There’s a fresh crop of series coming out of the UK this year that feel like they have their finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary, Western society. Michaela Coel’s soon to be broadcast I May Destroy You, is one. But first up we have Trigonometry, codirected and coproduced by Chevalier director Athina Rachel Tsangari, arriving on Australian screens via the Berlin International Film Festival and the BBC.
In this 8-part snapshot of now, we’re introduced to a monogamous, straight-ish couple, Gemma (Thalissa Teixeira) and Kieran (Gary Carr), who have reluctantly decided to rent their spare bedroom out to increase cashflow. Their new tenant is Ray (Ariane Labed) a thirty-something, recently retired, synchronised swimmer who, until now, has been sheltered from the world by her parents and her athletic career.
Ray’s moving out of home for the first time, but she thinks the universe has been wanting her to do this for some time. So, she makes a pact with herself: the next time the universe gives her a sign, she’s going to take it, and the universe is quick to reply. As Ray moves in, both Gemma and Kieran find themselves separately attracted to her, and a triangle is born.
Love triangles and throuples have been sources of conflict and drama in film and TV for quite some time (Threesome, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and more recently You Me Her, Why Women Kill). However, as the title here suggests, every triangle is different with sides of varying length putting a different strain on each of the three angles, always teetering near breaking point. What feels refreshing about Trigonometry is that it isn’t exploitative, and it’s not a cautionary tale. It’s just real life – funny, quirky and genuine.
In some way, the triangle on-screen feels reinforced by a creative triangle behind the scenes. Ariane Labed and Athina Rachel Tsangari first worked together ten years ago on Attenberg (2010). In her first on-screen role, Labed gave an award-winning performance as, again, a charming and naïve woman stepping out from the shadow of her father when he becomes terminally ill, and she brings a similar idiosyncratic charm to Trigonometry. The pair also worked together on Yorgos Lanthimos' Alps (2011) which Tsangari produced. The worthy third invited into their creative partnership is showrunner Duncan MacMillan, who also cowrote the series. MacMillan has a feather in his cap the size of The Crown (2016–), but his creative chops have mostly been carved out writing and directing for the stage. And perhaps because of this background, or purely by chance, Tsangari decided to film sequences as if she was filming live theatre, moving through close quarters as situations unfold like an invisible fourth housemate – that being the audience’s ever-engaged eye.
There’s much more to be said about Trigonometry, but perhaps it’s best kept for an audience who has met the untethered synchronised swimmer and her two housemates. Hopefully you’ll meet them soon.
– Reece Goodwin, 21 August 2020
Trigonometry premieres on SBS Viceland on Friday 21 August at 10:30pm and on SBS On Demand on the same day.