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November 17, 2017

With Friends Like These

In his newest comedy, a Brit known for creating loyal fans tests the limits of friendship.

Ann Farmer
  • Craig Sugden

Ill Behaviour, a six-part comedy thriller series that Showtime acquired from the BBC, unfolds with the newly divorced Joel (Chris Geere) perched on the ledge of a Bristol, England, apartment building in his skivvies, tossing pound notes (we assume) in the air.

Down below, passersby are snatching them up.

Turns out, Joel’s split has landed him in the dumps — despite the multi-million-pound settlement from his wealthy former wife. Luckily, his best friends, Charlie (Tom Riley) and Tess (Jessica Regan), arrive in time to save his life and the rest of the cash, which will soon come in handy.

For, Charlie reveals that he’s been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is determined to cure himself with natural remedies. Alarmed by his game plan, Joel and Tess concoct a plot to force him to undergo chemotherapy. Because that’s what these friends do. They rescue each other, whether the one being rescued likes it or not.

“It’s really like a wishful fantasy,” says creator-writer–executive pro- ducer Sam Bain, who got the idea from his own life, watching friends make bad decisions and being unable to stop them. “I can’t grab the steering wheel of their life and twist it hard to the right,” he bemoans. “I just say what I can, and then I have to sit back and watch them crash and  burn.”

A British comedy writer, and the son of a TV  director and an actress, Bain began crafting TV scripts with a writing partner, Jesse Armstrong, while inhaling American comedies like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Their best-known comedy, Peep Show, evolved into a cult favorite on Britain’s Channel 4 and centers on two friends — one a slacker, the other socially awkward — who  share a London flat. Next they created the comedy-drama Fresh Meat, which revolves around six college misfits who live together off-campus.

To write Ill Behaviour, which launched November 13 (viewers can catch up on Showtime Anytime or on demand), Bain went solo and darker. He also turned it into a caper. Police, lies and manhunts come into play. So does a self-centered, alcoholic doctor named Nadia, played by Riley’s real-life American wife, Lizzy Caplan (Virginia Masters in Masters of Sex).

Essentially, though, it remains a show about friendship. “People are crossing boundaries to save the life of a friend,” Bain says. “I guess it’s really the ultimate version of tough love.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2017

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