I Hate You, review: Channel 4's latest sitcom is an absolute dog's dinner

Tanya Reynolds and Melissa Saint in I Hate You - Natalie Seery/Channel 4
Tanya Reynolds and Melissa Saint in I Hate You - Natalie Seery/Channel 4

Calling a TV series I Hate You (All4) is asking for trouble. Especially when that series is so easy to dislike. This misfiring comedy follows twentysomething flatmates Charlie (Sex Education’s Tanya Reynolds) and Becca (rising star Melissa Saint) as they make catastrophic life choices and generally behave abominably. Spend time in the company of these entitled, whiny brats and you’ll soon be muttering the programme title too.

Charlie and Becca aren’t just rude to everyone they meet but actively vile to each other – snooping at each other’s phones, sabotaging each other’s love lives, pouring drinks over each other’s heads. Their friendship simply lacks the ring of truth. They constantly call each other “mate” with no palpable sense of warmth.

The humour here is mainly puerile. Catchphrases include “See ya, diarrhoea” and “Fair enough, furry muff”, which most of us left in the school playground. These overgrown teens sulk, throw strops and refuse to get out of bed. They set “scary dares”, make prank phone calls and refer to their “stupid friends” or “idiot boss”. It’s supposed to be endearing but utterly lacks charm.

Not all fictional heroines have to be “likeable”, of course, but this pair are particularly patience-testing. What’s more, they’re surrounded by a host of equally insufferable supporting characters. When there’s nobody redeemable to root for, why bother watching?

The six-parter is created by Robert Popper, a respected comedy figure with a CV full of hits, most recently Friday Night Dinner. Perhaps the first mistake here was a 54-year-old man trying to write about young female friendship – and then hiring another 50-something male, Inbetweeners’ Damon Beesley, to direct. The likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Michaela Coel, Sharon Horgan and Daisy May Cooper cover this territory brilliantly. It feels presumptuous, and oddly old-fashioned, for middle-aged men to blunder in.

The tone lurches between observational and self-consciously zany. Flashes of surrealism include a talking horse. Charlie’s hapless boss is called Bob Oxygen, like someone on secondment from Toast of London. Several storylines involve lost keys or head injuries, suggesting a dearth of ideas. Too many scenes end on a pratfall or toilet gag as an easy way out. The blaring soundtrack, smash cuts and wonky camera angles can’t conceal a mediocre script.

It sometimes strives for poignancy, notably when someone’s father dies. However, because she doesn’t appear to care, he’s widely agreed to be a wrong’un and viewers never meet him, this falls flat. Characters are given a distinguishing health condition – psoriasis, narcolepsy, irritable bowels – in lieu of believable depth. A misjudged storyline sees Becca repeatedly flirt with her stepbrother, even though everyone tells her it’s creepy.

I suspect Channel 4 knows it has a flop on its hands. That’s probably why I Hate You is debuting on the broadcaster’s catch-up service with little fanfare, before sneaking sheepishly onto terrestrial in a fortnight. Creator Popper and his two talented leads are far better than this disappointing mess.