When you’re scrolling Netflix’s endless selection of movies and television programs, it often seems like you’ve seen everything, and everything you haven’t seen isn’t any good. Whenever you find yourself in this predicament, take a chance on the show “Chewing Gum.” Originally released on the British network E4 in October 2015, the show has received critical success across the pond. Creator and writer Michaela Coel plays the main character, Tracey Gordon. The show follows 24-year-old Gordon as she breaks the confinement of her religion and overbearing family in her attempt to navigate the world and lose her virginity.
Inspired by her one-woman play, “Chewing Gum Dreams,” “Chewing Gum” serves as a breakout sensation for Coel. She has received a British Academy Television Award for Best Female Comedy Performance and for Breakthrough Talent for writing the show.
The character of Tracey Gordon is a filthy, ignorant, and confused young woman. Like Coel herself was during her late teens, Tracey is an evangelical Christian. (While parallels exist between the lives of Coel and her character, most of Tracey’s journey differs from that of her creator.) Frequently breaking the fourth wall, Coel manages to steer the show away from gimmick by conveying each and every emotion of Gordon’s character with a minuscule facial tic.
Although Coel followed a dissimilar path to Gordon’s, parallels can be placed. She credits her conversion to her creative flowering as a writer and performer. After attending drama school, she ended her relationship with religion, and in a broad sense, the world of her show portrays this rejection.
Before diving into Coel’s beautifully crafted “Chewing Gum” world, you need to be prepared for dialogue that is both outrageous and thoroughly believable. No issue is off limit in this show. Tracey discusses her menstruation period as casually as the weather. Beware of the expulsion of bodily fluids, random shots of penises, and a suicide sex kink. Having said this, Coel incorporates these elements to make the program both filthy and realistic.
“Chewing Gum” is also fearless in its discussion of race. Gordon’s best friend is a mixed race young woman with a white mother and white sisters, who is dating a Black man. Her love interest shifts from the mom-approved Black man to the unmotivated white man. Gordon has an optimistic naivety about her which allows the viewer to root for her while eagerly awaiting her to stumble into the next punchline.
With the issue of race acting subtly rather than overtly, Coel is able to focus on the issues of class in British society. Coel’s show has the breadth to create more jokes that appeal to the masses while catering to a specific class of people. This power allows her to appeal to audiences worldwide. Her material does not feel strictly British, but it acknowledges its culture and society in a satirical way.
As a former evangelical Christian, Coel is not afraid to broach the topic of religion, honoring its positives while simultaneously criticizing its restrictive qualities. By acting as caricatures of members of organized religion, Gordon’s immediate family engages in protesting against society’s sexually liberated qualities through things like using a megaphone to shame passersby and Gordon’s mom imposing antiquated gender roles on her daughters.
At the start of the show, Gordon’s relationship to sex was quite limited. The bulk of her interactions is inspired by fantasy and raw desire. Instead of focusing on these passionate emotions, the crux of the comedy comes from its sex scenes. The scenes are awkward and absurd, yet relating to the fact that sex can, in fact, be just that: absurd and awkward. Especially when Gordon addresses the camera in these instances, the audience receives an inside look into her mind processing. Is she supposed to wear clothes when she sits on her partner’s face? You’re left to wrestle with the absurdity of the statement and the context with which it’s used.
What’s so enticing about “Chewing Gum” is Coel’s ability to be extremely personable without taking herself too seriously. So, the next time you want to see a 24-year-old black British woman, who has an unhealthy obsession for Beyoncé, simultaneously fail and succeed at discovering sex, look no further than to Netflix’s “Chewing Gum.”
Currently broadcasting its second season on E4, Netflix is expected to release the current season on the streaming service at its close.