Marnie has a form of OCD called Pure O, which manifests as constant invasive thoughts about sex. But this comedy-drama never resorts to cheap laughs. It is brave, bold and barely short of a miracle

Marnie, the 24-year-old heroine – and I use the word advisedly – of new drama (or comedy-drama, possibly, but one that really wrenches its laughs out of darkness) Pure, suffers from a very specific form of OCD. Called Pure O, it manifests not as external physical acts such as compulsive handwashing or repeatedly checking things, but as powerfully intrusive thoughts, often about subjects considered taboo; such as violent, even murderous, acts or – as happens in Marnie’s mind, brutally colonised by the condition 10 years ago – sex.

We meet Marnie (played by newcomer Charly Clive) shivering by a roadside after fleeing her parents’ wedding anniversary party. During her supposedly celebratory speech, which begins as an ordinarily exquisite agony for us all to watch, her treacherous thoughts strip the assembled guests of their best suits and twinsets, and put them to orgiastic work. She falls apart on stage. Although such thoughts have been invading her inner space for a decade, this is the first time they have included her family. The mummilingus scene a little later on is sudden and shocking enough to give you a vivid insight into the distress it causes Marnie.

The six-part Channel 4 series (broadcast weekly, but available in full on All 4 now) follows Marnie as she seeks to diagnose and cope with her condition. The opening episode brings her to London, not to seek her fortune but to seek “some fucking answers”. A round of appointments with doctors yields nothing (except the unbidden vision of the psychiatrist licking her own armpit). A drunken attempt at lesbianism – in case the thoughts are the result of a repressed sexual orientation – fails, but does bring her into the orbit of the first of the gang of friends she will gather as the series goes on. In particular (from episode two onwards), there’s a recovering sex addict, Charlie, whose own problems make him the perfect foil and solace for hers. And after life in a small town – oppressive enough for many, even without the constant self-monitoring that comes from trying to hide a mental health problem – the anonymity of London is another friend. “What if I wanked on that bollard?” Marnie wonders, freely for the first time, before yelling: “There’s something wrong with me!” to the glorious indifference of passersby.

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