Things You Should Have Done: Season 1 REVIEW – Thing You Should Watch

Follow Lucia Keskin's journey through an absolutely baffling life.

things you should have done lucia keskin selin hizli

Things You Should Have Done is a kind of Pollyanna story, of a young woman whose general optimism cannot be pierced, no matter how bleak things become. Only here, it’s more like no explanation, no matter how simple, can pierce her utter gormlessness. And it’s rarely anything other than hilarious to watch.

The setup is hammered home quickly – Lucia Keskin’s shut-in womanchild has her parents up and die on her unexpectedly, and has to navigate life on her own, with hilarious consequences. The Things You Should Have Done of the title are stipulations the parents left in their will that Keskin must do to keep the house, although, wonderfully, the solicitor casually confirms he’s not expecting updates on any of that.

Keskin’s visions of her dead parents, being dysfunctional from beyond the grave, are an excellent sashay into magical realism. Maybe it’s because of the grief, maybe it’s simply the way Keskin’s dreamland-creature is. And frequently when these apparitions happen, they’re simply hanging around watching the telly as well. Realism with large R, magical with a small and manageable m.

It is easy enough to see from whence Keskin came, as her uncle and cousin are her writ large (wider and taller, respectively) – significantly cheerier, but at bottom still the same unsinkable wide-eyed empty-headed agreeableness. Within the main cast the big departure from this is evil aunt Selin Hizli (previously of the excellent Am I Being Unreasonable?), who is such a departure from the others, at times you can feel the show getting so enamoured with her that she threatens to steal the whole thing.

Family Guy, in one of its bouts of trying to take the piss out of a much better show, once gave us a version of Malcolm In The Middle that was just Jane Kaczmarek’s character screaming incessantly at the rest of the family. This was a philistinic dismissal of Kaczmarek’s performance as understandably beleaguered everywoman, but is closer to the mark with Hizli’s character here – not in terms of volume, but in sheer venom.

(By way of summary, Hizli’s character is literally called Karen.)

Like Kaczmarek before her, even when Hizli is being downright poisonous to everyone around her, you can kind of see why. Perhaps you wouldn’t resort to histrionic screams of fury if you had the rest of this cast inflicted upon you, but you’d be intimately aware of why someone would. And to be clear, this is to Hizli’s credit, even when she’s not being actively toxic she is being unapologetically self-interested in that id-unleashed way that can’t help but be funny.

The addition of Sinead Matthews as another good-natured, casually destructive ditz halfway through Things You Should Have Done does threaten to tip the scales a little too far, rendering Hizli a bit too much of an only-sane-woman for a woman who isn’t close to sane. And it’s Matthews who comes closest to being a feature-length adaptation of Jam’s ‘thick people for hire’ sketch, stonewall convinced of their own worldview in spite of any external stimuli, and this is up against the stiff competition of Keskin herself.

No less a man than Mr. T once noted “it takes a smart guy to play dumb”. There’s a lot of strong contenders here for that praise, but Keskin has main event probably has to take the prize, not least since she’s also creator and co-writer. These three hours are nothing short of a display of her self-awareness of what a tool she has in her own performance, and how well she manages to use that. And you must also credit the fact that Keskin is not simply playing a blameless innocent – as she floats through life like a barrage balloon, she does leave the occasional casualty in her wake.

You could call the experience of watching these clots get things wrong each week is a little one-note, and you wouldn’t be wrong. There are only trace amounts of development involved, but pleasingly, while each episode is based on one of the Things You Should Have Done, it’s not a rote box-ticking. Each episode strays from its stated intention very quickly. As Hizli frustratedly snarls, Keskin’s attempt to learn how to drive literally achieves the exact opposite.

And to Things You Should Have Done’s credit, it pulls off the trick of not having this become repetitive. It’s a big old world out there, especially big for a confused young woman who doesn’t quite get why you shouldn’t eat cat food, full of ideas, concepts, and bright colours to become amusingly baffled by.

Things You Should Have Done’s real strength is in the dialogue, and specifically in the less self-consciously funny bits. There is a careful line to tread in crafting just-plausible misunderstandings, ignorance, or stupidity, and Things You Should Have Done takes it like a tightrope walker. For every duff line (there’s a really weak patch in the first episode where characters burble aimlessly about pronouns for too long) it gives us ten examples of that special kind of left-field absurdity or shockingly casual cruelty that, like the best humour, hits you right where you’re not expecting it.

I will often ding shows, especially when they’re trying to sell themselves as blithe and heartless, for indulging too much in sentimentality. Things You Should Have Done does have moments of sentimentality, but is rigorously and refreshingly sparing with them, and doesn’t come close to letting that syrup clog the arteries of everything else it’s got going on.

By way of example, when it comes to actually dealing with Keskin’s bereavement, the show invokes that with nothing short of sadistic glee. “My parents just died” is, as it turns out, the perfect tonic for anyone who starts asking too many questions about what this singular young woman is up to. It puts them in their place quickly, and Keskin can get back to, for example, trying to move into a retirement home.

But for a few clunky lines, mainly the kind of pop-culture references which will by definition not age well, it’s hard to think of things that Things You Should Have Done should have done differently. From the unlikely setup of some clueless characters responding to a family tragedy, it creates an incredible comedy of awkwardness: confusion, embarrassment, shame, all can be a punchline in its world, and often are.

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things you should have done lucia keskin selin hizli
Even when Things You Should Have Done stretches extension of disbelief (specifically, disbelief anyone could really be that dull) to breaking point, you’re likely to be laughing too hard to care.