The sharing economy comes to TV, albeit not for the first time, in the form of ABC’s new scripted offering Diary of an Uber Driver.
Part-drama, part-comedy, this half hour show is tricky to fit neatly into a box, meaning it’s going to require considerable word-of-mouth if it is to succeed.
Based on a blog and e-book by Ben Phillips, this has been adapted by Thomas Ward (Please Like Me) and joins Squinters and 2014’s Back Seat Drivers as further car-based slices-of-urban-life on ABC.
At the centre of it all is Sam Cotton as Sydney metro driver Ben, who never quite knows what his day on the road will entail. But he’ll have to adapt to randoms with charm, humour and sometimes quick-thinking, all while getting them from A to B. These are revolving mini-dramas book-ended with the car door opening and closing. And in that sense it makes it a delectable acting challenge for cameo performers.
In the first episode Ben finds himself flirting with the chatty Emma (Chantelle Jamieson) -is it just me, do you sit in the front seat of an Uber? It’s a bite-sized grab of what is to come.
Next up is a hilarious eavesdrop on Jodie (Caroline Brazier) who spends the entire time on the phone describing inappropriate sex to a friend, with absolutely no sense of privacy. Ben bites his lip from interjecting.
Then lands Mo (Julian Maroun) -yet another front seater- who has just had a job interview where he lied about his referees, including giving out a fake phone number to the cheap pre-paid phone in his hand. Yep, you guessed it, it’s now ringing and Ben is asked to pretend he is the said referee. Awks.
But it is left to the esteemed John Bell to bring real depth to this new work, playing senior citizen Ken, who shuns his carer (Eliza Logan) before offering insight to Ben into life lessons and marriage with his late wife.
“You know what happened when she died? Nothing. No more hard times. No more good times. Nothing. And anything’s better than nothing. At least anything that happened with her,” says Ken.
Ben, who spends much of the day as a genial driver, who has his own suppressed issues reveals vulnerability and concerns over his own future.
“… what I’m supposed to be doing,” he reflects.
“What are you supposed to be doing?”asks Ken.
“I don’t know, Ken. That’s what I worry about.”
It’s in these moments, that the show rises to the top and Sam Cotton manoeuvres through its various shades with ease.
While this is a format that would work perfectly as a radio play, the format does lend itself to cameos and peeks into eclectic worlds. Life on the road is a metaphor and a lucky -or possibly unlucky- dip for Ben as it is for the viewer.
And did we mention the angry taxi drivers who unleash at Ben every day?
Diary of an Uber Driver airs 9:30pm Wednesdays on ABC.