Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope: Aisling is a habit we can’t shake

One of the freshest, funniest shows on TV absorbs everything jittery about modern Ireland

In this clip from the first episode of the new series, Aisling tries to get hold of Danielle's number. Video: RTE2/Can't Cope, Won't Cope

 

One of the freshest, funniest and most alarming shows on television ended 18 months ago with an otherwise pedestrian sight, familiar to most nightclubs – one best friend dramatically abandoning another.

In truth, Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope saw it coming. Sometimes the sheer energy of its two young Cork protagonists, a hot panic of partying and misadventure, seemed unsustainable – ready to either blow up or burn out. Even Dublin, which never looked better or younger than through their perspective, wasn’t big enough for the both of them.

When we last saw Aisling (Seána Kerslake), the life and soul of the party (which is to say, a high-functioning alcoholic with impulsivity issues), even Coppers had begun to look small. Fresh from a comeuppance with the guards and pushed out of her apparently effortless corporate job, Aisling set a course for the dance floor and boozy obliteration.

Her flatmate Danielle (Nika McGuigan), gradually straightening up as an art student, chose to save herself instead and leave for Canada, the most sobering place in the world.

You could say they had simply become two different people, but the truth in Stefanie Preissner’s well-observed show is that they always seemed like two versions of the same person, making opposite choices. Splitting was a matter of survival. So, should they now get back together, or are they better off apart?

“She’s opening all my Snaps, but she’s not responding,” Aisling complains, with the instant anxiety of the social media age. Scrolling through exorbitant Dublin rents on one app, and attempting to flog a stolen jacket on another, it’s hard to decide if Aisling’s wilder behaviour is enabled by technology, or triggered by it, but director Imogen Murphy here effortlessly absorbs everything sleek and jittery about modern Ireland.

The biggest joke of the first episode is whether or not Aisling has learned her lesson. Any fans of the show who are preserved from the Victorian era, and hoping that all those wasted one-night stands will finally catch up with her, will have been neatly baited by the sight of Aisling about to breastfeed a new baby. (It’s actually her brother, and a gesture that’s quite in character.)

The funniest variation of the joke, though, is how far away from self-insight Aisling still remains. She wriggles out of the smallest responsibilities, falls for obvious property scams, and, in one wicked scene, hits up her granny in a nursing home for a loan while just stopping short – slightly less in character – from exploiting someone else’s.

Why, then, are we also so willing to think about Aisling? In part it’s because Kerslake is brilliant in the part: ethereal without seeming unreal, able to change from a self-absorbed pout to vivacious glee in a heartbeat. But it’s also because Aisling is immense fun – and Preissner knows it.

Like the double dare, the bad idea, the one that’s one too many, Aisling is destructive but intoxicating, a habit we can’t shake.

“You are like a scar that won’t fade,” Danielle tells her by the episode’s conclusion, still an ocean away, like a recovering self-harmer. Don’t bank on that keeping them apart. The uncomfortable truth – and the reason this is still such a compulsive show to watch – is that they are nothing without each other.

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