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The woman behind Can't Cope, Won't Cope: "I was hell-bent on getting this on screen"

Stefanie Preissner talks to us about her new series ahead of the third episode airing tomorrow.

THERE’S A SCENE in US series Girls where the lead character, Hannah Horvath, pleads with her parents for financial support.

“I don’t want to freak you out,” she tells them.

“But I think I could be the voice of my generation. Or at least, a voice of a generation.”

To some, Hannah is the poster-girl for spoiled, entitled millennials. To others, she’s an example of a female character the likes of whom is only recently getting her turn on screen: a young woman who knows her own mind, and isn’t afraid to do what she wants.

It’s no surprise, then, that new Irish TV show Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope is being touted as the Irish Girls, with its focus on two young women whose church is Coppers and for whom work is often an inconvenience. But they’re also two 20-somethings living in an Ireland where friends have emigrated, the recession has eaten up jobs, and where they can enjoy the sort of sexual freedom their forbears fought for.

At the helm of Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope is Stefanie Preissner, the woman behind Solpadeine is My Boyfriend, which explored what it’s like to be part of a generation for whom emigration is an inevitability.

Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope premiered on RTÉ 2 on Monday, starring Seána Kerslake (most recently seen in A Date for Mad Mary) as Aisling and Nika McGuigan (daughter of the boxer Barry, and last seen in Traders) as Danielle, two best friends who might end up being best fiends.

They love Coppers, getting drunk, having as few responsibilities as possible, and, says Preissner, they’re really nothing like her.

can't cope Source: RTÉ

Preissner watched the series debut “quietly with friends”. When we speak, the day after, she’s still on somewhat of a high.

“The reaction has been unbelievable – I spent yesterday almost in a foetal curl, scared of what people would think,” the Dublin-based Corkonian says.

But the reaction has been unbelievable – the best part of the reaction has been people are like ‘this is so familiar’, ‘this is me’ and ‘why has it been till now that we’ve seen this sort of lifestyle, women like this on TV’ – what more could you ask for?

An hour before the show, Preissner was second-guessing herself. “Oh my God, what have I done, what if everyone hates me?” she was asking herself. “What if me and my friends are the only ones who have this [type of experience]?”

“Some people are afraid of it”

Cant-Cope-Wont-Copes-Nika-McGuigan-Danielle-and-Seána-Kerslake-Aisling

Preissner and her friends aren’t the only ones who’ve had these sorts of experiences, as one glance at Twitter shows. But the same glance will also show that not everyone is happy about watching a show about two girls who prioritise getting drunk over getting to work on time.

“Some people are confronted by it and some people are afraid of it and that’s all good, but the general consensus is this is a realistic representation of what is happening in Ireland, and let’s start to discuss that,” says Preissner, who included a scene about the morning-after pill in one episode.

“That’s exactly why I wrote it and it’s very rare when you make something [that] people get what you meant.”

First experience of paparazzi. Learning the hard and fast way as per usual. Can't Cope Won't Cope is tonight. I'd love you to watch and tweet about it so we can prove that the ratings are good and it's important to have a TV about women who are difficult and make bad decisions and vulnerable and endearing. Girls that will shout louder than the bland stereotypes women are expected to measure themselves on a daily basis. It's not useful for our generation to always see Irish people who are a parody or who are always being virtuous and making the right choices. It's useful timare how a fictional version of you might cope with difficulties. So you can relate with your own story or learn from the future. That's what I was trying to do anyway. 😳🙄😬 It's so scary but thank you to everyone for the comments and DMs and texts. I'll say no more about it now. It goes out at 10pm on RTE2. See you on the other side. #CANTCOPEWONTCOPE #RTE #Stefaniepreissner #amyhuberman #coping #cantcope

A photo posted by Stefanie Preissner (@stefaniepreissner) on

“There are definitely two different types of people watching – one looking back saying ‘this is my life’ and one saying ‘this is currently my life and I’m enjoying it and we’ll see how these female friendships play out’.”

Female friendship, in all its lovely, messy, complicated, emotional glory, is at the centre of Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope.

Aisling and Danielle, like Preissner, are Corkonians living in Dublin, and she shows how as a transplant to the capital your weekends are different to your Dublin friends who “go home to mammy”.

“You have a different experience of the weekend when you don’t have family up here, it’s just your friends – you don’t have to talk to anyone. And so your friends become your family and if you have just one best friend as Aisling and Danielle have, that creates a sort of co-dependence which is fine for a while until one person starts to want other things,” says Preissner.

won't cope

She adds that women are primed from a young age in how to behave in a female friendship. It’s about “learning to be a good friend and there for your friend”, which, she says, “can be quite stultifying”.

Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope looks at exactly what we’re willing to put up with in what we tolerate at the hands of our friends.

Girls on film

Preissner also maintains that “there is a dearth of female characters on screen and when they are on screen it is generally in relation to men”.

The reason why young women lap up the likes of Girls or Broad City is because they’ve been starved of seeing women like them on screen – complicated women.

“I don’t think it’s useful for young women to be watching characters on TV who always make the right decision, always land on their feet – it’s unrealistic and it makes me feel less than or less lucky or less capable, and I don’t think that’s a narrative I want to contribute to as a screenwriter,” says Preissner.

She also sees double-standards in how female and male characters are judged. A male actor “can be portrayed as this sort of renegade misogynist who is really cool and does really cool things and we see this as this aspirational – but when women do that they are unlikeable and the villain and they should be reprimanded”.

When the show was being written, there were questions over how likeable Aisling and Danielle are. “There was a lot of ‘em ,we need to make Aisling more likeable’,” recalls Preissner. Her response was clear: “Why? Why do we have to like her?”

I think it’s nice to have characters on screen that are difficult to like, because in life people are difficult to like and we still like them.

Coping mechanisms

Office-news-of-clients-death Source: Karl Hussey

As for the inevitable question about whether Preissner is an Aisling or a Danielle, the answer is neither – or maybe a bit of both. “This is the first time I can’t say ‘I am Aisling’ or ‘I am Danielle’ – mainly because I am not interesting as a person to carry off a show.”

Instead, the two characters reflect the sort of experiences Preissner and her friends have had over the years. While her younger self expected the sort of instant gratification that Aisling wants, she also had Danielle’s tolerance “of being mistreated”.

Essentially, what she’s trying to explore in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope is coping – the coping mechanisms we all use to deal with life, she says.

It’s not an easy thing, to get your own TV show made, especially when you’re in your mid-20s – and when you’re willing to bring complicated women on screen. But Preissner says she was nothing if not determined, as were the also “determined” all-woman team who made the show with her.

“I was always hell-bent: ‘No, I believe in this and me and my generation need to see this -this is important’. And I think my belief in it helped.”

Source: RTÉ2/YouTube

The third episode of Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope airs at 10pm on Monday night on RTÉ 2. The previous two episodes can be watched on the RTÉ Player.

Read: Ray D’Arcy on Pam Anderson, ‘Jack Nicholson’ and the trouble with Irish celebrities>

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