ometimes it’s hard to believe that Mood is writer-star Nicôle Lecky’s first TV drama. Melding a thoughtful, nuanced exploration of the hazy areas between empowerment and exploitation online with music video-style sequences (soundtracked by genres ranging from rap to Dua Lipa-esque synth-pop) is an ambitious task, but her story-telling is so assured from the off that you never doubt that she’ll stick the landing.
Like Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum, Lecky’s Mood started life as a one-woman show on the London stage; she debuted Superhoe at the Royal Court in 2019, with the Standard describing her performance as “a revelation”. That’s probably where those comparisons should end, though, as Mood is a very different beast, and not just because of the aforementioned musical interludes. The darkness in this story isn’t necessarily mined for laughs (though our deadpan lead Sasha can be savagely funny, just like some of her brutal song lyrics) and there’s a real sense of precariousness at its heart.
Aspiring singer Sasha (Lecky) is introduced via the music video shoot of her dreams, strutting through East London accompanied by dancers, bursts of colourful smoke and a fully produced backing track – until the colour drains out, the dancing stops and the music fades to a tinny beat from her phone. When she wakes up at her mum (Jessica Hynes)’s house, she’s confronted by the wreckage of a terrible night out – congealing takeaway, 44 calls to her ex-boyfriend and, most damning of all, a burned puffa coat. Cue a knock at the door from the police, asking whether she set fire to said ex-boyfriend’s house last night.
After a fight with her stepdad, Sasha is kicked out of the family home. A chance meeting pulls her into the orbit of Carly (Lara Peake), an influencer with an enviably swish flat and the ability to secure guest list spots at every fast fashion launch in town (one scene in which the pair attend a party to mark another Instagram star’s collaboration with a beauty brand is a riot of flower walls, inexplicably giant cuddly toys, branded goodie bags and carefully engineered #squadgoals photo opportunities).
At the start of one fever-dream musical set-piece, the man behind the counter at the benefits office tells her she is classified as “intentionally homeless” because her mum has not written them a letter informing them why Sasha can no longer live with her (then the rest of the staff suddenly start singing “you’re a lazy scrounging stain on the nation” to the people queuing).
Carly has a spare room in her flat, and offers it to Sasha, who by now knows that her friend has another lucrative revenue stream, separate to her #spon – an account on DailyFans, an OnlyFans-style platform for online sex work. “It’s like making free f**king money,” Carly says, “no different from putting bikini pics up on your Instagram,” and though her new roommate is initially unconvinced, soon Sasha gets set up with her own account and an alter ego, to earn some money to record her EP.
Carly’s experiences on and offline are inevitably markedly different to those of Sasha, who is consistently fetishised because she is mixed race; an earlier conversation between Sasha’s friend Abi, who is black, and her white housemate about ‘freeing the nipple’ explores some similar territory. “You posh girls… if we did that round here, everyone would be chatting s**t, saying we’re loose,” she notes.
Are Carly and Sasha empowered or are they kidding themselves? Lecky doesn’t get didactic or try to force tidy moral conclusions upon us about Carly and Sasha’s work, but she never glamourises it either. Instead she offers a kaleidoscope of different perspectives, opinions and rationales: what might have been a one-note cautionary tale ends up, in her hands, as a consistently challenging and compelling piece.
Mood is on BBC iPlayer and BBC Three from March 1, 10.05pm