Pure Season 1 Review – a masterful, essential comedy-drama about mental health

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: August 28, 2020 (Last updated: November 20, 2023)
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As sensitive and dark as it is hilarious, Pure is an essential comedy-drama about mental health, sex, and living with issues pertaining to both.

Pure has plenty of awkward moments, but it lives in the space between them; the speechifying and lead-balloon jokes right before the orgy and the horror in its aftermath, not the orgy itself – I use this example since it’s an orgy between 24-year-old Marnie’s (Charly Clive) family and friends at her parents’ wedding anniversary that kicks off the six-episode comedy-drama that has made its way from Channel 4 to HBO Max.

Marnie suffers from Pure O, a little known form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder characterized not by turning light switches on and off or anything of that nature but by uncontrollably intrusive thoughts, often horrifying ones. In Marnie’s case, they’re sexual in nature and uncomfortably graphic. But Pure isn’t a sex comedy, really; it’s much more about the interiority of someone with mental health issues, about how they navigate life and relationships, and about coping with something so intrusive yet so internal and invisible.

This journey isn’t one Marnie undertakes alone. After fleeing rural Scotland for London in an attempt to try and decipher what’s “wrong” with her, Marnie moves in with her school pal Shereen (Kiran Sonia Sawar) and befriends sex addict Charlie (Joe Cole, always brilliant). Her experiences are shared but nonetheless personal and specific, and Pure expertly handles the complicated balance of genres and tones that allows the show to mine comedy from a mental health issue without ever making mental health itself the punchline.

With the show is funny, it’s also pitch-dark at times and is as interested in turmoil and trauma as it is in jokes. Newcomer Clive delivers a wondrously layered performance as a young woman living with something nobody else can see; in our new, increasingly enlightened and open age of frankness surrounding mental health, it’s the perfect example of how there’s always more to uncover about what a person is going through. Empathetic, compelling, and quite excellent, Pure is an essential dark comedy-drama.

HBO Max, TV Reviews
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