Why Andy Wolton’s Trying Continues to Hit all the Right Notes

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3 Jun
2021

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When it comes to comedy, Apple TV+ is beginning to really set itself apart from other streaming services. Last month, Screen Times Contributing Editor Jonathan Reed looked back at the last 18 months of comedy on the platform and at what’s to come and there is certainly a lot to be excited about.

If you were to ask someone to name their favourite comedy on Apple TV+, they’ll probably mention ‘Ted Lasso’ or ‘Mythic Quest’ and understandably so. Both are two of the best comedies on television right now and ‘Ted Lasso’ in particular has become a global phenomenon. But it isn’t the only British comedy on Apple TV+. ‘Trying’ is another show that delivers that warm hit of positivity, plenty of laughs, emotional moments that pack a punch and a great cast of supporting characters that viewers have come to love on the service.

‘Trying’ introduces us to Jason and Nikki, a couple who want to start a family but are unable to have a baby. They decide to adopt and the show takes us on the journey through the adoption process with them as they also try to balance work, friends and their families too.

Currently three episodes into its sophomore season, the show has cemented its place on the top shelf of Apple TV+ comedy and while it may not be as widely talked about as the likes of ‘Ted Lasso’ and ‘Mythic Quest’, here’s why it should absolutely be your next comedy binge.

An important story

Whilst we’ve seen plenty of films and television shows in the past that deal with themes of infertility and adoption, finding one that highlights the journey of the prospective parents is a little harder to find. One film that comes to mind is ‘Instant Family’ (2018), starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, but the portion of the film that covers the journey to adoption is over and done with pretty quickly and is handled with a much more comedic tone overall. Yes, Trying is also a comedy but it’s always aware that it’s dealing with an important and heavy subject matter and handles it with care. As the first season progressed, I realised just how much of the entire process that so many other films that I’d seen in the past had just glossed over or used as a quick plot device. ‘Trying’ attempts to shine a light on the difficulties and exhausting nature of what our characters are going through.

It’s fun!

Despite the weighty subject matter, ‘Trying’ manages to perfectly tow the line between being fun and feel-good and more serious in tone when it needs to be. The more emotional beats are balanced with plenty of moments of levity, brilliant one-liners and snappy, witty dialogue between Nikki and Jason.

The show is accessible and comforting and whilst the adoption storyline is the focus, there are other notable side storylines and supporting characters. These help create a world that pulls you in and will make you want to revisit it again and again, but we’ll touch on that a bit more later.

Esther Smith and Rafe Spall in season two

Likeable and relatable main characters

Rafe Spall and Esther Smith are the centre of the show and they bring an infectious warmth and charm to the lead characters. There is nothing over the top or exaggerated here - Nikki and Jason feel like very real people with very real struggles, both relating to the main storyline and beyond.

Many have commented on how realistic the portrayal of the adoption process is in the show and that it has hit close to the bone for them, but there are other elements at play here that make these characters so relatable and genuine.

You get a real sense that these are two people, neither of whom are exactly where they had planned to be in life. They both work in jobs that pay the bills but don’t offer much else and perhaps feel like their windows of opportunity have closed somewhat. We see glimpses of the characters realise that they are suddenly the old people at the club or in the park playing football, when just yesterday it felt that their whole lives were ahead of them. The show will definitely appeal and feel very relatable to people in that 30-40s age range who are also perhaps dealing with some of those big life events around family, home and career.

Through the struggles of navigating the show’s big moments like the adoption journey and fertility struggles, the quiet moments that Nikki and Jason spend together on-screen are where they really come to life. The moments in which we get to see them just simply being a couple at home are some of the show’s sweetest and funniest moments and what really makes you feel connected to the characters. The show’s bigger moments wouldn’t have the same emotional impact if it weren’t for the ways in which Nikki and Jason have been brought to life by the writing of Andy Wolton and the performances of Rafe Spall and Esther Smith. I’d watch an episode of them just hanging out at home. In fact, if they ever made an episode of Gogglebox with fictional characters, I’d want Nikki and Jason on there!

Whether you’ve gone through the adoption journey or dealt with any of the other major challenges that Nikki and Jason face, you’ll most likely find something in the two characters that you can relate to. But most of all, they are just so downright likeable. It’s been a while since I’ve rooted for two people quite like these guys.

Carefully crafted supporting characters

As likeable and well-written the two main characters are, the show wouldn’t be the same without the excellent supporting cast. Oliver Chris and Ophelia Lovibond are brilliant as Freddy and Erica, who provide some excellent comedy and are given an interesting dramatic storyline of their own as well.

Paula Wilcox and Phil Davis turn in great performances as Jason’s parents. Wilcox pulls off the highly strung, always on edge mother role well and it contrasts so nicely with Davis’ role as the nonchalant Dad who is a man of few words and just wants to be left to his own devices. Together, they portray that classic older generation so well and I actually saw elements of my own parents in their characters at times.

It’s Imelda Staunton; however, who really shines in the role of Penny, Nikki and Jason’s case-worker who’s presence is both comforting and frantic and a character who provides some of the show’s biggest laughs. Penny; who reminded me a lot of a teacher from my childhood, appears often when Nikki and Jason are losing hope and going through their toughest struggles almost like a guardian angel. Her character delivers some fantastic one-liners and visual gags that are often standout moments in any given episode.

What’s great about the supporting characters in this show is how closely their storylines tie in with Jason and Nikki, who are always the central focus and anchor of the show. No side-story or supporting character feels pointless and going into season two, it feels as though the writers have a clearer idea of everyone’s roles and how their own storylines drive the main one, as well as Nikki and Jason character development forward.

Oliver Chris and Ophelia Lovibond Freddy and Erica

Emotional highs and lows

Sure, ‘Trying’ is a comedy show that features plenty of laughs, but it’s a comedy show about a very real subject matter. You’ll laugh with the characters but you’ll get sad and angry with them too. You really get a sense of how much of a toll that the uncertainty of the adoption journey is taking on Nikki and Jason and you can’t help but put yourself in the characters shoes throughout the story. When the characters get good news, you’ll cheer with them and you’ll feel the emotional weight of the challenging times too. The finale of season 1 and the adoption panel scene hit particularly hard and also delivered some of the shows best acting. I’ve found myself holding back tears on several occasions and then almost crying with laughter soon afterwards.

Family, old and new

One of the things that ‘Trying’ does so well is how it portrays family and the ways in which it looks at what family means now and how it compares to years gone by. Two of the show’s best episodes have been ones featuring both Jason and Nikki’s families and witnessing the stark differences in the family dynamic across different generations.

There’s one episode in particular where our main characters attempt to rally the troops and bring their parents together in preparation for their adoption panel background checks, which makes for a fun and at times stressful half hour. For Jason and Nikki, family means adopting a child and building a family home together as well as their group of close friends. Their parents are very much part of the British stiff upper lip generation with more traditional views and in the case of Jason’s mother, some rather archaic and horrible opinions on adoption.

The show does a great job of showcasing that typical British family dynamic and how it’s changed over the years which builds to a couple of fantastic moments in season two. One of my favourite scenes to date involves Jason’s young cousin Emmy, who is clearly in a relationship with her friend Rakhi and one that the rest of the family are completely oblivious to. It’s only Nikki who sees this and realises that they are struggling to find time away from the family. It’s a very sweet moment that was a nice juxtaposition to the more stressful and less understanding interactions between generations seen in earlier episodes.

Emmy and Rahki in one of season two’s most fun moments

The soundtrack

We often joke about the sheer amount of whistling that features in the Trying theme tune at Screen Times HQ and how often it appears in an episode, but the music really sets the tone for the show.

Season one features an eclectic collection of indie and pop music that really drives home both the light-hearted and emotional moments. In season two, Maisie Peters crafted the whole soundtrack after being discovered by the show’s director whilst performing a sound check ahead of a gig in London. For season two, Peters wrote an original song for each episode which she created whilst reading over the scripts. The album notes for the soundtrack on Apple Music are a fascinating read and really details how much care and attention to detail went into crafting each of the songs.

Maisie Peters during a cameo in season one.

In conclusion: Give ‘Trying’ a try

Almost at the mid-way point of its second season, ‘Trying’ is undoubtably a show that deserves your attention. Going in, I expected a light and fluffy half hour British comedy and maybe something I could just switch my brain off to and have on in the background, but it genuinely surprised me. Between the meticulously crafted main characters, an important story told in a very tasteful way, plenty of belly laughs and some real emotional gut punches too. ‘Trying’ is comfort food for the soul that’s not to be missed.

Watch Trying now on Apple TV+

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James Lees
James has been a fan of Apple for as long as he can remember. He is a film & TV obsessive and has also written for several publications such as BBC Good Food Magazine. He lives in Glasgow, Scotland and can usually be found drinking copious amounts of coffee, watching Apple TV+ and talking about it with anyone who will listen.