Stupid Stupid Man: articles

Delusional, stupid and fun

Freedom drives a new comedy.

IF YOU think, as The Office's David Brent does, that he is an entertainer rather than a plodding and inept middle manager, you might also share Carl van Dyke's belief that readers buy the lad mag he edits for its unsurpassed quality and finger-on-the-pulse journalism.

Self-delusion is rich turf for television comedy. Think of the bumbling, cruel and anti-social hotel manager Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) or just about any of the male characters in Stupid, Stupid Man, the new comedy series created by pay channel TV1.

Set in the offices of fictitious though vaguely familiar lad mag COQ (as in the French word for rooster), Stupid, Stupid Man is an ensemble comedy with its sights set firmly on the gender war.

But rather than focusing on the old "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" idea, the target here is the expectations and confusions of men in the post-feminist era.

"I like being a parent too, I'm not just some pack-horse carrying you up the mountain of your personal ambition. Can this life stuff be a little about me too?" the put-upon Carl van Dyke (Wayne Hope) rants to hapless new copy boy Ross (Chris Leaney), whose job interview has turned into a lament for Carl's sorry personal life in the show's promising opening episode.

The series was conceived by TV1's Selena Crowley, Will Usic (who directs) and Mark Burnett.

Producer Nick Murray turned to scriptwriter Tim Pye to oversee the writing (the pair having previously collaborated on BlackJack). Pye wrote four episodes, Michael Ward (whose credits include The Micallef Pogram) three and Mark Burnett one.

"When I first sat down to write it," says Pye, "it occurred to me there was comedy in the difference between the way these men perceive themselves, the way they actually are and how others perceive them. On reflection, I don't think that's a hugely original comic notion. I think you can look at comedic figures such as Mike Moore in Frontline and Basil Fawlty. They're all deluded in some way and I think that sense of delusion in Carl van Dyke was a prime mover for me in terms of where to dig into these characters. I was kind of interested in that notion of four distinct male character types. Often blokes are pigeonholed as being all the same, as are women, and they're simply not."

The other two members of this quartet of blokey misfits are COQ's feature writer Nick (Matthew Newton) and broken-hearted advice columnist Dave (Bob Franklin). Leah Vandenberg plays the calculating boss and publisher Anne, and Sophie Katinis is Carl's crouching tiger of a personal assistant.

"Ensemble pieces often work as examinations of dysfunctional families," says Pye, "and I think this is an example of that. We spent a lot of time talking about the characters and I think that was one of the luxuries of this show. We talked at length over several months about who these characters were before we actually wrote anything."

To a large degree the show was also shaped by the actors. "We had four or five episodes up to second-draft stage by the time we were casting, so there was a lot for the cast to get their teeth into in terms of who they were," Pye says.

"Once the show had been cast and we saw them interacting it was a great position to launch into the final draft. We could rework the dialogue so that it suited the rhythm of the characters."

Pye says Murray and director Usic encouraged him and co-writer Ward to come on set "so that we could be there and continually play with the script through rehearsal, even while it was being shot".

Originally the show was to be about a men's program on television, but the idea of a television show about a television show was discarded as too self-referential.

There is some knockabout physical comedy in Stupid, Stupid Man but Pye is a fan of low-key, slow-burn comedies that rely on character and the truthfulness of performance.

"There's a line - 'never tell actors they are in a comedy'. Let a comedy bubble out of the truth, rather than trying to layer it on thick with a trowel," he says, citing The Office, Father Ted and, closer to home, We Can Be Heroes and This Sporting Life by John Doyle and Greig Pickhaver as shows he admires.

Pye believes writing a show for subscription television is different to free-to-air because of the business model involved.

"They can show it three times across the week rather than having just one chance at it where you've got to have 1 million people or more watching. There was an enormous amount of creative freedom, a sense of 'let's not talk about target audiences, let's not talk about what we can get away with at 9.30pm' . . . which is incredibly liberating and refreshing."

Stupid, Stupid Man premieres on TVI on Tuesday at 9.30pm.

November 9, 2006
The Age