The local sitcom that laughs in the face of death is back for a second season. Tara Ward speaks to sisters Eve and Grace Palmer, who co-created, co-wrote and co-star in the series.
There’s a killer moment in the new season of Good Grief that perfectly captures the show’s awkward joy. Four workmates are paying tribute to Hemi, the recently deceased owner of Loving Tributes funeral home. Hemi’s granddaughter Ellie gives an emotional speech, but hearse driver Beau decides to freestyle his feelings. His unconventional rap tribute covers everything from cheese toasties to driving safely in a school zone, and climaxes with the immortal rhyme “casket, casket / human in a basket” before Ellie cuts him off.
It’s so wrong that it’s right, and laughing at death is exactly what Good Grief wants us to do. The second season of the New Zealand comedy about two millennial sisters who inherit a funeral home recently dropped on TVNZ+, and the show’s creators and writers Eve and Grace Palmer (sisters who also star as Ellie and Gwen Goode) are thrilled to be poking fun at our own mortality again.
The story behind Good Grief’s second season is a remarkable one. Neither Eve, Grace, nor their co-writer/creator Nick Schaedel had written a television series before Good Grief, and they simply wanted to “see what came out of it”. TVNZ commissioned the first season in 2020 with the support of NZ On Air, but declined to renew it for a second. It looked like Good Grief was dead and buried until American network AMC – home of Mad Men and Better Call Saul – announced that not only would they screen Good Grief on their global cable network, but they were willing to fund the entire second season.
The Palmer sisters and Schaedel spent two years writing season one, but AMC gave them a deadline of four months for the sequel. While both Eve and Grace felt the pressure of delivering a comedy for an international audience, Grace says the strict timeline ended up being creatively liberating, because it gave them no time to overthink their ideas. “You just go, this is what we’re doing, and we’re rolling with it and seeing where it takes us,” she says.
They definitely delivered. Season two begins with Gwen’s reluctant return from Bali, and takes us deeper into the chaos of the Loving Tributes team. We learn more about Gwen and Ellie’s family, and delve into the lives of their eccentric employees Dean (Josh Thomson), Trisha (Bree Peters), Beau (Vinnie Bennett), and Sharon (Sophie Hambleton). The result is a dynamic, laugh-out-loud journey through life and death and all the squirmy bits in between, with a stellar guest cast that includes Miriama Smith, Amanda Billing, Jacob Rajan and Eli Matthewson.
Grace and Eve’s collaboration with Schaedel, producer Kerry Warkia and director Kiel McNaughton has created a comedy with a distinct New Zealand flavour: quiet, deadpan, deliciously awkward. Initially, Eve and Grace worried the New Zealand in-jokes wouldn’t appeal to an international audience, but they credit Taika Waititi, Flight of the Conchords and Rose Matafeo for popularising the New Zealand style of comedy internationally.
It also helps that the show deals with universal themes of grief, relationships and family. Good Grief leans hard into the bleakness of death and finds humour in the darkest of moments. “We were big fans of really dry, grounded comedies that made you feel deeply uncomfortable, just because it was so cringeworthy,” Grace says. “We weren’t really into big gags, but things that make you feel shocked.”
There’s the teenager who smuggles a voice recording of “help me, I’m stuck” into her grandmother’s coffin, Dean’s over-enthusiastic musical performances at the wakes, and Ellie’s classic funeral “fright fart” moment. Worried their storylines were too far-fetched, Grace and Eve spoke with Gary Taylor, president of the Funeral Directors Association New Zealand. “Often we would think, this may be a little absurd. He would say, ‘oh no, I’ve seen that – twice’,” Grace says. “It was reassuring to know that even some of those more ludicrous moments are grounded in someone’s reality.”
At the centre of every ludicrous moment are the Goode sisters, polar opposites who blunder their way through embarrassing funerals and tense family standoffs. Where Ellie is cautious and steady, Gwen is impulsive and unpredictable. Ellie has a five-year plan and a vision board, while Gwen wears plasterer’s stilts round the house that she can’t take off to pee. Together, they’re the perfect mix of ridiculous and relatable. “We wanted them to sometimes make big mistakes, sometimes have good intentions, sometimes maybe not have the best of intentions,” Eve says of writing their wonderfully flawed characters.
Good Grief knows we’re all a bit weird in our own special way, and the show captures the tensions that simmer between people as they negotiate the one thing we all have in common. Season two ends on a cliffhanger, and while a third season isn’t confirmed, both Eve and Grace want to keep making people laugh in death’s face. “When your biggest challenge at work that day is cracking up during a scene or trying hard not to laugh, that is a wonderful problem to have,” Eve says, and Grace agrees. “It’s joyous. Like, why wouldn’t you? It’s such a nice way to fill your day.”
It’s an incredible result for two people who’d never written a television show before. “Eve and I are really bad at sitting back and being like, ‘we did good, didn’t we?’”, Grace says. “We’re just constantly grateful for everybody else. We feel really humbled by the people we’ve had to come and work with us.” And while Gwen and Ellie struggle to find common ground in Good Grief, the Palmer sisters have no such concerns. “It’s so boring, but Eve and I get along so well,” Grace says. “There’s no one else I’d rather be on this journey with.”
Both seasons of Good Grief are streaming on TVNZ+.