Marx and Venus: episode guide

Bryce Youngman and Rhoda Lopez

Just the two of us ... Bryce Youngman and Rhoda Lopez as flatmates John Marx and Venus Hoy.

The odd couple

Five-minute episodes, 25 writers, two characters - Marx and Venus is no ordinary series.

Bryce Youngman admits his latest role was a little close to the bone. A couple of years ago the young actor had just found a female flatmate to help pay the rent after breaking up with his girlfriend. Almost immediately, he landed the role of Marx, the male lead in Marx and Venus who, er, had just found a female flatmate to help pay the rent after breaking up with his girlfriend.

"I felt a little naked," Youngman says. "When you don't have that buffer between you and your character, it can be uncomfortable." He's quick to point out, however, that there were differences. "Marx gets more neurotic as the series progresses," he says. "He even starts stuttering at one point. That's definitely not me."

SBS's Marx and Venus was unlike anything Youngman - or anyone else involved with the project - had done before. The brainchild of Geoffrey Atherden (Mother and Son, Grass Roots), it began life as a collection of character monologues posted on the SBS website. A script could be submitted by anyone familiar with John Marx, the conservative lawyer who pines for his ex, and Venus Hoy, the fun-loving party girl who moves in with him. All scenes were restricted to their shared apartment and external characters were forbidden. Oh, and each episode could run for only five minutes.

More than 1700 scripts flooded in, from which the producers selected just 25. "We all had to sit down and work out how to reflect the unique aspects of every script but maintain some sort of consistency," Youngman says. "Then we had to work out in which order to play them to show how the characters' relationship evolves."

Emma Lung (Peaches, The Cooks), who was slated to play Venus, pulled out weeks before filming was due to start. Fortunately, up-and-comer Rhoda Lopez jumped at the role and shooting got under way. But the potential for the whole thing to become a contrived, disjointed mess was still enormous. Seriously, 25 writers?

Not only did the series not fall apart, it came together beautifully. Think The Secret Life of Us with an extra dollop of humour and you're pretty much there. There's plenty of unresolved sexual tension, of course. Marx and Venus are surprised by their mutual attraction and do their best to deny it. But the show's strength is its ability to explore all manner of human foibles through seemingly trivial matters. One of the most illuminating episodes, for example, concerns the pair's tussle over getting a pet.

"What I really wanted to do was make Marx a bit of a dick but make him endearing all the same," Youngman says. "I want the audience to look at him and go, 'Yeah, he's a wanker but I hope he does get the girl.' "

Lopez also revelled in her character's flaws. "In the first half of the series, Venus is always storming off in a huff or telling Marx off for something he didn't even think would be a problem," she says. "More often than not she's in a bad mood with him but usually they're arguing over something like leaving toothpaste in the sink. There's a lot of focus on all these things that happen in real life but that you don't often see on TV."

The fact that Venus's Asian heritage is not her defining characteristic also appealed to Lopez. "She's not the typical doctor, lawyer or accountant who's been pushed into the job by her parents," she says. "She's very loud, she loves colourful clothing and she works in a creative field. I really love that about her."

Originally scheduled to air five nights a week before the 6.30 news, the series will now air only on Monday night in the plum slot between Top Gear and South Park. SBS will also load three episodes a week onto its website. If it's a hit, it could blossom into a full-length weekly or even nightly drama.

"I really think something good could come out of this," Lopez says. "It's got all the right ingredients. I've got my fingers crossed."

Marx and Venus begins on SBS tonight at 8.30.

By Michael Lallo
August 6, 2007
Sydney Morning Herald