“Ever had a night that felt like your whole life had led up to it?” asks Johnny (Eden H. Davies), narration spoken across Tell Me Everything’s first scenes. “A night that got you in a headlock, knocked you down, and puked you back up again? A night you’d never forget?”
You get a sense of the tone of Tell Me Everything from those opening lines: it’s reaching for the same sort of stylised intensity that characterises much of its genre, its drama Big and Immediate and Now, splayed across the screen in a deliberately anarchic way. Comparisons to Skins – or at least the popular idea of Skins – will abound, but you can trace an obvious lineage to Euphoria too in its visuals: brightly coloured eyeshadow calls to mind Jules and Cassie, of course, and the neon lights of the funfair where Tell Me Everything begins more-than-closely resembles similar scenes from Euphoria.
What’s clever, though, is where Tell Me Everything deliberately – and quickly – breaks from the comparison it invokes. In one of its more striking shots, the neon funfair lights are soon intercut with the bright blue glow of an ambulance siren. The night that Johnny’s whole life had led up to aren’t the dizzying highs of the last night of freedom before a new college term starts: it’s the sudden death of someone close to him. Already struggling with undiagnosed depression and anxiety, that tragedy causes cracks to start to form in the façade he puts up to friends and family – and threatens to overwhelm Johnny entirely.
It’s not, of course, that Tell Me Everything rejects or subverts the hallmarks of young adult drama – it still revels in the mess, after all, clearly well aware of exactly what people want to see from a show like this and what it has to offer in turn. (There’s a funeral scene that makes Fleabag’s infamous dinner look positively sedate.) Rather, it’s a show that makes it apparent upfront that it has a greater range that you might assume – and greater self-confidence and self-control than its teenage protagonists, too, switching gears on a dime.
Much of the dramatic weight of Tell Me Everything is on Eden H. Davies’ shoulders. It feints towards the loose anthology structure you see in some teen dramas, briefly suggesting each episode might take a different focus, but always snaps back towards Johnny quickly enough: it’s an ensemble show, sure, but there’s a clear main character here too. Davies – one of a number of newcomers and rising stars giving a lead performance that also doubles as their first major screen role – rises to the challenge admirably, anchoring complex material and portraying complex emotions with aplomb.
He’s joined by Spike Fearn and Lauryn Ajufo as Johnny’s friends Louis (socially awkward, hopelessly in love with Zia) and Neve (academic, outgoing), as well as Ackley Bridge’s Carla Woodcock as Regan (the cool girl) and Tessa Lucille as Zia (yet to notice Louis). Generally, they’re all working within recognisable archetypes – Ajufo is an obvious and immediate standout, but in the initial two episodes at least everyone seems broadly dependable. The biggest question mark hangs over Mei, as played by Callina Liang. Mei is the closest Tell Me Everything has to another main character, and Liang the closest Davies has to an outright co-lead; Liang obviously a magnetic performer, but Mei is also, at least initially, obviously a textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girl type.
Whether Tell Me Everything can develop that character further at all is the first meaningful test as to whether it’s all surface or manages to be something more. It seems likely that it will, though. The first episode introduces something of a mystery surrounding Johnny; it goes on to resolve it in a pointedly understated way, a display of subtlety at a point when another show might’ve gone big or flashy. Beneath the recognisable archetypes are strong dramatic instincts, and it seems worth watching and waiting to see how they play out.
ITV’s synopsis describes the show as exploring “the stresses of mental health for today’s teens [...] whilst they are still searching for their own identity”. It’s an admittedly dry bit of marketing copy, but it disguises an admirable aim, and one that Tell Me Everything as it stands can actually earnestly claim to have achieved and achieved well – or, at the very least, made some impressive first strides towards it.
Tell Me Everything is available as a boxset now on ITVX. I’ve seen the first two of an eventual six episodes of Tell Me Everything before writing this review. You can read more of our TV reviews right here.
You can read more of our ITVX coverage here, and listen to our Screen Babble podcast episode discussing the ITVX launch right here.