With scenes of sex, drug use and ‘the best bit of swearing all year’, Alma’s Not Normal is the dark comedy that has captured the attention of television fans.
The six-part BBC Two series, which premiered on Monday, fearlessly dives into hard-hitting issues faced by protagonist Alma such as mental health and addiction, while still managing to be a ‘hilarious character driven comedy’.
It follows Alma, played by Sophie Willan, as she navigates her way through a break up with her drug dealer boyfriend who paid her rent, and visits with her heroin-addicted mum (Siobhan Finneran), who has been sectioned for arson.
The semi-autobiographical series, set in Willan’s hometown of Bolton, was penned by the comedian and has won praise from viewers who have hailed the bittersweet comedy ‘breathtaking’.
Alma’s Not Norma follows the titular character, played by Sophie Willan (pictured in the BBC Two drama) as she navigates her way through a break up with her drug dealer boyfriend and her heroin-addicted mum sectioned for arson
Alma’s heroin-addicted mum (Siobhan Finneran, pictured) has been sectioned for arson and her daughter regularly pays her visits
Adapted from Willan’s award-winning stage show, the pilot episode of the sitcom bagged a BAFTA Award last year.
Sophie is a writer, actor and comedian – having won various awards for her standup – and in 2016 took her debut stand up show based on her experiences of growing up in and out of the care system, as well as her mother’s mental health issues and working as an escort, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The new series begins with aspiring actress Alma cycling to the job centre, where she says that she has no qualifications or experience, but does have plenty of ‘pizazz’.
She compares the first seven years of her life, living with her drug addict mother and not attending school, to the baby from Trainspotting if she’d lived’.
Her no-nonsense best friend Leanne (Jayde Adams, pictured) has the ‘mannerisms of a truck driver and the rock and roll sex appeal of Debbie Harry’
Ben Willbond also features in the series, as a besotted client who has sex with Alma in a swanky hotel before asking if he can book her every night of the week
Alma, who routinely dresses in garish pink fur coats, is left devastated when her boyfriend, a taxi driver who moonlights as a drug dealer, leaves her for a younger woman.
She regularly visits her grandmother Joan (Lorraine Ashbourne), a ‘silk cut smoking, vodka drinking animal print loving whirlwind’, who charges her 80p for a cigarette.
Her no-nonsense best friend Leanne (Jayde Adams) has the ‘mannerisms of a truck driver and the rock and roll sex appeal of Debbie Harry’.
Despite a frank telling off from her pal, Alma soon sleeps with her ex, who pays her £500 to leave before his new girlfriend gets home.
In the episode she convinces her grandmother to visit her mum for the first time in five years. Her mum had been admitted to a psyche ward after habitually setting fires due to drug induced psychosis.
Faced with a job as a ‘sandwich artist’ at a local deli, and after hearing a tale of a pal who earned £250 an hour and managed to buy a flat with a garage in Wales after taking up escorting, Alma becomes a prostitute.
Her mum, played by Siobhan Finneran, had been admitted to a psyche ward after habitually setting fires due to drug induced psychosis
In one episode she convinces her grandmother Joan (Lorraine Ashbourne, pictured) to visit her mum for the first time in five years. She later goes to dinner with her daughter and her partner Jim (Nicolas Asbury)
Ben Willbond also features in the series, as a besotted client who has sex with Alma in a swanky hotel before asking if he can book her every night of the week.
In one harrowing scene, where prostitutes take drugs and party with a group of men, Alma becomes uncomfortable when her client tries to short change her, before trying to have unprotected sex and becoming aggressive.
When another man refused to pay one of the prostitutes before sex, the situation turned violent and one of the men pinned a sex worker to the wall by her throat. Alma promptly kicked him in the crotch and ran away.
Speaking on Women’s Hour, she said that Alma is either ‘very optimistic or deluded’ and that ‘she’s full of life, full of joy, and has an idea of herself that is beyond her current situation.’
Sophie says her character navigates her way through a family of ‘eccentric family of complicated women’ and said that while element are fictional, some experiences have been drawn from her life.
Faced with a job as a ‘sandwich artist’ at a local deli, Alma goes to various auditions to try and forge a career as an actress
After hearing a tale of a pal who earned £250 an hour and managed to buy a flat with a garage in Wales after taking up escorting, Alma becomes a prostitute. She’s pictured with her employer Ray Ray (Thanyia Moore)
‘Quite a bit of it is drawn on my personal experiences’, said Sophie. ‘But there is a joy in doing something fictional, it’s refreshing.
‘She’s a different age to me, her experiences are slightly different which just opens things up, you don’t have to feel stuck with your own experiences.’
In the first episode it is revealed that Alma was expelled from school for turning up drunk wearing a bikini – something Sophie said really happened.
‘I’ve still got the letter from my headmaster, she said. ‘He sent me a letter just sent me a letter saying “Sophie regularly arrives at school in non uniform, and then it says in brackets, bikini on one occasion”.
Fans have been hooked by the show, with one hailing it ‘genius’, while another said they were settling in to binge watch the entire series in one go.
Fans have been hooked by the show, with one hailing it ‘genius’, while another said they were settling in to binge watch the entire series in one go
‘I very rarely re-watch telly progs, me, but @sophiewillan’s #AlmasNotNormal is a rare one. Genius in every way. Howlin’ just as much second time ’round’, one wrote.
‘Have to say I rather enjoyed Alma’s Not Normal. Great cast and some of the best swearing I’ve heard in ages!’, another said.
‘Alma’s Not Normal is a throwback to the days of proper character driven comedy , Hilarious & so very obviously not written by committee , as it says on the tin it was written by you .. about to binge watch the lot as I cannot wait’, penned a third.
A fourth commented: ‘Have just binge watched the whole series of Alma’s Not Normal. Absolutely breathtaking!’