If you need a new watch, get in the 'Mood' : Pop Culture Happy Hour The excellent BBC America/AMC+ drama series Mood considers how one young woman, at one of her most difficult moments, finds herself making choices she assumed she never would. Its writer and star is Nicôle Lecky, and the show is about sex work, social media and the way economic reality can make following your true passions very challenging.

If you need a new watch, get in the 'Mood'

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LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

The musical drama series "Mood" considers how one young woman at one of her most difficult moments finds herself making choices she assumed she never would. It's about sex work and social media and about the way economic reality can make following your true passions very challenging. Its writer and star is Nicole Lecky, and it might remind you of other shows that have taken a really interesting central voice and used it to build out a series, from "Fleabag" to "Atlanta" to "I May Destroy You." But Lecky has a very particular aesthetic and set of interests, and she has a lot to say. I'm Linda Holmes, and today we're talking about "Mood" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOLMES: Joining me today is writer Kiana Fitzgerald. Hey, Kiana.

KIANA FITZGERALD: Hey, Linda. How's it going?

HOLMES: It's good. I'm so happy to see you. And I'm delighted that you could be here for this episode in particular, which I will get back to in a second. "Mood" comes from British writer and singer Nicole Lecky, based on her play "Superhoe." It tells the story of a young woman named Sasha, an aspiring singer whose falling out with her family in her troubled personal life find her suddenly in the orbit of a social media personality named Carly, played by Lara Peake. Carly is an influencer, generally, but also a cam girl who is paid by her subscribers for custom performances of whatever turns them on. Sasha ultimately becomes part of Carly's online world and also tries the in-person sex work that she initially doesn't realize is also part of Carly's business. Sasha really wants to be a singer. That's still her aspiration, but she finds the security and the attention of her new life appealing even if she senses it's not the right direction for her.

In the six episodes of the series, Lecky explores the appeal of sex work, particularly for people who are economically stressed, and the ways in which stigmatizing and hiding it only makes workers more vulnerable. But she also addresses some of the drawbacks of the job and the risk of exploitation. It's airing now on BBC America. You can stream it on AMC+.

Kiana, I'm so curious about how this show struck you as a music writer and a writer in general. What did you think?

FITZGERALD: Yeah. So I - just to be completely transparent, I've never been a musical girl, despite the fact that I love and adore music of all iterations. I always have a tough time sitting through musicals. So when I started watching this, I was like, OK, this is where we're going. And the more I watched it, the more it kind of unfurled. And I realized that I really was enjoying myself. The music here is really good. Nicole is very talented. Her voice is striking, and every time she uses it, it just kind of hits you in the chest.

HOLMES: Yeah.

FITZGERALD: You can kind of feel every emotion that she's relaying through the music. And I think that she did a successful job with that. Some of this obviously is camp, but when you think about it, some of this stuff could happen, and some of this stuff has happened. And I think that's the scary part about this show - is it's not that far off from reality. It really showcases the perils of having an online persona, being addicted to social media, being addicted to chasing your dream at whatever cost it takes. So I think it was really well-done. I wasn't expecting to come away with this show and continue to think about it and think about it and think about it. I thought it was just going to kind of be something that I sat with for a moment, but I really think that folks should be talking about this.

HOLMES: Yeah. You know, reviews of the play "Superhoe" and kind of discussion of this show had led me to believe that it was probably really smart and that I would probably really enjoy it. But any time you have a show that - in kind of popular media that involves a woman who is sort of experiencing a lot of trauma and difficulty and goes into sex work, I always wonder whether you're going to get the kind of cliched sex work tragedy story, which I think has not served people well. And I think one of the lines that I think Nicole Lecky is trying to walk here - and she's talked about this in a couple of interviews - is the show is not saying, like, doing sex work is bad or wrong or always the result of hard times and limited choices. But I do think she's saying that there are risks of being exploited. There are hazards for people who aren't really experienced in kind of knowing how to protect themselves, that those risks are both emotional and physical, right?

There's another sex worker who says to her at one point during the show, essentially, this has to be what you really want to be doing, or you can really wind up unhappy about it. And I liked the fact that, I think - you know, there are many things about which I would say you don't want to stumble into this.

FITZGERALD: Yeah.

HOLMES: I would say that about getting married. I mean, I would say that about many things in life.

FITZGERALD: Yeah.

HOLMES: And I think she's able to make that point about this direction for Sasha without being judgmental in a sort of high-handed way. I thought it was a good, kind of balanced treatment of that story. What did you think?

FITZGERALD: Yeah, absolutely. I think that, especially, you know, in 2022, we are kind of on this precipice of - you could get far out there in a way that you weren't expecting when it comes to sex work, when it comes to even just having an online personality. You can do things that you never thought that you were going to do. You can do things that you've heard someone else do, and you're like, oh, I would never do that. And then, lo and behold, you end up doing it.

HOLMES: Yeah.

FITZGERALD: So I think this would strike a chord with folks who are kind of at a point in their life when they're trying to make a decision about, you know, how can I make my dream come true? What would I do to make my dream come true? And it's a very striking story because it's not something that I was expecting from minute one of Episode 1. And by the time I got done with the final episode, I was like, oh, wow. Like, this is why this all happened. You know, we all kind of came back to the entry point of why she's going through what she's going through. So in general, I think that this was, as you said, well-balanced. And it's not an easy topic to approach. And I think that Nicole did a pretty good job.

HOLMES: Yeah. I also was interested, you know, when you talk about kind of, you can get really far out there, and when you talk about sort of how it circles back at the end. One of the things I thought was interesting was there - I think it's a good representation of how a person's options just narrow. You know, you try this, and it doesn't work. You lose this person's kind of protection or help, and she really winds up feeling extremely alone and extremely short on options. And you see, I think, how she's sort of, in some ways, slow-walked into this lack of options, partly because there's so much going on in her mind and in her life that she's kind of damaged some of her relationships that she would otherwise be able to rely on. She has a friend that she clearly wants to reconnect with and can't really figure out how, this friend who really only wants to help her. Her relationship with her family's incredibly fraught.

FITZGERALD: Yes.

HOLMES: And I sort of liked the fact that they didn't, you know - I don't think it's a spoiler to say they're not sort of fixated on the idea that she has to make everything OK with everybody, that that's not the issue. The issue is her kind of figuring out a path forward for herself.

FITZGERALD: Exactly.

HOLMES: But I really wanted to ask you, you know, with the time that you spend writing about music, some of her music - she's a rapper, but she does other styles as well. I was really curious about how you felt about kind of where she is musically and kind of what space she's occupying as a young musician.

FITZGERALD: Sure. So I think that she, No. 1, has a really great voice. I love hearing her sing. And on the other hand, when she raps, that's when I'm like, oh, I don't know, because I do spend so much time with hip-hop. And...

HOLMES: Right. Right.

FITZGERALD: ...You know, I know the heart of authenticity of hip-hop very well. So not saying that she's not authentic, but I can tell when a message is trying to be delivered, and she's very, very dead set on delivering that message when she's rapping. Sometimes it comes across authentic. Sometimes it's a little bit cliche. But when she's singing, I think that's when she really shines. And there are a couple of moments that I was really drawn to. There's a song that she sings, and I think there's a soundtrack out with this, and I just checked it out. And the song that really stuck out to me was "Nobody's Favourite."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MOOD")

NICOLE LECKY: (As Sasha, singing) I want to be loved. I'm ashamed to say it. I need to be loved. But I'm nobody's favorite.

FITZGERALD: That one - you know, she's kind of coming to terms with the fact that she has damaged relationships with her loved ones, from family to friends to her ex-boyfriend, who she's very fixated on. And it's just heartbreaking because, at the end of the day, everybody needs and wants to be loved. And that's all she's asking for, and that's all she's been asking for since she was a young girl. And she hasn't been met with that love. So that one really was a favorite of mine, as well as "Different Girl." That was something that I could hear myself listening to on a regular basis. It feels like R&B, but, you know, it's got some pop elements to it as well, which I think is kind of the space that she's occupying.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MOOD")

LECKY: (As Sasha, singing) 'Cause I can be a different girl for you. Stepped into myself like these brand-new shoes. Don't want to forget of myself. Got to be someone else. I'll be a different girl for you, girl for you.

FITZGERALD: She's an excellent songwriter. She executes it very well. And it makes me want to seek out her other work, if she does have other music out there. And...

HOLMES: Yeah.

FITZGERALD: If she doesn't, I hope that she aspires to do more. You know, as a character in the show who wants to be a singer, has to be a singer, I hope that she's also, you know, weaving that into her own life as well.

HOLMES: Yeah. And one of the things we haven't really talked about - and I mentioned this is a musical, and you mentioned kind of not being really a musical girl - the way they incorporate the music in this show, it's this interesting space where it's not exactly the way lots of musicals work, where people just start singing, with the exception of sort of this one number that she has with a bunch of people in an office where she's waiting. That's more what a movie musical is.

FITZGERALD: Yeah.

HOLMES: Some of the rest of this is more - she's a performer, so you're seeing her perform, often kind of in her own mind. They're often not literal performances. They're often things where she's envisioning herself performing. Either she's envisioning, like, what is her music video going to look like. There's a lovely scene - and I think it is the performance of "Nobody's Favourite" - where she's in kind of a club, and there are people there. But it's a fantasy, and you're kind of seeing how she feels about being seen and being supported in this dream of performing. You know, it's not a thing where, in the middle of a fight with her mom, she's going to suddenly start singing a song about being angry at her mom. That's mostly not what this is. This is a more - it's more musical sequences...

FITZGERALD: Yeah, exactly.

HOLMES: ...Than it is a typical movie musical. You know what I mean?

FITZGERALD: Yeah, yeah. I had a note where I just said, like, there are certain breaks from reality...

HOLMES: Yeah.

FITZGERALD: ...Where they leap out into these numbers. But it's all - it seems very controlled. It doesn't seem like it's out of nowhere. Like, we kind of can see when it's coming. And when it's over, we're like, OK, so - I know there are a couple of moments where I was like, did everybody see that? But then I'm like, oh, obviously not. But, yeah, I think the numbers were in spaces that made sense. And, you know, like you said, it wasn't your typical musical experience.

HOLMES: Yeah. One of the other things I thought was interesting about the show is that Sasha is biracial, and she winds up living with Carly, who at least presents very much as a white woman. My understanding of Sasha's family was that her mother and her stepfather and half-sister, I guess, are white. And her biological father, who's sort of not part of the story, was, I assumed, Black. But they don't really talk a lot about him.

FITZGERALD: Yeah.

HOLMES: They don't really talk a lot about her background. But it was interesting to me how subtle I think some of the treatment of that - particularly in her relationship with Carly, there is a sense in which Carly is absolutely exoticizing her and using her, you know, immediately comes up with the name Lexi Caramel...

FITZGERALD: Yeah.

HOLMES: ...For her. It's very much part of their dynamic, but they don't really talk about it, which I thought was interesting. That's not - when they eventually get to the point where they have conflict, that isn't really part of it. It's just kind of sewn into all of these situations where Sasha, I think, feels like Carly doesn't necessarily understand how vulnerable other people are. Do you think I'm reading that right?

FITZGERALD: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciated that there were moments that highlighted racism in this show because it is what it is. No matter where you are on this planet, it exists. So I'm glad that they were, like you said, weaved into the narrative of the show itself. And then also, I thought - it was not lost on me that Black women in this show are very protective. And...

HOLMES: Yeah.

FITZGERALD: I don't want to spoil too much, but every step of the way, someone's there looking out for her. And she isn't quite ready at all times to accept that support, but they are there. And that really struck me because, you know, we have this narrative today of, like, you know, protect Black women and support Black women and everything like that. And the only people who were trying to protect this biracial woman were Black women.

HOLMES: Yeah.

FITZGERALD: That, you know, made my antenna go up for sure.

HOLMES: You see it in her friendships. You see it in her - kind of this chosen family that she has, I would say, around, like, people she's grown up with. The woman who is kind of a surrogate grandmother to her is a friend of her grandmother's, who - although her father is not really part of the story, she clearly was close with her paternal grandmother. That was my understanding of the story. But it's also true of, like, the women that she meets through her work. You know, when she runs into somebody who says, you need to be careful about this, or, you know, you need to look out for yourself, just as you say, a lot of those are the Black women that she runs into. But, again, she doesn't stop and comment on it. It's just very noticeable. It's not explained. It's just shown, you know?

FITZGERALD: Exactly. Yeah.

HOLMES: All right. Well, I thought this was a super-interesting show, and I'm so glad that we got a chance to chat about it. I want to know what you think about "Mood." You can find it, again, streaming on AMC+. You can watch it on BBC America. And find us at facebook.com/pchh. Tweet us at @PCHH. That brings us to the end of our show. Kiana Fitzgerald, thank you so much for being here. It's just a joy.

FITZGERALD: Thank you, Linda, as always.

HOLMES: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. If you have a second and you're so inclined, sign up for our newsletter. That's over at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. This episode was produced by Chloee Weiner and edited by Jessica Reedy. Special thanks to Sarah Knight. And Hello Come In provides our theme music. I'm Linda Holmes, and we'll see you all tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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