The Pitch: Beginning in 1981 and spanning the course of a decade, It’s a Sin follows three young gay men — Ritchie, Roscoe, and Colin — who all move to London for their own reasons and end up sharing a flat together with two other close friends. The boys navigate the ins and outs of the London dating scene, trying to land jobs out of University, and juggle their family and social lives, all as the AIDs crisis looms overhead, haunting all of their individual lives, as well as forever altering the dynamic of the group.
Coming of Age in the ’80s: It’s a Sin is a coming of age drama. Created by Russell T. Davies (who most will be familiar with from Queer as Folk and Doctor Who), the series serves as an intricate portrayal of the inner and outer lives of its three young leads and their friends. Five separate stories are beautifully woven together into one massive, intricate web, and as difficult as it is to believe, each of the character’s individual plot lines is as strong as the next — a rarity for any ensemble series.
At the core of it all is Ritchie Tozer (Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander), who moves from the Isle of Wight to London at 18 to pursue an acting career. Growing up in a sheltered, stifled home with two less-than-perfect parents (Keeley Hawes and Shaun Dooley), Ritchie grabs the bull by the horns (often quite literally) when he gets his first taste of personal freedom, building a reputation quickly as a promiscuous fixture of London’s gay club scene.
Accompanying Ritchie on his exploits is Roscoe (Omari Douglas, in his television debut), who flees from his Nigerian family in the series’ premiere after coming out to them and being disowned. Roscoe, who frequently enjoys dressing in drag and shuffling through sexual partners nearly as quickly as Ritchie, eventually strikes up a relationship with a conservative MP (Stephen Fry) in denial about his own sexuality.
Rounding out the trio is Colin (Callum Scott Howells, also in his first television role) a timid Welshman who heads to London on an apprenticeship at Saville Row. Quickly, he forms a strong friendship with Henry Coltrane (Neil Patrick Harris in a brief but exceptional turn), a closeted man working at the tailor shop who takes Colin under his wing after sussing out that he’s closeted.
Thick as Thieves: Though the three young men come from drastically different lifestyles, they form a strong kinship over the one thing they have in common — their sexuality. Moving in alongside them is Ritchie’s friend from university Jill (Lydia West), and Ash, Ritchie’s on-again-off-again boyfriend. Together, the five form an unlikely yet infectiously joyful group — and much of the vibrancy on display can be attributed to the incredible talent on display in the show’s cast.
Considering ⅔ of the show’s leads are new to television and the third is primarily a musician, the level of acting on display in It’s a Sin is mind-boggling. Each member of the cast is stellar in their own right with not a single squeaky wheel to bring the quality of the series down. Anchoring it all is Alexander as Ritchie, who brings incredible depth to a character that can often times be frustrating or even unlikable. Though Ritchie is often selfish and uncompromising, there’s an innate vulnerability in his every move that makes his arc all the more heartbreaking.
But Alexander also plays Ritchie with sharp wit and humor, which is shared in large part with Douglas’ Roscoe, whose in-your-face approach to displaying his sexuality is a sharp contrast to the way the rest of the cast skirts and shuffles to not be outed. Roscoe is unapologetically himself — the kind of person who has spent so long fighting and hiding that he can’t be bothered to conform to the way others want him to be. Douglas, too, is equal parts strong in comedic chops and dramatic ability, and though he doesn’t get as much emotionally heavy lifting at Alexander, he can still ring a tear to your eye when he needs to.
Of the three, though, the most endearing of the bunch is Scott Howell’s Colin Morris-Jones, who’s constantly hunching in on himself, stuttering over his words, and melting your heart with his heavy Welsh accent. Though Howell isn’t around for the entirety of the series, he makes the most out of his limited screen time, all while the rest of the cast fires zingy dialogue at each other. Howell says more with one look or self-depreciating smile than another character might in an entire monologue.
West’s Jill takes a much more significant role in the latter half of the show, grounding the group’s more vibrant personalities and taking charge when the crisis begins to worsen. West does some truly spectacular work opposite Hawes in the series’ fifth and final episode. Nathaniel Curtis is similarly exceptional, only his character Ash doesn’t much screentime. Whereas his four housemates each get storylines of their own, Ash spends most of the series playing second fiddle to Ritchie or Jill.
Hidden In Plain Sight: The performances are hardly the only thing that makes It’s a Sin such a mind-bogglingly stellar series. No, much of that can be chalked up to Davies’ masterful writing, which weaves five individual character arcs together seamlessly while also crafting a devastating picture of the early days of the AIDS crisis.
It’s a Sin is at its best (and most brutal) when it’s depicting the little moments, particularly the casual cruelties that were viewed as normal when HIV/AIDs first entered the public conversation. From the horrific, plague-like way in which AIDs patients were treated to law enforcement’s ineptitude and callousness, to the general homophobia its characters encountered in everyday life, It’s a Sin is a series that will never let its audience forget about how the world failed the LGBTQ+ in the 80s.
Rest assured, the series isn’t a show about AIDS; it’s a show about people whose lives are derailed by the disease, and how everyone from the medical community to their family failed them. Though the series doesn’t end on a dark note, per se, it doesn’t end on a happy one either, and it pulls no punches in holding guilty parties accountable for just how cruelly the world treated queer people during the AIDs crisis.
The Verdict: Perfectly-paced, devastatingly written, and played to perfection by an ensemble cast that doesn’t miss a beat, It’s a Sin is a near-flawless piece of television, and an unmissable portrait of both queer youth and the tragedy of the AIDS crisis that will leave you gutted in the best way possible.
Where’s It Streaming? You can catch all five episodes of It’s A Sin streaming now on HBO Max.