Chewing Gum might be the cringiest yet funniest British sitcom that has ever been produced in the 2000s. There, I said it. Parts of it can be revolting to some audiences, but I for one thoroughly love it. What’s even better is that the badass Michaela Cole did everything for this show: produced, directed, script-wrote, sang the soundtrack, acted, and even chose the cast. The brilliance and genuineness of Cole, who is considered a minority in the U.K filming industry, are well-reflected throughout the show. No wonder she received a goddamn BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for this! If you watch or read Michaela’s interviews, you’ll know that she’s humble. Michaela even talked about how doing interviews is the easiest part of her job as a creator. She said:
“This is the easy day, the day where it’s just: chat to people, put on some clothes, boom!” Coel explains, gesturing to the hairstylist packing up her things from the shoot they just finished. “I got a free wig—hello. Come on!”
Growing up, Michaela was a devoted Christian who thought drinking alcohol was a sin. As a teen, Michaela was the only black student at her all-girl Catholic school in East London. At first, she never planned on being a performer. Michaela wrote a poem, her friends liked it, and then boom. From then on, Michaela decided to pursue an acting career by going to a drama school (obviously her journey wasn’t that easy).
During her years in drama school, she realized how few acting opportunities she had due to her appearance (skin and all). Dramas in the U.K mostly centered around 17th-19th centuries, in which actresses/actors are mainly white with blue eyes and blonde spaghetti hair. Feeling out of place, Michaela decided to create her own drama, calling it “Chewing Gum Dreams.” In 2014, British TV channel E4 decided to sponsor Michaela as she transformed that drama into the TV show Chewing Gum (which currently has 2 seasons). Michaela might be successful and popular now, but her creative journey to get there was long and painful. For 11 years, Michaela did everything, from poetry to singing. She dropped out from school, kept pursuing her dreams and endured failures until she could finally graduate in 2012.
The premise of Chewing Gum is to illustrate the everyday life of working class citizens living in estates: cheap apartment complexes provided by the government. The main character of the show is a 24-year-old girl Tracey Gordon (played by Michaela Coel herself) who is eager to lose her virginity despite her strict Christian upbringing. The first season follows the relationship between Tracey and her religiously-inclined and mentally abusive fiancé named Ronald.
In a derogatory way, Ronald criticizes Tracey’s appearance by saying things like, “You have lips the size of a boat. Two boats, that crash into each other, killing everyone.” Although she keeps being drenched in the foul words of her fiance, Tracey does not care a tad bit. All she wants is to finally lose her “sacred” virginity. Ronald refuses her request by sternly reminding Tracey that God condemns sex before marriage, chastising her for even bringing up such a taboo topic. And when Tracey decides to break up with him, Ronald proceeds to persuade Tracey’s sister, Cynthia, into marriage. Knowing Ronald’s deceiving intention, Tracey tries to warn her sister about his sexuality. Spoiler alert: Ronald turns out to be gay as hell and commits adultery.
One time, Cynthia sees Ronald doing anal right after joining a Bible-reading seminar — which basically sums up the humorous, blunt style of the show in one scene. At the end of Season 1, Tracey finally finds herself a boyfriend, Connor Jones, who’s white, unemployed, and still lives with his mother. By the end of the season, Tracey is kicked out by her African mother for having said boyfriend because he’s white. Below shows a particular scene when Tracey is escorted by 2 burly security guards after swearing off a little boy for giggling.
Below is a particular scene where Tracey is escorted out by two burly security guards after swearing at a little boy for giggling:
And just when you think this show can’t get any funnier, Michaela Coel proves you wrong. Season 2 made me laugh even harder than any other show I’ve ever watched. I’m truly baffled at how Michaela can get all of these ideas and wrap them into some truly authentic humor. One episode I found hilarious was “Just Need Some Company” where Tracey and her friends visit a full-on sex club. Tracey’s cousin has always had a problem with climaxing, but he ejaculated right there in the club’s swimming pool. And it’s just so impressive how Michaela Coel turned such a disgusting scene into a comedic situation. Another episode titled “Orlando” follows Tracey as she dogsits a puppy fittingly named Orlando that turns out to be a popular dog on porn websites. The owner has been exploiting Orlando for the use of explicit content, which leads Tracey to steal him to give to a better owner. The episode cracked me up because I just really couldn’t get over the existence of “dog prostitution” (as Tracey described it).
Chewing Gum also touches on the topic of cultural appropriation with an episode that elaborates on how a white man fetishizes Tracey for her race. The show is intended to be comedic, but there’s one genuinely sad scene where Tracey’s mother, a devoted Christian, has to face the fact that her religious seminar is being taken down by the authorities. She works so hard for her little Christian seminars, promoting them around the neighborhood although no one cares.
All in all, Chewing Gum is the hilarious journey of a religious girl towards sexual liberation. For me personally, I did cringe at some very sexual scenes, but I just skipped the parts that made me too uncomfortable. The show is real as hell and it’s pure comedy gold (it’s even based on real situations and individuals from Michaela’s life). Please do yourself a favor and watch it on Netflix.