The two sisters are deeply intertwined—as one character puts it, they are like the poster children for “Codependents Anonymous.” (“Well, then it wouldn’t be anonymous,” Shona replies.) They are so invested in each other that Shona keeps tabs on Aine’s whereabouts via the GPS coordinates of her phone and when Aine senses that Shona’s long-term boyfriend might be on the brink of proposing, she’s miffed that he didn’t ask her permission first.
While this Big Sister–style mutual surveillance might seem a little claustrophobic, it’s their intimacy, and the frothy banter it generates, that gives this show its warm and magnetic character. Watching This Way Up is like eavesdropping on a happy, zany family; Bea and Hogan talk at such a rapid clip (and with such dense—to my American ear—Irish accents) that I sometimes had to rewind in order to catch the jokes. (Is this what they call craic? Bea and Horgan are first-rate actors, but they genuinely seem to be cracking each other up.) The show is packed with the kind of verbal acuity beloved of Fleabag fans but buoyed by an almost slapstick physical humor that makes it its own cheerful affair. Bea’s Aine is self-deprecating, unpretentious, quick with an impersonation but rarely at anyone’s expense, opening herself up to everyone from the ESL students she teaches to the doddering, slightly racist old-age pensioner who lives in her apartment building. In an interview with The Guardian, Bea shared advice that Horgan had given her: “Waiting around for great female parts doesn’t work. So you have to write them.”
Nominally, the tension of This Way Up comes from romance. Shona spends most of the first season secretly entangled with her (female) business partner, Charlotte (Indira Varma), while her doting and ignorant boyfriend, Vish (Aasif Mandvi), patiently tamps down her anxieties with toaster waffles and other attentions. He’s the kind of guy who has internalized a realistic expectation of how long it will take her to leave the house and doesn’t complain about it. Aine, meanwhile, is engaged in a gentle flirtation with a student’s father (a character named Richard, played by a wonderfully muted Tobais Menzies). At the start of season two, the extent of Shona’s affair with Charlotte emerges; at the same time, she’s planning her wedding to Vish and has moved into his sleekly modern house. Aine and Richard have become an item, though they’re generally keeping it under wraps.