7 Reasons You Should Be Watching HBO’s ‘I May Destroy You’

I May Destroy You
Courtesy of HBO

HBO’s I May Destroy You will take your weekly viewing this summer to whole new, boundary pushing heights.

The series stars Chewing Gum lead Michaela Coel as Arabella, a young writer who ventures out into London’s bustling club scene on the night before a first draft is due to her publisher, only to endure a devastating sexual assault experience that changes her world forever. The powerful story finds Arabella piecing together the traumatic events of that drug and alcohol infused night while trying to navigate love and her life as a young black writer hoping to push her career to the next level.

The comedy-drama is bolstered by strong performances, refreshing writing and the stunning cinematography HBO’s series are generally known for. And it has already garnered acclaim from critics and audiences alike with just four episodes aired, currently sitting at an impressive score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. While there is certainly more time for the show to grow and cement itself as a critical success, things for the Coel-produced, directed and written vehicle are certainly off to an excellent start.

So as the first season continues to chart its path through the circuit of exciting new summer shows, we break down the reasons that you should be watching I May Destroy You.

I May Destroy You, Mondays, 9/8c, HBO

Arabella Struggles With Her Assault Experience
Courtesy of HBO

Tackling Timely #MeToo Issues

I May Destroy You definitely delivers on the promises of its early buzz as a series that explores the experience of sexual assault survivors head on. It more importantly delves deeply into many of the things the cultural conversation surrounding #MeToo sometimes neglects, especially as it pertains to the personally lived experience of survivors in the wake of their trauma.

We follow Arabella as she suffers from PTSD, bouts of memory lapse, constant dissociation from the world, and the reeling from the aftermath of her ordeal. She endures this all while trying to navigate her career as normally as possible, a reality known all too well for many victims as life simply goes on for those around them. Coel’s acting performance really contributes to the poignancy of the storyline and for good reason — much of the narrative around her character’s sexual assault pulls inspiration from Coel’s experience during the production of Chewing Gum.

Michaela Coel stars in I May Destroy You
Courtesy of HBO

Michaela Coel

Michaela Coel’s track record as an acting and creative powerhouse helps to bring this new series to life and anchors it in a raw and truly stunning way. Her work speaks for itself: with critically acclaimed performances in Chewing Gum, Black Earth Rising and Black Mirror under her belt, she continues to chart out a sure to be iconic career with a stunning and refreshingly new character. Her organic presence truly makes us feel like we are watching someone navigating the world in real life; nothing is overdone or made to feel unrealistic.

Coel’s strongest performances come in the unspoken moments and silent spaces, when Arabella is taken yet again by the memory of her assault or stares longingly as she reflects on happier memories, like her beachside vacations with her Italian boyfriend, Biagio (for whom she develops truly deep feelings). In those times of quiet reverie, usually paired with a marijuana cigarette, her emotive facial expressions say all that needs to be said about the moment she is in and invite viewers into the internal spaces of her mind.

Arabella in Downtown London
Courtesy of HBO

Breathtaking European Settings

This series definitely has a place for those with a bit of wanderlust, especially for the extravagant architecture and naturally cinematic scenery of the show’s European locations. For those of us in quarantine, this is a particularly refreshing way to mentally venture outside of the confines of our own homes.

At once, we are caught up in the hustle and bustle of London’s continually metropolitan environment, old crashing into new industries and cultural identities. And then we get whisked away to the rustic villas of modern day Italy, a scenic remnant of some of the world’s earliest attempts at modern civilization. The language, culture and romantic beaches provide a stunning backdrop for our wild ride through Arabella’s life and experiences. In a way, the series is its own kind of advertisement for the gems that await vacationers planning their next trip to Europe — when the time allows, of course.

Arabella and Terry Take Italy
Courtesy of HBO

Exhilarating Portraits of European Nightlife

Paired with the European scenery, viewers are exposed to constant glimpses into the debauchery and hedonism of European nightlife. This exciting spectacle frames a series that is constantly aware of its real world, contemporary cultural environment, where sex, drugs, and rock and roll are pillars of the modern young person’s lived experience.

Arabella misses little opportunity to invite fun into her life, venturing out into the night in the series’ opener to party with friends Simon (Amel Ameen) and Kat (Lara Rossi), amongst a host of other midnight hour characters. We get similar glimpses of the club scene in the series’ third episode, a flashback to Arabella’s trip to Italy with her best friend Terry (Weruche Opia). The two waste no time getting their hands on molly and cocaine, stumbling into Ostia’s discotheques, and meeting attractive strangers to spend the night with. The series leads live life on the edge, and it certainly makes for an exciting and whirlwind viewing experience.

Arabella in Therapy
Courtesy of HBO

Complex and Mysterious Narrative Structure

One of the show’s more interesting and unique elements is its narrative structure. Each episode exists within the confines of its own place in time, without much regard for continuity in the linear and traditional sense. This format enhances the mystery and suspense of the main storyline and invites viewers into Arabella’s own confused perspective concerning the timeline of all that she has endured.

In each episode, we get constant and sudden flashbacks to the event that has upended Arabella’s life, where her indiscernible rapist towers over her as he commits his heinous crime. And throughout the entirety of the season, each of the episodes jumps back and forth between past and present and between the perspectives of the people in Arabella’s life, slowly weaving together the pieces of a complex puzzle. This rapid excursion through time and perspectives leaves us wanting more by the end of every episode.

Fehinti Balogun and Paapa Essiedu in I May Destroy You
Courtesy of HBO

Boundary Pushing Storylines

Like its network sibling Insecure, I May Destroy You certainly works to push boundaries in its representation of black people, particularly African people in London. While the series focuses on Arabella’s individual experience with sexual assault as a black woman, this innovation manifests in other riveting and eye-opening ways as well.

One of the show’s more boundary defying elements is in the storyline of Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), one of Arabella’s best friends. His trajectory predominantly revolves around his involvement in London’s gay hook up culture through apps and covert street cruising, a reality that manifests in much the same way in the United States. This is unique in its depiction of the modern gay experience as it is specific to black men in Europe, something we have not seen much of at all in a way that is as nuanced as it gets portrayed in this series.

Arabella and Terry in Italy
Courtesy of HBO

Grounded Depictions of Friendship

A truly heartwarming part of this series is the strong bond that exists so far between Arabella and her closest friends. Her relationships specifically with best friends Terry and Kwame, whom she affectionately refers to as “bae,” ground this story in territory many of us can relate to with our own friendships and close bonds.

These relationships are especially important to Arabella as she works to move forward with her life after surviving her assault. The weight of Arabella’s experience is felt by Terry as she is left in tears and unable to speak at the news, instead only able to physically be there for her best friend as she tries to nurse her back to emotional stability. Similarly, Kwame is by Arabella’s side as she reports her rape to the authorities, struggling with her as she breaks down in tears with the increasing realization of what has transpired. Both these emotional bonds emphasize the importance of friendships and relationships, especially for those who have endured life altering traumatic experiences.