Brassic - Best ever TV box sets: Joe Gilgun’s love letter to working class Lancs combines humour with heart
Brassic flips the perception of working class life, challenges male mental health taboos and smashes the stereotypes of single mums. The series, streaming on NOW TV, is also hilarious.
Watch Brassic series 1 on Sky One with NOW TV
It’s been described as a heady mix of an X-rated Last of the Summer Wine, a more rural version of Shameless, a more outrageous sibling to This Country, combined with an Inbetweeners-style lad comedy.
But really, there’s nothing like Brassic on TV.
Launching in 2019, the comedy drama tells the story of Lancashire lad Vinnie and the largely criminal-related mayhem he gets up to with his cash-strapped gang of mates.
Co-created by Danny Brocklehurst (Shameless, The Stranger), Brassic leans heavily on true stories from the upbringing of Preacher and This Is England actor Joseph (Joe) Gilgun, who plays Vinnie.
From its refreshing depiction of northern working class life, to breaking the taboo around male mental health, the show was a critical and ratings success.
Here’s why you need to watch Brassic season 1 now, ahead of season 2 coming to Sky One with NOW TV in May 2020 - or simply jump to a specific section from the list below.
- Humour with heart: The laugh-out-loud stories have to be seen to be believed
- An unapologetic love letter to working class Lancashire
- Vinnie’s male mental health storyline couldn’t be more honest
- Empowering Erin: Single mums shown in a positive light
- Critics round up: “Hilarious, empathetic and filthy - exactly what we need on TV!”
*SPOILERS for Brassic season 1*
Joe Gilgun has been wholly honest about the fact that Brassic is semi-autobiographical, based on true stories from his escapades growing up as a rebellious teen in a northern working class town.
In fact, reading interviews with Gilgun, it seems that the show is more than *part* autobiographical, but without getting himself questioned over a past that we can only assume involved stealing tiny horses and growing a secret weed farm, there’s only so much he can admit to.
The 35-year-old BAFTA-nominated actor first started writing down his crazy life stories about six years ago, when his Pride co-star Dominic West suggested he turn his life into a TV show.
Struggling to read or write - Gilgun is dyslexic - he was introduced to fellow BAFTA nominee, screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst, to turn his ideas into a fully-formed script.
The rest, they say, is history.
The character of Vinnie is, of course, based on Gilgun. In fact it’s difficult to know where Joe ends and Vinnie starts. Both live with Bipolar disorder, both live in a shack in the woods, both grew up in a rural Lancashire town, and both are/were career criminals.
Of the character of Vinnie, Gilgun told Chris Evans on his Virgin Radio show: "Me and Vinnie are very similar, and the lines get very blurred for me. I suppose Vinnie's a bit cooler than me, he shoulders his problems more than me. He's a Bipolar career criminal."
Watching Brassic, the storylines can feel too crazy to be believable - for example, accidentally stealing an antique dildo from a local gangster and having to retrieve it from an aggressive sheepdog. But then you realise that the idea for that scene probably came from Gilgun, rooted in some kind of loose truth from his teens. It just makes it feel all the more authentic.
Speaking at a Royal Television Society event, Gilgun confessed that the storylines in the show are “loosely based” on a lot of truths (he could just be saying that to get himself out of trouble!)
He explained: "I became a bit of a career criminal, and some of the jobs I did were just hysterical. You never come away with a f*cking thing, and it's not cool. The way it's portrayed in films and TV, it's just not like that. Slowly over time I'd be embellishing these stories."
He further confessed to The Guardian: “It’s pretty autobiographical. I can’t go into the criminality. I’ll leave that to the viewers to decide what’s real from what isn’t, but a lot of that sh*t has gone down.”
Gilgun has appeared in films and TV shows that depict working class life before (This Is England, Misfits), but Brassic flips the perception on its head and makes it, well, fun!
In a way, Brassic is a love letter to the Lancashire town of Chorley that Gilgun grew up in. So much so that he hopes audiences want to be part of Vinnie’s cash-strapped gang.
He tells NME in an interview: "If you were to take anything away from it, I want you to want to be a part of it, to want to be working class. I don't want you to watch it and think 'that looks f*cking awful'. Cos it ain't all that bad. We get by."
In a separate interview with HeyUGuys, Gilgun confessed that he wanted to show the side of northern, working class Britain that often isn’t seen in the media.
He says: "Any time we've looked at the working classes, it can come across as really quite bleak, and often it's a middle-class view of what it must be like to be working class. This isn't that. Just because you don't have things, doesn't mean you're a miserable tw*t."
Michelle Keegan, who plays feisty single mum Erin in the show, agrees. Like Gilgun, the former Coronation Street actress is proud of her northern working class roots. She grew up in the Manchester city of Salford, the daughter of a school cook and a policeman.
In an NME interview, she says: "I think what they've done really cleverly is, normally when you think of the northern working class area, you think it's quite negative, dark, grimy and gloomy.
“This show sort of lifts that. It's really funny, and you get these amazing characters from these areas. It's shown in a different light."
It’s no coincidence that in Brassic, the Lancashire town where they live is called Hawley, and Gilgun grew up in the Lancs town of Chorley. He hopes the people of Chorley are proud of how he’s depicted it on TV.
He told HeyUGuys: “I sort of lived in the outskirts of Chorley, that's where all my friends were from, and that's the environment that shaped me into the man I am today. It's the people that make a town.
“Some of the best people I know are from Chorley and they have nothing. Some of the most intelligent men and women, are working class men and women.
“You have to work hard to get out of Chorley, because it can be a bit of a trap. There's people who have never left that place, they're quite content with where they are. That's what I wanted to encapsulate in Brassic."
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Joe Gilgun is extremely open about his mental health. Nobody could accuse him of shying away from important topics, like access to medication on the NHS, and getting mental health issues at the forefront of the public consciousness.
Vinnie is open about his mental health on Brassic, too. Within the first few minutes of the opening episode, the audience discovers he’s living with Bipolar disorder.
It’s a subtle but important plot point. We see conversations with Vinnie’s bumbling GP (Dominic West) but also scenes where Vinnie’s discussing his mental health with his gang of mates, or simply struggling to face the day, at home.
It breaks down the taboo that men don’t tend to discuss their feelings, or open up when they’re not OK.
In a candid conversation with HeyUGuys, Gilgun confessed that one of his aims with Brassic is for the audience to understand how vulnerable living with a mental health condition makes you.
He explained: "I get very troubled. I can go to a very dark place. I know I'm vulnerable and a lot of this [show] is very, very personal.
“I really want people to see how vulnerable it is, how vulnerable it [Bipolar] makes you, and be as honest as I can about that. If people still like me at the end of it, then maybe I am worth loving myself. Maybe."
And in a separate interview with NME, Gilgun revealed that the mental health elements of the Brassic storyline are the most closely linked to his real life - down to the meds that Vinnie takes.
In the brutally honest interview, he says: "My mental health is f*cked, I'm a lunatic. I really struggle. I'm either down here or up there, and when I'm in the middle I'm just f*cking bored.
“I wanted to be very honest, and I wanted to expose myself. I wanted to show everybody what it's like to suffer, to live with, the condition of Bipolar. I wanted to be very honest, and make it as autobiographical as I possibly could.
“The mental health side is the most honest part of the show. Even down to the medicine [Vinnie] takes with Dr. Chris - that's the exact medicine I take every evening to keep myself stable."
There’s another powerful storyline also rooted in truth. In Brassic, Vinnie’s dad is an alcoholic - we see flashbacks of a young Vin surrounded by a life of crime thanks to his dad.
In an interview with Vice, Gilgun confessed that Vinnie’s dad is based on his own dad, who’s an alcoholic. “You don’t wake up one day and think ‘I’ll be an alcoholic’. Life just knocks you about so badly, and if you don’t get help from the right channels, you’ll self-medicate eventually.”
Bravo to Gilgun and the rest of the Brassic writing team for depicting living with a mental health condition so authentically, so audiences come away with a real understanding of the suffering that Vinnie, Gilgun, and millions more people endure.
Single parents, and more specifically single mothers, are often portrayed in a negative light in the media. Brassic breaks this stereotype - turning it on its head completely.
American journalist Nancy Jo Sales wrote in The Guardian in 2017: "In an alternate universe somewhere, there’s a show about single mums who are good mums. They work hard, make their kids priority number one, and run sane, loving households where their children are safe and happy."
While it’s obviously not a show focused on single parenting, it is one of the main storylines in Brassic. We see single mum Erin (Michelle Keegan) working hard to leave the town she grew up in to provide a better life for her son, who she had after a one-night stand. “She realised that she wanted her son to have more opportunities that she did”, Keegan explained.
The portrayal of Erin as an empowered, young, single mother, who’s taking control of her life, is refreshing. Joe Gilgun agrees. He tells NME: “Erin’s a symbol of many young women, single parent families on their own, single mothers, they're heroes.
“I see those young girls pushing their prams and they've been left, the men have f*cked off, and they're left to raise this child, look after themselves, keep the house clean, do their job. They're absolute heroes."
Keegan herself praises Erin’s fiery personality and independence. Erin doesn’t rely on anyone else - in fact it’s safer to say her boyfriend Dylan (Damian Moloney) relies on her instead.
The Our Girl actress says of Erin: "(She is) definitely a positive role model. Erin’s an empowering role for women, especially for single mums as well and it puts her in a positive light.
“And I love the fact that she’s fiercely independent and she’s very fiery. But in Erin as well, she’s really quite emotional and you see that as the series progresses. You see that side of her as well."
Critics and audiences lapped it up - Brassic was Sky's biggest original comedy launch since 2012, with more than 1.6million viewers watching the opening episode in the first seven days, reports Chortle.
Chris Evans called it the "funniest thing he's ever seen" on his Virgin Radio show, with an army of fans labelling it absolutely "hilarious".
Lucy Mangan from The Guardian gave it 4 stars, calling it a "a hilarious, warm, brutal melange that works because it has heart without sentimentality and authenticity without strain."
The Telegraph's Gabriel Tate also dished out 4 stars, describing the series as "an X-rated Last of the Summer Wine" and calling Gilgun a "fine actor".
David Sexton from The Evening Standard says the "tale of cheeky rogues is pure filth - exactly what we need on TV."
And The New Statesman's Anna Leszkiewicz calls out its authenticity, writing: "Brassic is a wild but empathetic series exploring the aspirations, relationships and severely limited opportunities of eccentric people in an ordinary place."
We can only hope that’s enough approval for Gilgun, who confessed that he suffers from imposter syndrome, and desperately wants the show to be a success.
"Brassic has taught me that I'm not stupid”, he told HeyUGuys. “I can't read and I can't write, and I've got Bipolar, I struggle with my mood and my behaviour all the time. Honestly I'm like a yoyo.
“I've always assumed that I'm not capable and I'm not stupid... I've always felt like an imposter. For the first time, I don't feel like an imposter. I feel like I've really earned this."
The Brassic season 1 box set is available to watch on NOW TV. Season 2 is coming May 2020.