The writer and stars of Can't Cope, Won't Cope on Irish female friendships

TVBy Lynda McCarthy
Nika McGuigan (Danielle) and Seána Kerslake (Aisling)
Nika McGuigan (Danielle) and Seána Kerslake (Aisling)

In a world where Netflix, box sets and illegal downloading reign supreme, it can be hard to get audiences to sit down, shut up and actually watch a TV show in the traditional ‘once a week for half an hour’ format.

With so much choice on offer, people simply aren’t willing to dedicate a portion of their evening to mediocre television when they could simply re-watch The Wire.

So there’s a certain amount of ballsyness involved in putting a new TV show out into the world, and plenty of industry stalwarts have fallen on their faces after promising “the next Love/Hate” only to deliver something that has more in common with The Morbegs than any gritty drama.

RTE’s newest offering, Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, a comedy drama about the friendship between two Cork twentysomethings in Dublin, comes with the weight of expectation on its shoulders — but writer Stefanie Preissner (below) simply shrugs it off when Magazine+ catches up with her behind the scenes of the show.

“I haven’t found the process that daunting, to be honest, but then I’ve always had a sense of entitlement because I’m a post Celtic Tiger cub — I know I have something important to say and I say it. Sometimes it’s something that’s a bit left of centre or right of centre or irreverent but I think everything I say is relevant, and if no one else is going to say it then I will.”

At just 28, Stefanie is in the unusual position of having her writing turned into a series without having any other TV writing credits under her belt. But then she’s also in a better position than most to accurately convey the growing pains of Irish women in their 20s who grew up in the boom and have been left completely disillusioned by the realities of the real world. 

Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope isn’t just about entitled Celtic Tiger cubs though. It’s also about the intensity of female friendships and the aftermath when those friendships start to disintegrate.

“I remember having a discussion once about this girl who was friends with my cousin and she had a helicopter and then it was taken away – probably by NAMA or something – but we were talking about how ridiculous it was that she was upset about not having a helicopter anymore. But the thing is, if you’re used to travelling by helicopter then you probably would feel actual grief when it gets taken away. When you lose your iPhone your life is legitimately more difficult; people are like ‘oh first world problems’ but first world problems are still problems for people in the first world.

“This generation, it’s not just ‘I’m having a sulk because I was told I would have a car’, it’s like, ‘I don’t know how to function in this world because this is not what I was expecting and you promised me something and it’s not here. I’m ill-equipped to deal with this’.

“The reason I wrote the show is because I don’t see my generation represented in TV. We’re not the same as English girls, we’re not the same as American girls – American girls on TV hang out with each other in the bathroom while they’re having baths – I don’t even get changed in front of my friends without trying to cover up. I went to Catholic school, I haven’t seen my friends naked. It’s important for girls that they see realistic representations of themselves in entertainment – it’s not helpful for me to see girls on screen who constantly make the right decisions or who are constantly supported by their parents.”

After seeing a sneak preview of the series, I can confirm that it is a fairly accurate portrayal of the Sambuca-fuelled, sticky-floored friendships of those first few years post-college. And while the script might have a few too many ‘likes’ for this Corkonian’s liking, the tone of the co-dependent relationship between the two leads is pitch perfect.

That’s helped along nicely by the fact that the show has hit the jackpot with Seána Kerslake and Nika McGuigan who play Aisling and Danielle, two young women hurtling towards adulthood on a wave of tequila shots and bad one-night stands. 

Dubliner Seána, who recently received rave reviews for her role in A Date for Mad Mary, says that it was the characters’ friendship that really got her excited about the script.

“I loved Stefanie’s writing but I’m also always interested in the idea of friendships, and female friendships specifically – how much they play a huge role in how we form ourselves and how we treat ourselves.

“I think the majority of girls can recognise that they’ve had a friendship like that, where it can be really destructive but you’re still inseparable and do everything together. A lot of women can identify with that.”

Nika McGuigan, who grew up between County Monaghan and Kent in England, agrees that the girls’ friendship is the backbone of the show.

“I think it’s very interesting to have written about a co-dependent relationship in young women rather than teenagers. I’m fascinated by it, because I grew up with brothers so

I didn’t have that sisterly bond and I think that can happen with  a lot of women who don’t have siblings or sisters – they can become inseparable and it’s very interesting when they get to that point in their lives where they start going their different ways.

“I think it’s something that’s going to be a bit new for television in Ireland. I think it’s going to take some people by surprise – it’s a hybrid and it was a little bit daunting in the beginning but we knew we were in safe hands and hopefully people will enjoy it.”

Between Seána’s Tallaght twang and Nika’s British lilt, it wasn’t looking likely that the girls would manage to pull off a convincing Cork accent but luckily they’ve managed to master the county’s musical intonation – although Seána admits that they were under strict instructions to get it right.

“Stefanie was really specific about the kind of accent she wanted. The characters are from Mallow and she didn’t want the stereotypical Cork accent you always hear which is the city accent. So I told her to tell me every time she heard me say something wrong. 

“I didn’t want to offend anyone by doing it badly and I know if someone is pretending to do my accent I’m very quick to say, ‘that’s not right, you’re actually insulting me here’. So hopefully it turned out ok.” 

Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope airs tonight on RTE Two at 10pm