IIt can be a little harrowing to find yourself yelling at Alma’s Not Normal. A woman who remembers a dark childhood spent as “the baby in Trainspotting if she had lived” shouldn’t be funny … should she? But creator Sophie Willan, who won a Bafta for the pilot of this show because of her own upbringing, has a razor-sharp joke – one that can find a punch line in any shitstorm. This unabashed sense of humor, together with the authentic storytelling, is an invitation to recognize the lemons of life and to laugh in their faces. And so a series about a thirty-year-old Bolton woman who grew up in foster care turned into one of the happiest comedy dramas of the year.
When we meet Alma – clad in a bright faux fur coat like a pink flamingo – her poisonous boyfriend has just left her, desperately looking for work, and navigating relationships with her addicted mother Lin and her tinder-wiping, spam-loving grandma Joan (to absolute Perfection played by Siobhan Finneran and Lorraine Ashbourne). Fortunately, Alma has a brilliant friend by her side: Leanne (Jayde Adams), who has “the mannerisms of a truck driver and the rock and roll sex appeal of Debbie Harry”. After spending a night over liquor with kebabs and karaoke mics, it’s time for Alma to get together once and for all.
In the six-part series, she experienced her way from the job as a sandwich artist to get a place on a local theater tour and in between to earn money as a sex worker. One week she had champagne with the “fabulous” customer Phil, the next she ran out of a house with a stolen dog after a group of suitors threatened her. And then there is the client, who is breathing heavily, who is âlike a pug who has taken a long walkâ during sex. “Why do people always analyze sex workers psychoanalytically and question how strong they are?” She asks Leanne, perhaps also challenging the viewer. “You don’t go into a telesales office and say, ‘Oh, Sue on the phone – is she empowered or is she vocal about selling carpets for being an only child?'” It’s a brilliant way of dealing with the gray areas of the A place of truth to grapple with life.
As Alma works to rebuild herself, she also examines its basics, trying to reconcile with her troubled childhood. This came to a head in the penultimate and standout episode in which she is sent a box of administrative documents that were kept in custody during her childhood. Her desperation at what it describes is expressed by yelling at an assistant in a 99-pen shop over a putty knife that costs 1.29 pounds, “I’m getting fucked again!” But at the end of the episode she’d turned it around and used her nursing experience to land her an acting role. âYou will be more than okay; you’ll be damn fabulous, darling, “she says to the little girl in her records and yes – that’s a tear in your eyes.
More serious subjects are covered – observations of the welfare system, the reality of living with addiction – and it is mainly Alma’s fragile mother who permeates these issues. After Alma has spent the entire series trying her best to re-house Lin and make sure she doesn’t relapse, Alma spends the final episode trying to consider putting her stage dreams on hold. âDon’t give up now,â she says to her mother through the mailbox. “Banging and smacking are not normal ways to blow off steam, Mum.”
It was heartbreaking, ugly, funny, and real – a suitably bittersweet finale to a bold series that celebrated the fabulous flawed.