with fancy furniture and children’s toys and attend boring, erudite lectures.
Nikki and Jason’s best friends Erica (Ophelia Lovibond) and Freddy (Oliver Chris) provide the couple with insight into parenting. The show truly shines in these exchanges. Comedies like the recent Breeders on FX have demonstrated how tricky it is to walk the line of being honest about how difficult the early years of parenting are while not being utterly nasty about it. British comedies are, in general, more sardonic than American ones and can easily go to a bitter place. This never happens with Trying. Erica assures Nikki that “80%” of parenting “is making sure you have wet wipes.” Erica also laments what has become of her body since giving birth and nursing two children. “If I could have my tits on the weekend and get the kids back on Monday, I’d do that,” she laments. As the saying goes, all of these statements are funny because they are true.
Yes, comparisons to Catastrophe will be inevitable. Both shows have an inherent kindness and love mixed in with a darkly comedic and classically British take on parenting. But saying you don’t want to watch it because it’s too similar to Catastrophe would be like saying you don’t want a piece of chocolate cake because you had a slice of chocolate caramel cake yesterday. You want both chocolate cakes! Trust me.
Jason and Nikki’s extended family also provide consistent comic relief. Whether it’s Jason racist, homophobic, and judgmental mom (“There are certain things you don’t get second hand—underwear, bed linens, children. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh. I just tell it like it is.”) or Nikki’s sister’s unemployed, pompous boyfriend (“I’m really about life balance, and juggling work and a social life … it’s hard”), the couple’s extended world is rich and hilarious. Staunton is also a standout as the frazzled social worker who knows a great set of parents when she meets them. “We will do our best to get you approved and find you a child,” she tells the nervous couple.
Spall and Smith are a truly charming. Their rapport is witty and sincere. “How can I miss something I never had?” Nikki wonders when informed of her infertility. The love Jason and Nikki feel for each other and for their future child is palpable. It’s the undercurrent to the show that tinges everything with a fundamental sweetness, as Jason and Nikki navigate growing up and coming into true adulthood.
Couples on TV spend a lot of time talking about getting pregnant or get pregnant by surprise (see the aforementioned Catastrophe), but rarely does a series so honestly portray the devastation of infertility or the challenges and heartbreak of the adoption process. It’s great to have this much candor in a series that is still so highly entertaining.
Written by Andy Wolton and directed by Jim O’Hanlon, each episode ends with a lovely montage that checks in on all the characters the viewer has seen over the last half-hour. The way it’s structured reinforces how much we as humans have in common. How love and friendship sustain us.
The eight episodes go by far too quickly, but end in a place where you can easily envision multiple seasons. We are only at the beginning of Nikki and Jason’s journey. I can’t wait to watch them keep trying.
All eight episodes of Trying premiere May 1 on AppleTV+.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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