Sugar Rush Recaps: S1E1

by thethreepennyguignol

In case you missed it, I’m bisexual. I am very much on the bi side of the spectrum. When it comes to sexuality: straight I ain’t. And since this is my blog, I can yell as much as I like about things that interest me, and the representation of the non-straights in pop culture has always been one of them. So it only seems right, after the decided chasteness of my last set of recaps, that I take on something a little more…sexual. A little more gay. A little more…Sugar Rush.

For those who don’t know, Sugar Rush is a British TV series based on a book of the same name by the self-described “spontaneous”-ly sexual Julie Burchill (she doesn’t like the term “bisexual”, but has dated both men and women). It follows Kim Daniels, a fifteen-year-old lesbian, and her intense relationship with her best friend and uber-crush, Sugar. It came out in 2005, and I watched it a few years later, just after I started high school. And, man, oh (wo)man, did this series have an impact on me.

Sugar Rush was probably one of the first depictions of LGBT people I’d ever seen where LGBT people were actually the focus. Most of the movies on those topics coming out around the time seemed to be worthy Oscar-bait that wasn’t accessible or relevant to my experience (and hell, that’s still true a lot of the time – see Call Me By Your Name for reference. Actually, don’t, see Love, Simon instead, it’s way better). Even something like the inestimably glamorous The L-Word (that theme song still sends me into nuclear cringe) seemed distant. But Sugar Rush was different. And that’s why I want to write about it.

Sugar Rush was fucking revolutionary to me when it first came crashing, Blondie soundtrack and all, into my life, as a currently-closeted bisexual who was pretty sure? That girls were pretty and that I wanted to kiss them on the mouth, but not confident enough in that knowledge to bother with telling anyone about it. And honestly, watching this first episode, as an out and proud and some would say too loud unstraight, I can see why.

I think one of the things I like/d so much about this show was that it isn’t a coming-out story in the traditional sense. There’s plenty of room for stories that cover people coming to terms with their sexuality – it’s a pretty universal part of the LGBTQ experience, after all – but there was something reassuring about the fact that this story opens at “I’m a lesbian, here’s what that’s like for me” as opposed to “am I gay? Perhaps. Maybe I should jump off a building now”, as most of the appallingly and endlessly tragic narratives seemed to follow for gay media. I mean, for God’s sake, the very first scene of the show is Kim (as played by Olivia Hallinan) masturbating with an electric toothbrush over a fantasy of her best friend, Sugar (Leonora Crichlow). This didn’t come to play. 

This first episode, like all pilots, is the definitive statement on what this show is going to be: “Why is everyone so fucked up about sex?” Kim ponders to herself early in the episode, and if this isn’t a statement of what’s to come, I don’t know what is. Her mother (who insists that Kim and her younger brother address both her parents by their first names) is having a (surprisingly graphic, doggy-style) affair, Sugar encourages her to lose her virginity while admitting that she herself can barely recollect her own sexual encounters, and her next door neighbour (played by ANDREW GARFIELD, for goodness’ sake) is pursuing her romantically despite her obvious lack of interest (the actual agony of the scene in which he attempts to intelligently discuss Che Guevara without coming across as A Bit Gay hits so close to home I’m suing this show for assault, by the way).

But we’ll get into those later: this episode is really about Kim trying to figure out what her sexuality means for her as it relates to Sugar, an apparently totally straight girl oblivious to her feelings for her. What this show gets so right, I think, is the utter starvation a lot of queer people have as young adults when it comes to physical affection. And, especially, the way that starvation is complicated when you’re surrounded by people who are happy to be physically affectionate without realizing the weight it carries for you – there’s something inherently confusing about engaging in acts of affection that are connected to romantic relationships (in this episode, Kim and Sugar cuddle in bed, sit on each other’s laps, get undressed in front of one another, and so on), but knowing that they aren’t contextualised in that way in this circumstance.

And, of course, there’s a frustration in how easy the straight people around you seem to have it. Kim is barraged by straightness from every angle – her mother’s affair, the advances of her neighbour, and Sugar’s fiery relationship with her boyfriend – while her lesbianism seems almost invisible by comparison. The best she’s got is her toothbrush and what exists in her own head – and, well, being called a dyke by random boys she doesn’t instantly want to fuck. Which, you know, yeah, been there. Her sexuality is an insult in a world where straightness is a given.

I’m going to be taking the rest of the episodes two at a time, and I’m hoping to get them up weekly, so please tune in if you’re interested in following a deep-dive into some primo early-noughties LGBT media. If you watched the show growing up like I did, let me know the impact it had (or didn’t have) below in the comments below. And if you haven’t seen it yet – what are you waiting for? Get on that! If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

(header image via Radio Times)