Culture

Weird, Wacky, and White: Out of Her Mind Review

Image: Sarah Pascoe looking at the camera in smudged makeup and a wedding dress, against a backdrop of vintage TVs showing the same image ad infinitum. Via BBC Two.

Out of Her Mind is a colourful, surreal rollercoaster of a TV series. Tackling a wide range of issues, from infidelity to abortion, parental abandonment to body image, the series follows the fourth wall breaking self-identified protagonist Sara Pascoe in the weeks leading up to her sister’s wedding. Frequently the narrative is interrupted as the camera cuts to Sara in a large warehouse, directly addressing the camera and either monologuing about the internal turmoil of her central character, or, at one point, explaining the biological process leading up to menstruation flanked by two dancing neon uteri. 

Out of Her Mind is certainly a bizarre watch, and the immaturity and self-centredness of the protagonist can often be grating and slightly irritating to sit through. But, if you can make it through the slightly overwhelming first episode, this series provides a refreshing female-centric take on the ups and downs of adult life. 

Sara Pascoe explores issues which affect all women in a way that is in equal parts relatable, cynical, and occasionally uplifting. 

Female relationships – specifically those between Sara and her sister Lucy, the sisters and their mother, and Sara and her best friend Scoopy, who is pregnant with her first child – form the core of the series. Furthermore, whilst the character of Sara does take some time to get used to, it is refreshing to see decidedly imperfect women presented onscreen in a sympathetic light. Through these characters Sara Pascoe – the real-life comedian and show creator, not the fictionalised version of herself she presents on screen – explores issues which affect all women in a way that is in equal parts relatable, cynical, and occasionally uplifting. 

This empathetic and gently bleak depiction of women’s lives is much to Sara Pascoe’s credit. Through Sara’s family, marked but not defined by an absent father, she beautifully depicts flawed, wonderfully realistic women through an often darkly comedic but never judgemental lens. Sara’s mother’s distinct lack of maternal instinct, for example, whilst used for comic effect, is also shown to be a product of the deep depressive episode she fell into after being left by her husband. Another particularly poignant moment sees Sara drunkenly apologising to the party-hat-wearing projection of her sixteen-year-old abortion, feeling guilt but also not regretting her choice to terminate the foetus. Many of the issues Pascoe explores so wonderfully and strangely in Out of Her Mind are universal, experienced by all women in some form, providing validation and wry relatability for many a female viewer. 

In directly connecting with the audience, the female protagonist sidesteps the intervention and interference of any male intermediaries – whether those be fellow characters, or even potentially directors and editors – forcing the viewer to listen to her. 

The frequent fourth wall breaking in Out of Her Mind brings to mind other female-led series, the most notable being Fleabag. Whilst the eponymous Fleabag remains more situated in reality than Sara, both use this moment of direct connection with the audience for similar purpose, explaining events in their own words. One could even see this as a distinctly female televisual trope. In directly connecting with the audience, the female protagonist sidesteps the intervention and interference of any male intermediaries – whether those be fellow characters, or even potentially directors and editors – forcing the viewer to listen to her. 

The issues presented in Out of Her Mind are, however, explored exclusively through a cis, straight, white female perspective. At one point, Luna, the most frequently recurring of the three black characters in the show, actually calls Sara out for including her character to make the show look more diverse. She scathingly notes how Sara neglects to give her a storyline, or even much personality at all, beyond rolling her eyes at the white protagonist as she repeatedly pops up to talk at Luna. After this she reappears several times. With each appearance she attempts to explain more of her backstory or motivations and is always interrupted by Sara. Whilst this is played for comedic effect it feels a little ill-judged, given that the only three other recurring people of colour in the show are also defined by, and have no screen-time outside of, their relation to white characters. 

Its knowing lack of intersectionality, in particular, can leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Out of Her Mind remains a beautifully constructed, bizarre feminist piece, and I for one certainly enjoyed it. However, this is not to say that it is without issues. Its knowing lack of intersectionality, in particular, can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Whilst its presentations of cis straight white women are poignant and sympathetic, it lacks consideration of the specific struggles of black women, women of colour more broadly, or LBTQIA+ women. Admittedly, it was clearly not Pascoe’s intention to provide an all-encompassing illustration of the female experience, dealing with the unique and specific struggles of all different groups of women. What she set out to achieve, she did very successfully. But Out of Her Mind, for all its successes, still highlights the lack of intersectionality in many of these female-led, women-centric scripted dramas/comedies. This is, however, perhaps more a reflection of the continuing lack of writing and directing opportunity for non-cis, non-straight, and/or non-white women, than of Out of Her Mind itself. 

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