Michaela Coel’s new 12-part drama has won plaudits from critics after it made its debut on BBC One on Monday.
I May Destroy You charts the fallout from a sexual assault which occurs after protagonist Arabella – played by Cole – has her drink spiked.
Coel, who wrote and directed part of the series, has previously revealed she was a victim of sexual assault herself.
The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan called the show a “breathtaking achievement”, and it could be the year’s best drama.
Her five-star review said: “This is going to be a rave review, because I May Destroy You is an astonishing, beautiful, thrilling series – a sexual consent drama if you want the one-line pitch, but so, so much more than that. It works on every level.
“It is, in short, an extraordinary, breathtaking achievement without a false note in it, shot through with humour and with ideas, talent and character to burn at every perfectly plotted turn.”
The Telegraph’s Anita Singh concurred, giving the drama four stars. “What you do not expect from this story is humour,” she wrote.
“Yet Coel has pulled off the seemingly impossible by creating a drama that is frequently funny. We have seen the aftermath of rape on television many times – the scene in the shower, the visit to police, the swabs, examinations and interviews.
“I May Destroy You is not like that. What Coel seems to be saying is that trauma doesn’t erase the essence of you.”
In a recent interview, Coel described how humour was an inevitable part of her work even when dealing with such serious subject matter.
“I didn’t add humour, humour is always there; at every party, funeral and war, although often uninvited, she’s always there,” she said.
“I, for some reason, I always seem to find myself in a corner with her, even when in a police station giving a witness statement about being raped by a stranger. I’ve come to accept she’ll be in everything I do.”
The Independent’s Isobel Lewis gave another five-star review.
She wrote: “No TV show has ever shown the complexities of sexual assault and how it affects survivors, their friends and their communities quite like this difficult, harrowing and hilarious drama.”
‘Deeply flawed character’
Metro’s Cydney Yeates gave the show four-and-a-half stars, saying Coel “manages to capture the fraught anxiety of Arabella’s circumstance”.
She added: “She also succeeded in making Arabella a deeply flawed character who we want to shake in one moment, but protect her by all means necessary in the next.”
The Evening Standard’s Katie Strick gave the drama four stars, writing that the first 30-minute episode “lays the foundations for some complex storylines from race to consent”.
She continued: “The assault itself is just the start. Coel says the incident changed her life and it certainly does for her character. Perhaps seeing it played out on screen will help change some viewers’ lives, too.”
‘Unfocused and scattered’
Carol Midgley, writing in The Times, was not quite as enamoured, giving the episode three stars. The BBC had given Coel “free rein and no restrictions”, she said.
“Sometimes it showed. While her performance was excellent, the first episode often felt unfocused and scattered, with maybe 12 or 13 characters introduced in the first 23 minutes, which is a lot to process.”
In the US, Vanity Fair writer Sonia Saraiya said Coel “has accomplished an unlikely feat with her second show, I May Destroy You – a sexy, cool, funny half-hour about, well, rape and consent in the digital era”.
New York Times critic Mike Hale wrote: “Coel… has an uncommon ability as a writer to blend the serious and the sardonic, in a way that doesn’t wink at the audience. In I May Destroy You, she rarely strikes a false note.”
TV fans on social media also heaped praise on the production. The Stranger actor Kadiff Kirwan tweeted that Coel should “take a bow”.
US viewer Melessie Clark was also a fan.