TV Comedy Drama ‘Pure’ Smashes Taboos Around OCD and Sex

Channel 4

Marnie, the 24-year-old protagonist of Pure, suffers from a specific form of OCD called Pure O. Unlike the common symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, like excessively washing their hands or checking that things are locked, she has powerfully sexual thoughts. They are violent, inappropriate and scarily intrusive. In her own words: “it’s like the Sixth Sense but I don’t see dead people, I see naked ones”.

Marnie (played by newcomer Charly Clive) has fled her parents’ wedding anniversary party. During her speech she can’t stop picturing the guests, including her family members, having sex. She has had these types of thoughts for over a decade, but before now it has never involved family. It’s a shocking and disturbing opening, but it’s one you won’t forget (and won’t want to watch with your parents).

The six-part series was originally aired by Channel 4 last year and smashed taboos in how we talk about this real life disorder. The opening episode sees Marnie flee to London to change her fortune and learn more about her unusual condition. The character is based on Rose Cartwright, who wrote about her condition in the book also titled Pure, and has been adapted for TV by Kirstie Swain (who herself suffers from a panic disorder). The makers of Pure have also worked with charities, psychologists and other OCD suffers to ensure the show correctly represents their condition. Real life suffers of the disorder have praised the show for challenging the outdated misconceptions of OCD and representing the feelings suffers go through.

Channel 4

Marnie’s drunken experiment with lesbianism leads her to a new job and a new group of friends. This new gang includes Charlie (Joe Cole), a recovering sex addict, and lesbian journalist Amber (Niamh Algar). It’s not just new friends Marnie discovers. She also finds a new freedom in the anonymity of the new big city, having spent her life in a small Scottish town. Marnie can be very candid with her sexuality and it’s almost a whimsical personality trait to these new, trendy friends. Whilst Marnie and Charlie are a likable pairing, both battling their own demons, no one else in the cast is particularly likable or memorable.

Pure isn’t afraid to fully show the thoughts that plague Marnie’s brain. She snogs her own mother, her father performs cunnilingus on a woman he is not married to, a doctor licks her own armpits while talking to a patient and a whole tube carriage has an orgy. And that is in the first episode.

The parts of the show that don’t deal with her disorder feel a little dated and unrealistic. She soon finds herself as a hapless intern at a trendy online magazine, where no one seems to actually work or have personalities. For audiences to really understand the severity of Pure O it’s important for the world around her to feel real, sadly her work life doesn’t. The chance of having bad lesbian sex leading to a trendy internship feels especially unlikely. Her new work colleagues feel more like stereotypes middle aged people put on millennials. The fact she just happens to have an insufferably optimistic school friend who just happens to have a box room for Marnie to sleep it will ask the audience to suspend their belief. 

Pure is smart in not exploiting the comical outrageousness of the sexually explicit imagery. Perhaps it leans too much into being sincere by playing it straight, unsure if it’s a comedy drama or an educational show. It’s rare to see a TV show acknowledge that one of the biggest hurdles suffers from psychological disorders encounter is diagnosis, and Pure does these scenes well.

Channel 4

Charly Clive is wonderful as Marnie. She has the same charm as Phoebe Waller Bridge on screen. It’s the type of charm that straddles the line between a dry wryness and unpredictable horror. Her note perfect Scottish is quite remarkable considering the actress hails from Oxford. Joe Cole (Skins, Peaky Blinders) is a fantastic actor, but he is entirely wasted as the former addict seeking redemption, with little chemistry sparking between him and Marnie.

The show suffers by trying to do too much at once. It wants to be a relatable coming of age comedy drama about a university graduate moving to London. But then it also wants to educate audiences on this unusual form of OCD. There is just something ultimately missing in this show, as good as the intentions are. There is no stand out moments of humour, and there is no moving moments of emotion.

By the third episode the sex is so graphic and vivid it almost becomes normalised. Her disorder is shown as hyperactive cut scenes as she goes about her day, commuting, buying coffee and wandering around her office. It’s fun to watch but it’s shown so much you begin to become desensitised by it. While it addresses really serious issues in a wonderful way, Pure doesn’t quite mesh them with the coming age comedy drama it wants to be.

Pure is now available to stream on Netflix UK

by Amelia Harvey

Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy

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