Stupid Stupid Man: articles

Smart moves, Coq ups and all

A show that dares to poke fun at some sacred cows is back for another run on our screens, writes Greg Hassall.

IT'S September and the former police headquarters on Sydney's College Street are abandoned, ready to be turned into luxury apartments. But level five hums with activity. Computers sit on the desks overflowing with magazines, stationery and toys. There are mounted magazine covers on the walls with semi-naked woman and pufflines such as "School of Hard Knockers" and "First Aid: Look Like a Hero While Copping a Free Snog".

Welcome to Coq, the men's magazine dedicated to "Australia's best chicks, cars and weird shit". If the logo on the door is to be believed, Coq belongs to ACP. In reality, it's the setting for the Foxtel comedy Stupid Stupid Man, which returned this week for a second series.

The first season was a surprise hit, garnering rave reviews and sharing the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association award for outstanding drama with Love My Way.

Its curious tone, veering wildly between subtle observational humour and absurdist physical comedy, was risky but the scripts were tight and blossomed in the hands of a talented cast led by Wayne Hope, Matthew Newton, Leah Vandenberg and Bob Franklin.

Season two finds the show bolder and more confident (or, as the publicity material puts it, "more stupider"). Tim Pye, who wrote half this season's episodes, says things have been easier this time around.

"Episode one of the first series was one of the hardest writing gigs I've taken on because it was creating the comic tone," he says. "Once that was done, and once it was cast, I could sit down and write series two knowing who the characters and actors were and what the pitch of the comedy was."

And it helps that he writes for pay TV.

"Series one, (Foxtel) were so wonderfully hands off. They said, 'Look, we want a show that's funny. That's it really. Don't say f--- and do whatever you like'. Having delivered series one, which they were really happy with, and then them saying, 'OK, just do that again', that was a really great position to start from."

It was a comfortable return for the actors, too. Hope, who plays neurotic Coq editor Carl Van Dyke, says he's much more confident about the slapstick elements of the show.

"Some of the episodes last year that were sillier than others, I was unsure how they'd go. I was like, 'I'm not sure how far you can bend this until it breaks and becomes Stupid Stupid Stupid Man'. But they got quite a good response." He says the tone this season is "slightly sillier" as a result.

Having just finished writing, producing and directing ABC's The Librarians Hope was more than happy to simply "put the acting hat on". He appreciates how smoothly things run under director Will Usic. "I think Will is more assured with what he's making so it feels streamlined."

For Vandenberg, who plays no-nonsense publisher Anne Cassidy, returning to Stupid Stupid Man was more of a shock. She was holidaying in India and had been on the set of the ABC's East of Everything.

"I'd been playing a foreign correspondent love interest of Richard Roxburgh and we were in Byron Bay doing gorgeous scenes under the lighthouse, literally watching whales leap out of the water, and I was in la la land, you know. And then I came here and all of sudden on the walls there are naked woman and you've just got breast and bottoms everywhere and I was like, 'OK, back into the world of Coq'."

As one of the straighter dramatic cast members, she has enjoyed working with Hope and Franklin. "They're great," she says. "You just watch them, their ease, they don't have to try and push." Her gig on Play School also came in handy. "I've made a much bigger fool of myself on Play School than I have on Stupid Stupid Man. It's been a good training ground."

It's hard to talk about the show without addressing the Newton issue. His messy break-up with girlfriend Brooke Satchwell last year and conviction in June for assaulting her, which was overturned in July, are an unwelcome backdrop to this series. The fact that his character, features writer Nick Driscoll, is a sleazy womaniser muddies the water.

He was instructed not to talk to the media during production but he's friendly on set, bounding over between takes to introduce himself. As for his co-workers, it's not an issue on which they're keen to dwell. Asked if the off-screen controversies were on his mind as he wrote Nick's lines, Pye is dismissive: "Didn't give it a second thought. I wasn't writing for Matt, I was writing for his character. And his character is a character; he doesn't really exist."

Hope is more cautious, choosing his words carefully. "I thought it was problematic and, at the time, I wondered, too, given the character he plays in this, if they might have problems with it." Despite finding the situation "complicated and uncomfortable" he doesn't see it as his place to judge. "If you don't adopt some process of accepting that these things happen in life, it's a pretty despairing place."

Newton's travails haven't tarnished the show's aura, with high- profile guest stars lining up to be involved in series two. Deborah Mailman plays a white supremacist, Stephen Curry plays a bitter, wheelchair-bound fashion editor, Jacqueline McKenzie plays a masseuse and Leo Sayer appears once again as himself. Then there's Marcus Graham, who appears as the company's CEO, James, who dresses as the Phantom of the Opera and plays an organ donated to his father by his helicopter pilot.

Let's hope James has a sense of humour.

By Greg Hassall
December 13, 2007
The Age