“We are unable to produce something serious”: the disgusting humor in the film Such Brave Girls, created by the sibling writers.
In the spring of 2020, when the country went into lockdown for the initial time, sisters Kat Sadler and Lizzie Davidson finally had a chance to catch up over the phone. Unfortunately, they both had troubling updates to share: Davidson had accumulated a debt of £20,000 while Sadler had suffered a severe mental health decline and had been hospitalized after attempting suicide twice.
Did the two individuals react to one another with sincere empathy? Not exactly. In reality, they immediately concluded that it was both “frightening yet amusing” that they had ended up in their current situations, according to Sadler. “We’re not very serious people, so even when we tried to be serious on the phone and tell each other what happened, we just couldn’t do it.” Davidson concurs, stating, “We always manage to find the ridiculousness in everything – it’s how we cope.”
After that, Sadler, a comedian who now writes jokes for TV, immediately got to work on a script based on their conversation. Three years later, it has become the sitcom Such Brave Girls, which is widely considered the funniest British comedy of the year. Sadler plays the role of Josie, a nervous and indecisive twentysomething who is also struggling with her sexuality and recently spent time in a psychiatric ward. Her younger sister Billie, played by Davidson, is aggressive, self-absorbed, and dangerously fixated on her on-again, off-again boyfriend Nicky. The show is dark, hilarious, and unapologetically honest – a must-watch for millennials.
One week prior to the airing, the duo, who reside in Sutton, London, are filled with excitement. “I make it a habit to check the TV schedule every morning to see the show’s name for next week. I know, I’m a bit of a loser,” admits Davidson (the sisters have different last names because Sadler uses a stage name). The filming experience was also anxiety-inducing. “Before each table read, we would call each other in tears and panic,” shares Davidson, still feeling a bit out of breath. “We both struggled with imposter syndrome.”
Both Sadler, 29, and Davidson, 26, had no previous experience in screen acting. Sadler had established himself as a writer for TV programs such as The Mash Report and Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back. Meanwhile, Davidson had been involved in a children’s show called Shrek’s Adventure in London, where she frequently dealt with rude and aggressive kids. In response to potential criticism, she jokes that it won’t affect her since she is used to dealing with difficult children. This experience inspired her character Billie, who works as a witch at the gloomy Kidz Cauldron.
The depiction of the Brave Girls in the show may be controversial. It contains humor about sensitive topics such as sex, death, abortion, and suicide. However, it is never uncomfortable or malicious. This is partly because it is based on reality: Sadler and Davidson are able to joke about these topics because they are essentially poking fun at themselves. They take what they believe are their worst qualities and incorporate them into the characters of Josie and Billie. Josie shares Sadler’s belief that her trauma makes her interesting, while also displaying selfishness and narcissism. Billie reflects Davidson’s obsession with attention and validation from both men and women, as well as her loud and rude behavior. Davidson jokingly denies any similarity to Billie’s character and finds it strange that Sadler wrote these traits for her.
In the show, the character Davidson’s financial troubles are now inherited by Josie and Billie’s mother, Deb. This was caused by the girls’ father leaving her in debt after going out to buy tea bags 10 years ago and never returning. (I assume their biological father did not do the same? “No, he did not go out for tea bags,” says Sadler.) The series follows Deb’s desperate attempts to win over new love interest Dev (played by Paul Bazely from Benidorm) so that they can all move into his luxurious home. Louise Brealey from Sherlock plays Bev, who goes against her usual type as a self-absorbed person who desperately wants her daughters to appear “feminine” and is frustrated by her oldest daughter’s struggles with mental health.
In the first episode, she scolds Josie for having a sad expression that is hindering Dev from becoming aroused. According to the sisters, she is a fictional character, but the conversation was influenced by the way they communicate with each other. Sadler explains, “My mother and I often have similar discussions. She becomes upset if I neglect to shave my legs, which is very important to her. I find the older generation’s fixation on femininity quite amusing.”
Although Deb may seem overly aggressive, even threatening to harm Josie, Such Brave Girls ultimately explores the relatable and complicated relationship between a mother and her two daughters. What sets this show apart is its ability to find humor in serious mental health issues. Some of the funniest moments come from Deb and Billie’s exasperation with Josie’s words and actions, but the show also playfully pokes fun at the writer, Sadler herself. In fact, Sadler admits to intentionally writing Josie as an annoying character in order to lighten the seriousness of depression. By portraying depression in a humorous light, it becomes less intimidating.
Although Josie has a history of depression, it is Billie who frequently talks about wanting to end her own life. She mentions using a kitchen knife or even a toilet to do so, and often sends out absurdly exaggerated messages to Nicky, who remains unfazed. Billie will do anything to get his attention, even going as far as to foam at the mouth in pain while bleaching her hair – something that Davidson herself has actually done in the past. “A lot of the chaotic things that may seem unbelievable are actually based on real experiences,” she confesses.
While the series is already dark and delicious, it had potential to be even darker. The writers, in an effort to shock each other, constantly tried to outdo themselves and then presented their work to the producers, who sometimes advised against certain ideas. A24, a prominent production company, co-produced the show. Sadler shares that they were instructed to establish trust with the audience before taking risks and pushing boundaries. She believes that although there is room for more bravery in future seasons, the show is already quite daring.
Sadler was determined not to change the format of the sitcom. She strongly opposed transforming Such Brave Girls into a lighthearted dramedy, stating in a recent BBC interview that she was tired of watching shows that felt too safe and nice. Director Simon Bird, known for his role as Will in The Inbetweeners, supported Sadler’s vision to make the show purely funny while also addressing difficult topics. The traditional “sadcom” approach was rejected, as Sadler believed that delicate treatment of serious issues only made them more unsettling.
Reworded: For the series, Sadler drew comedic inspiration from Sharon Horgan’s 2000s sitcom Pulling, as well as Peep Show (“I feel like we’re twisted versions of Mark and Jeremy”) and the Netflix sketch show I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson. According to Sadler, Robinson excels at playing a character who is deeply troubled but tries to maintain a facade of control. This served as inspiration for Billie’s character, who has a lot of inner turmoil.
The dynamic between real-life sisters in The Country, Stath Lets Flats, and Juice is reminiscent of other sitcoms featuring siblings. Writing partners Sadler and Davidson formed a strong bond while creating the show, sharing personal and dark stories with each other. However, their familiarity also led to tense moments on set, such as Sadler forgetting her lines and Davidson becoming upset.
Although there were some minor issues, the project fulfilled Davidson’s wildest dreams. Prior to this, she felt lost and without direction in her life. Kate guided her and pushed her forward – thank you, Kate. Sadler believes that her sister felt limited in her potential. It was a wonderful experience to help her see how truly talented she is. She has a knack for being hilariously annoying – I could spend years crafting something and she’ll come up with something on the spot that’s a million times funnier. Indeed, Davidson’s performance is a comedic masterpiece.
These courageous women were a source of support for Sadler as well. According to Davidson, “This show was a lifesaver for both of us.” Turning their struggles into jokes has been a healing experience, as Sadler echoes, “It’s been so cathartic.” She also credits the show with reigniting her passion. Looking back at their conversation on the phone, they can now laugh at the things they said to each other that used to hurt.
The BBC Three premiere of Brave Girls will take place on 22 November.
In the United Kingdom, individuals can reach out to Mind at 0300 123 3393 or Childline at 0800 1111 for support. In the United States, Mental Health America can be contacted at 988 for calls or texts, or through their website 988lifeline.org. For those in Australia, assistance is accessible through Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636, Lifeline at 13 11 14, and MensLine at 1300 789 978.