Well, it's better than Cop Widow
Sally Phillips and writer Lloyd Woolf on Sky1's Parents
Sky 1 launches its latest British sitcom this Friday, with new family show called Parents, starring comedy queen Sally Phillips as a successful executive forced to move her family in with her parents after losing her well-paid job.
It is a deliberate move by the broadcaster to find a hit, pre-watershed show with wide appeal, as it ups its spend on original UK content.
Co-writer Lloyd Woolf – once part of sketch group Cowards – said: ‘We had an ambition to do a family show, which most people don’t have. It’s become an unfashionable genre, a poor relation, and we wanted to make one that we loved. There’s a bit of an assumption in the industry that if it’s on at 8.30pm, it’s a bit shit.’
That’s exactly the time the show launches this week, and Sky’s head of comedy Lucy Lumsden said: ‘We have a good reputation around that time, thanks to The Simpsons and Modern Family, and it seemed a nonsense that we didn’t have a British family comedy in that slot.’
The premise sounds like it is resonating with the harsh realities of the recession – indeed Jason Manford has piloted a sitcom with a similar premise for ITV – but Woolf and his co-writer Joe Tucker made sure Philips’ character Jenny ended up on the skids because of her own mistakes (namely a punch-up with a smug co-worker) rather than the economic slump.
‘It doesn’t really work if your antagonist is an economic climate,’ Philips said following a preview screening at London’s BFI Southbank last night.
She got the role after auditioning for producers at Peep Show makers Objective – but feared she might have to turn it down after becoming pregnant soon after being offered the job.
When she broke the news to one of her agents, ‘he reacted like I had terminal cancer’. Luckily producers were more understanding. ‘Amazingly, they waited for me,’ she said. ‘I did the read-through when my baby was three-and-a-half months old.’
The series also starts Tom Conit and Susie Blake as Jenny’s parents and former Holby City actor Darren Strange as her dreamer of a husband, Nick. Philips revealed that Strange - whose credits also include the Armando Iannucci Show and The IT Crowd – was about to quit acting before he landed his role.
‘He had just done his PGCE to get a teaching job. And the job he got, he lost because he had to take too many days off for filming.’ Then she turned to Lumsden, sitting on the same panel, and added: ‘‘Now I’m just putting pressure on Lucy for a second series.’ The commissioner refused to be drawn.
Philips also spoke of the compromise to be had between great comedy performances, and great-looking programmes. ‘If you have a really out-there performance, you can do that maybe twice – so that is not always compatible with fancy cinematography,’ she said. ‘There’s a difficult balance between performance and beautiful shots.’
Back on the subject of Parents, she added: ‘Jenny is an interesting modern character in that she’s the breadwinner and forgot how to do the parenting. It's a joy of a role to perform and that is unusual. I don't write things that are fun to perform, which is ironic because, as a performer, you'd think I would.
‘Lloyd and Joe have written stuff that you want to observe exactly but, at the same time, there's room to piss about. There is lots of freedom, so there'll be 20 ways to perform something.’
It’s certainly a better role than some others Phillips has been in the running for. ‘We think we’ve hit rock bottom with some of our sitcoms, but there’s a long way to go,’ she said.
‘I auditioned for the one American show; I don’t know what it was really called but in my mind it was called Cop Widow. Cop Widow ran a bar with her mum who was also, by coincidence, a Cop Widow. I don’t know why they were auditioning in London because were were all basically Sloanes. Why would Sloanes be Cop Widows?’
Phillips added that Parents was very fast-paced, comparing it to an animation: ‘We get through an awful lot of story in the shortest slots on TV.’
Woolf said: ‘The episodes are like pop songs in that they look easy, but, in fact, being that simple is actually quite complicated. It's hard work, but, you know, that's what makes it rewarding - you feel like you've pulled off something tricky.’
And he said: ‘We chose Kettering because it was a nondescript town – and it meant it wasn’t a north-south thing. Plus, it has got the only tower in Britain for testing elevators, so it’s got a lot going for it.’
Here is a trailer for Parents – which starts with a double bill at 8.30pm this Friday:
And here are Sally Phillips and Tom Conti talking about their roles, with more clips from the show:
Posted: 4 Jul 2012