Paula opens on a rather basic premise: a chemistry teacher, who's having an affair with the married PE teacher, discovers rats in her basement. (We've all been there.) She then calls an exterminator to rid her cellar of the pesky vermin, but she also ends up having a steamy one-night stand with the handsome rat killer. (A two-for-one deal. BOGO sale). Soon her life is turned upside down when Mr. Handyman James becomes a little too keen on her.
From acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson, BBC Two's new drama, dubbed a revenge thriller, is an unsettling and broodingly dark obsession series. The first episode, in laying the groundwork for the final two episodes, struggled to grab and keep my attention. The episode moved at a sluggish pace and introduced far too many sub-plots. Every scene is stark and claustrophobic, which makes the show almost too intense to process (even for me, the girl who lives in the darkness). The episode did leave the audience with a number of questions regarding the dark secrets of the past, which will hopefully see to two more promising episodes.
What is most intriguing about Paula is its unusual characters. None of the characters in this series are particularly likable. Paula, suffering from self-hatred, is distant and unfeeling, presumably because of the distressing childhood she experienced with her dysfunctional family. James, a chronic polygamist, has creepy vibes on maximum. He shares a striking resemblance to The Fall's Paul Spector, whereas both men share a handsome exterior but a mind of the criminally insane. But what brings James to life far more than Spector is the traumas of his past haunting his present.
Denise Gough and Tom Hughes give breakout performances in this gritty drama. Gough gives a fantastic performance as the self-destructive Paula. She effortlessly captures all the contradictions of Paula's flawed character, while keeping you interested enough to keep watching. Hughes is deviously haunting as James. He executes the perfect combination of charm and paranoia that makes you feel an unease when he is on screen.
McPherson's drama may be too brooding for its own good, but its main cast helps to bring some enjoyability to this overly intense thriller.
Paula airs on BBC Two Thursday nights at 9pm
Episode 2 Review
Episode 3 Review