You’ve got to hand it to RTE: no matter how many arrows pile up at the foot of the comedy TV show bullseye, every year they get their bow & arrow out and dutifully aim for that target again. The list of failed RTE original comedy programming is getting depressingly long at this stage – remember The Fear? Mattie? The Walshes? No? Well, this year’s attempt comes in the form of ‘Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’, a warts-and-all depiction of the modern smartphone-obsessed Irish twentysomething woman. Seána Kerslake and Nika McGuigan star as Aisling & Danielle respectively, two Corkonian girls living it up in Dublin city. The show is, in many ways, a feminist statement: tearing down stereotypes, depicting the often seedy truth, and showing that female characters can be just as real, even as vulgar, as their male equivalents. If, for a moment, you separate that revolutionary sentiment from the show itself, what you find left over is somewhat underwhelming.
Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope describes itself as a ‘darkly comic drama’, a claim which plays very fast and loose with the latter two adjectives. The show can definitely be described as dark; if anything, it’s surprising how dark the show is. This can result in some fascinating scenes, like when Aisling goes home with a Topman-clad yuppie who, although he doesn’t have a condom, insists that he will “pull out” in time. After her exhausted lover attempts to give her money for the morning-after pill, we watch Aisling start off on the long walk home, dropping into the pharmacists en route for said prescription as well as an unwanted lecture on unprotected sex. It’s something we have never seen on Irish television before: it’s authentic, not at all preachy, even brave, and the show should be commended for that.
However, Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope‘s biggest fault is in its comedy, or rather lack thereof. In fact, the show is almost completely devoid of jokes. The show’s laughs depend almost entirely on the novelty of seeing Irish women ‘behaving badly’. If you’ve ever watched RTE’s far superior Pure Mule – or even HBO’s Girls – that novelty will be seriously diminished, if not completely non-existent at this stage. The show also seems to think that simply putting in lots of Irish-isms qualifies as comedy. And while it can be charming to hear the characters say words like “shift,” “Coppers” and such eloquent phrases as “Well, this is going off like prawns in the sun,” these Irish-isms should embellish the comedy not be the comedy.
As for the drama, Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope describes itself as “detailing the unravelling of a friendship between two co-dependent young women.” It’s an interesting premise, and it would work if not for one major problem: why exactly are these women friends? Neither character is fleshed out enough to understand why they became such good friends in the first place, and why they’re only now starting to drift apart. Does it really take stealing a car to drive a wedge between them? Do people actually go to the beach to watch people “dogging?” It seems like Danielle just decides that she’s tired of Aisling. Realistic? Yes, but it’s hardly dramatic. As the show progresses it becomes clear that Aisling is the focus of the show (Danielle doesn’t even appear in episode four). The problem with this is we haven’t spent enough time with Aisling to care about her, and the time we have spent with her just made her seem like a self-absorbed narcissist. It’s not heart-breaking to watch Aisling descend into alcoholism when you just don’t care about her character.
The quality of the acting fluctuates; sometimes, when out for the night, the girls don’t even look like they’re acting. Other times the acting seems on-par with the panto, the constant Corkonian “likes” particularly becoming unbearable. The show’s production sports a glossy sheen throughout: texting sequences feature little blocks of text popping up on screen, similar to those seen on House of Cards; each scene opens with seductive shots of Dublin’s hippest graffiti-covered walls. The soundtrack is comprised of your typical chillwave Spotify playlist. The overall structure is particularly puzzling: in episode two we learn that one of Aisling’s clients has died, prompting her to ring his grieving widow; the scene goes on for quite some time, but ultimately turns out to be irrelevant as it’s really just an explanation for why the girls had to go out drinking that episode.
It’s not that ‘Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’ simply misses its elusive target so much, as it seems that the writers were trying to aim for two targets and end up missing both. It’s hard to believe anyone could call this a comedy, there simply aren’t enough laughs, and just because the show is overflowing with darkness doesn’t make it a drama. The premise for the show is intriguing, and some scenes make for truly great television, but Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope is too riddled with problems – ill-defined characters, the absence of any laughs (in a self-proclaimed comedy), and an overwhelming pessimism stops the show from getting its point across. Only time will tell, but right now, it seems Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope is destined to take its place among failed Irish comedies of television past.