The Librarians: articles

Comedy by the books

Deep among the books at Middleton Interactive Learning Centre, repressed former head librarian Frances O'Brien (Robyn Butler) is on the verge of breakdown. Her Muslim colleague and rival Nada is in charge of the new library, the email system is down, O'Brien's ex-best-friend-turned-drug-dealer-turned-children's librarian, Christine, is furious about being pregnant and there's a pig's head wedged into the return chute.

Demoted to driving the mobile library truck, O'Brien's only passion, the library, is in the unworthy, uncaring hands of the enemy.

So begins the new series of The Librarians, written and produced by Butler and husband Wayne Hope. Hope, who also directs, returns as O'Brien's hapless husband Terry.

Butler says she and Hope have used the confidence borne from The Librarians' first series and the success of their other collaboration, Very Small Business, to tighten, tweak and intensify the stories in season two.

"We realised we wanted to go really fast, sharpen up the speed of the script," she says. "Because it is really dense and layered. We've got eight main cast and so much happens. It is a social satire, it is emotional and dark, but we didn't want it to be laboured in any way, to feel too pensive."

Such darkness emerges in broader storylines for all the characters with bleak but hilarious flashbacks of O'Brien's grim courtship with Terry, the man she married for revenge, and her lonely pregnancies. Terry's addiction to masturbation features prominently, as does Dawn's doomed love in Barbados, Christine's disgust at giving birth and O'Brien's intolerance.

Butler has developed O'Brien's anxiety-ridden character and rigid physicality by playing the role "bigger". "When doing a take, Wayne would sometimes whisper in my ear, 'And 10 per cent more funny'," she says. "It'd give me permission to be a bit more silly and I think that can often be the difference with her. To make her a little bit ludicrous."

Butler was also delighted to re-open O'Brien's wardrobe, a fashion style she calls "public servant stroke school teacher with a little kick to Community Aid Abroad".

"And, it has to be said, comfortable," Butler says. "Though one of my favourite new pieces, the camel trousers in episode five, got more remarks than anything I have ever come out with. Extremely high-waisted."

By Lenny Ann Low
August 3, 2009
Sydney Morning Herald