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Dinosaur review – autism sitcom thrills with jokes about loyalty cards and thrush | Television & radio

Dinosaur review – autism sitcom thrills with jokes about loyalty cards and thrush | Television & radio
Dinosaur review – autism sitcom thrills with jokes about loyalty cards and thrush | Television & radio

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Nina (Ashley Storrie) and Evie (Kat Ronney) are Glasgow sisters in their early 30s, who are also best friends and live together. Within five minutes of Dinosaur, we have established their dynamic. Evie is sunny of outlook, while Nina has a knitted brow and has just been overwhelming the proprietor of a coffee van with a detailed complaint about his loyalty card scheme. Evie’s recent trip to London with her boyfriend – we sense that Nina does not feel ready for either of these things – has caused her to miss a planned joint viewing of a Real Housewives reunion episode, but Nina isn’t too vexed, despite having had no audience for her watchalong quips: “We can watch it again tonight, with my commentary.”

Yet Evie has news: they have only recently begun dating, but her boyfriend has proposed and she has said yes. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t Nina happy for her? Nina stares. “It’s not amazing news, and I’m not happy for you. You’ve only known this man for six weeks. You’ve had thrush that lasted longer.”

As Nina says that line, too loudly, a hush descends on the dinosaur display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where she works as a palaeontologist. The words echo agonisingly off the building’s high ceilings. It’s an old, reliable sitcom joke in a comedy that follows a lot of tried and tested paths, one of them being a protagonist who speaks their mind bluntly, is focused on details and isn’t fully attuned to social conventions, such as not shouting about thrush in a natural history museum.

The lead characters in sitcoms have often, in other words, displayed some of the best-known traits of autism – Nina actually is autistic, as she confirms to her boss in a conversation that begins with him asking her not to tell children visiting the museum that Jurassic Park should technically be renamed Cretaceous Park.

Dinosaur feels like a natural progression from the run of recent dramas, dramedies and documentaries that have given autistic people a long overdue voice and prominence on television, while on occasion not giving them room to be anything beyond people with autism. As this series goes on, building a narrative arc where Nina, at the centre of a family preparing for a potentially ill-conceived wedding, has to confront a plethora of difficult social situations while possibly finding love herself, its portrait of autism is robust and realistic.

Aggravating … Danny Ashok as Ranesh. Photograph: Mark Mainz/BBC/Two Brothers Pictures

Nina’s autism powers a lot of the comedy and drama, but the challenges she faces don’t define her, and her character isn’t merely a cipher for the condition: she is funny and spiky and openhearted in ways that have nothing to do with being autistic. Storrie is credited as co-creator of the show, which is largely written and based on an original idea by Matilda Curtis – Storrie’s own experience of living with autism having been key to setting Dinosaur’s tone and building its world.

It is a fine collaboration between Storrie, daughter of the comedian Janey Godley, and Curtis, daughter of the producer/director Simon Curtis and the actor Elizabeth McGovern, along with an excellent cast. While Storrie’s performance is memorable, Curtis and the rest of the ensemble lend it a solid, if not too groundbreaking, sitcom underpinning, particularly in the creation of a gang around Nina and Evie. Ranesh, Evie’s questionable boyfriend, is nicely drawn as an aggravatingly right-on poser, who attends feminist book groups and tries to impress the sisters by cooking them pasta: “It’s just a rustic peasant dish I picked up during my summer in Firenze.” Danny Ashok and some nimble scripting stops that character sliding into cliche – the same is true of Nina’s boss, Shane, a kook valiantly attempting to be an assertive team leader. He asks Nina for a “tight five” before having a chat with her, and doesn’t want his dinosaur exhibits to have feathers, because although that would reflect the latest science, it simply wouldn’t look right: “Feathers are cute. They’re Paw Patrol. They’re Elton John.” Ben Rufus Green, last seen as the awkward stepbrother in The Cockfields, accentuates the funny lines with a lot of pleasing visual flourishes, such as pushing an imaginary pair of glasses up the bridge of his nose when talking about palaeontology needing to be less nerdy.

The heart of the show, though, is the interplay between Storrie and Ronney as Nina and Evie, siblings whose strengths compensate for each other’s weaknesses, whose shared love for Patrick Dempsey is eternal (“Fetch a bucket and a mop!”) and whose interlocking speech patterns feel like they have been honed during a lifetime of discovering the things that make each of them unique – Nina’s autism being just one of them.

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Dinosaur is on iPlayer now.

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