When Adam Zwar began writing Mr. Black he always envisaged it would be on a public broadcaster or even Pay TV before a Free to Air network. After all their recent history in narrative comedy is fleeting at best.
But to his surprise it was 10 who came calling, perhaps encouraged by CBS where comedy is an important tentpole.
“Maybe CBS has encouraged them to do more comedies?” Zwar asks.
“I wrote Mr. Black with ABC, SBS or Foxtel in mind, only because they were the people who were making comedies.
“The first episode was written with what the Americans call ‘a very cable sensibility.’ It was a lot darker than the rest of the series. When 10 picked it up I adjusted it to make it a commercial half hour.
“I’ve been spending some time in the US studying the differences between network, cable and streaming and the way you approach a show.
“The battlelines have to be drawn between who the protagonist and antagonist is. And it generally needs to be a family of some sort, whether it’s an actual family, workplace family or a constructed family.”
“It’s old masculinity versus new masculinity.”
The series stars Stephen Curry as former sports journalist Peter Black whose ankylosing spondylitis condition sees him move in with daughter Angela (Sophie Wright) and her new partner Fin (Nick Russell). But the two males don’t see eye to eye as a generation gap is exacerbated by testy personalities.
“It’s old masculinity versus new masculinity. Men growing up today, whether they are straight or gay, can be masculine or femme, it doesn’t matter.
“But when I was growing up you had to walk, talk, think a certain way or it was difficult for you.
“So I wanted to put a guy who doesn’t change with a guy who is quite fluid with his masculinity.
Fin is contrasted by Mr. Black‘s best mate Malcolm (Paul Denny), another ex-journo who will reveal more to his character in an upcoming episode.
“I thought it would be good to have two sports journalists who have travelled the world and stayed in hotels, has one mate Malcolm, who has never told him he’s gay. It’s sad but also funny. It does speak to Australian men not talking about their personal situations with each other,” says Zwar.
“If you have Sport in your life you can avoid talking about interpersonal situations forever.”
“I have always been attracted to the dynamic of three”
Meanwhile Angela frequently finds herself in the middle of a tug of war between her two men.
“I have always been attracted to the dynamic of three because I grew up In a family of three, in my best friends there were three of us and obviously three is the number of comedy,” Zwar continues.
“I love that small dynamic where three is a crowd and there are shifting allegiances all the time.”
But he stands by a decision to not have Angela defend her partner more in the face of her unreasonable father.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. She kind of enjoys her father testing Fin out. In the first few episodes that happens, but then she starts to stick up for him more,” Zwar explains.
“In episode 4 Mr. Black is a gun-owner and it turns out she is a great target shooter as well. So she oscillates between Mr. Black and Fin’s side. Ultimately she’s on Fin’s side but every now and then she goes towards her father.
“If we turned it into a morality play it suddenly becomes less funny.”
Nadine Garner also plays Angela’s mother, Rowena, keen to settle her divorce with her cantankerous husband while tonight Eddie McGuire will guest star as Collingwood president.
“People take it as a personal offence if they don’t like your comedy.”
Since the series debuted two weeks ago Zwar has been keeping an eye on reviews and social media reactions to the show, most of which have been positive. As a seasoned pro with such shows as Wilfred, Lowdown, Squinters and the Agony series, he is more than aware of the subjective nature of comedy and the pressure to hit the ground running.
“With Drama there is about a 10% deviation between what people think about a show. Whether they like it or dislike it, there’s not a massive deviation. Whereas with comedy it’s either ‘We love it!’ or ‘We hate it!’
“People take it as a personal offence if they don’t like your comedy.
“With extreme reactions and such subjectivity it’s no wonder so many comedians are nervous wrecks.”
As Mr. Black rolls out across 6 more episodes, Zwar has a second season of car-pool comedy Squinters coming to ABC, is pitching new projects in the US and is hopeful producers CJZ get the green light for more of Mr. Black from the 10.
He already has new ideas to make life even more difficult for his characters.
“I do want to explore one day meeting his father and everything is reversed. He would be even harder than Mr. Black!”
Mr. Black airs 8:45pm Tuesday on 10.