Talented trio behind Earth Science Investigators

Behind the science and the comedy of 9GO!'s new show are three seasoned performers passionate about making Kids' TV.

Nine Queensland’s trio of Kid’s TV performers Ashlee Lollback, Arnijka Larcombe-Weate and Michael Balk have become seasoned experts through a string of industry shows including Smashhdown!, Brainbuzz, Whurrawhy, dirtgirlworld, The Bureau of Magical Things.

Now they embark on their next series for 9GO!,a cool 50 episode output of comedy factual, Earth Science Investigators.

All three have worked in film and theatre, arming them with improvisation skills that QTQ9 Kid’s Unit embraces in a format by writer / producer Dominic Morris.

“We worked on Smashhdown! together in previous years, which has created a relationship and friendship with everyone. The first day we started filming this, it was just instantly comfortable which allows for much better work because you’re not worried about being judged. There’s 100% trust,” Arnijka Larcombe-Weate tells TV Tonight.

“We’re such a small crew on Earth Science Investigators, so it allows everyone to have a voice, to be heard, to work with each other really closely, which I think is a very rare opportunity in this industry. It’s often quite large crews, and you don’t know people personally.”

Larcombe-Weate and Ashlee Lollback play two amateur detectives from an alien planet who have come to Earth to investigate the human race. The show takes the form of a comedic investigation, with each episode focusing on a different aspect of human behaviour or biology.

“They crash land on Earth and they are given this mission…. every episode explores a different human behaviour or something on Earth that is quite bizarre,” says Ashlee Lollback.

“It’s really beautiful, because it’s just these two innocent characters discovering these things as they go. We’ve got this great segment called Hit the Streets where we go out and interview humans on the street, which is very funny.

“We went to Queen Street Mall a couple of times, in an episode about Cold we go to an ice skating rink, skating around asking people questions.”

“Private Group Chat (Larcombe-Weate) is always wanting to get answers. Major Let Down (Lollback) is the more relaxed alien. Private Group Chat is very blunt, and pries things out of people… she’s a bit out there,” Larcombe-Weate explains.

“The look of my character, I would say is, I’ve just woken up out of bed and I’ve got frizzy hair and Ash has woken up with sleek hair.”

Drawing upon plenty of comick schtick and improvisation, she cites comedy influences including Kristen Wiig, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Seinfeld and Friends.

“My brain has always worked in a very ‘pun ‘format. So working with a production like this allows me those opportunities and space to create funny moments.”

Ashlee Lollback is grateful QTQ has allowed her to juggle Kid’s TV by day and theatre commitments by night.

“There were days when we were doing five episodes a day of high energy, although it’s not silly or condescending in any way. …..driving to QPAC doing a production of Boy Swallows Universe, sleeping for few hours, coming back here and smashing out five episodes -those opportunities you can’t pass up,” she observes.

“Arnijka and I are always willing to try stuff together. Then Michael, who is the most brilliant improviser in the world, comes up with some brilliant stuff on the fly.”

Michael Balk is the virtuoso of the troupe who expects to pass 1300 episodes of television with Earth Science Investigators. A versatile performer whose CV stretched back to Blue Water High in 2005, he plays multiple roles on the new 9GO! series including newsreader Blake King-Neus (geddit?) and his twin brother reporter, Jake King-Neus.

“Blake often crosses to Jake, who is assigned to the less salubrious investigation. He’ll be sent into the human digestive system to report back on gastric fluid, for example. So it’s not a pleasant job and he’s always pretty displeased with where the network sends him as a investigative journalist,” he explains.

“The convention of them really, is to stitch together the research that the two main characters do, so it’s quite an important role. I do play it with pantomime and comedy, but the information is all 100% accurate.

“The other character who I quite love is General Ignorance….. He is the alien commanding officer, a pink-skinned chap who you will find on the end of the final report, crossing back from Planet Earth to discover what the humans have been up to. He is absolutely idiotic, from another planet in every sense of the word.”

Despite a diverse background Balk has no qualms about staying put in children’s television.

“I did a couple of American films, back to back in various different roles. I had some walk-on bits, did a lot of stand-in work. I body-doubled for Joseph Fiennes for a brief period and Robert Mammone. That was when my ambition was still to be a grown-up actor, but I’ve discovered an actor is an actor, and working is the most important thing. I’ve found that Kids’ TV has been something I’m very good at and consistent work,” he believes.

“I’m very passionate about creating new audiences for Australian content and it starts with Kids. That’s why we made dirtgirlworld (at ABC)- because if you want to save the climate from the impact of generations prior, you’ve got to train a new generation.

“I love that not only is it great and good work, but it also gives children an opportunity to hear Australian voices and Australian stories. They don’t just wake up one day and go to the cinema and start watching Australian feature films. They have to have a developed interest in it. That’s my view.”

Earth Science Investigators screens 7:30am weekdays on 9GO from Monday July 3.

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