'The Flatshare' review: First UK Paramount+ original is a canny romcom

Tiffany (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Leon (Anthony Welsh) in The Flatshare (Paramount+)
Tiffany (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Leon (Anthony Welsh) in The Flatshare (Paramount+) (42)

Imagine a rom-com with post-it notes, where a pen and paper not an online forum connected people; where changing the bedsheets became more important than charging a smartphone before leaving for work. The Flatshare on Paramount+ from 1 December, draws drama from exactly that premise as two lovelorn Londoners live together — but never at the same time.

Adapted from the bestseller by Beth O’Leary, this contemporary rom-com — the first UK original series produced for the fledgling streaming service — approaches a tried and tested genre from another direction.

Tiffany (Jessica Brown Findlay) is a junior journalist working for an online publication, who shares a flat with palliative care worker Leon (Anthony Welsh). The set-up which may sound unorthodox for romcom territory, but proves rife with possibilities for people who like their meet cutes laced with social commentary.

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Between them they have a highly illegal yet practical arrangement, where Leon gets the flat between 8am and 8pm, while Tiffany enjoys access at all other times plus weekends. This extremely pragmatic solution serves to bump up Leon’s income, while Tiffany gets to enjoy more space for less money.

Tiffany (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Maia (Shaniqua Okwok) in The Flatshare (Paramount+)
Tiffany (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Maia (Shaniqua Okwok) in The Flatshare (Paramount+) (42 Prodcutions)

Executive produced and directed in part by the Oscar-nominated director Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty), The Flatshare not only opens up inventively as our leads miss each other by milliseconds, but does so without resorting to cliché. Clever camera moves and a consistent use of split screen conversations underline their perpetual separation, while some smart London locations make this show feel trendy.

A savvy soundtrack also underpins some excellent montage sequences which establish mood — whether that involves Tiffany making herself at home or getting over a recent break-up. Best friends Mo (Jonah Hauer-King) and Maia (Shaniqua Okwok) are also quickly introduced in that first episode, providing an ideal safety net for Tiffany going forward. Professionally platonic but sensing a mild attraction between them, both actors prove essential in giving this rom-com substance later on.

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However, Leon and Tiffany have a few things standing between them and happiness, besides their contractual obligation to never meet up. Number one is his girlfriend Kay (Klariza Clayton), who is uptight, self-centred and typically territorial. She's the complete opposite to Tiffany, who may be an emotional mess, but ultimately cares too much for others who care too little.

Tiffany (Jessica Brown Findlay) in The Flatshare (Paramount+)
Tiffany (Jessica Brown Findlay) in The Flatshare (Paramount+) (Photographer: Ollie Upton)

Between his two jobs and high maintenance partner, Leon is destined to keep on struggling unless fate or the occasional post-it note can change things. As The Flatshare slowly reveals its narrative tricks, from despicable ex-boyfriends to jealous work colleagues, these writers have time to address one or two other topics. Whether that is a satirical sideswipe at clickbait chasing websites, or a subtle social commentary moment between hospice residents on matters of inclusivity.

Thankfully, alongside these digressions into challenging areas The Flatshare remembers to keep things on track. Genre conventions are still honoured and cleverly subverted, whether that might be an endgame disaster to drive our two romantics apart, or a crucial change of heart which will bring them back together. All eventualities are covered off and audiences can rest easy knowing that Leon and Tiffany might just meet after all.

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What also makes The Flatshare hugely engaging is its take on contemporary dating, which is satirised through some savvy observations. As Tiffany strips all the romance out of meeting someone by breaking things down like a job application, it perfectly captures that sense of criteria-driven dating, which makes everything feel so temporary. This may come across as comedic, but ultimately it has something serious to say about how technology has changed how people connect.

Watch a trailer for The Flatshare

It's a theme which feeds back into that sense of loneliness in crowds, which so accurately reflects modern suburban life. This gives The Flatshare a contemporary identity which audiences will sympathise with, and also gifts these characters an automatic empathy pass, which should ground this premise and promote emotional investment.

There is also another ancillary benefit, which demonstrates how the rom-com as a genre has adapted to cultural conventions. This society is now fully reliant on technology to work effectively, as working from home no longer means a few days out of the office. Today this could mean working for a company in the United States, yet living overseas and never meeting face to face.

The Flatshare reflects this world defined by separation, where romantic connections are fleeting and conversations may as well be post-it notes on a fridge freezer door. However, rom-coms remain old-fashioned and are designed to bring people together, which for better or worse, is exactly what this show does so well.

The Flatshare is available to stream on Paramount+ from December 1.