A new New Zealand-made drama about life in lockdown was dropped from Prime’s schedule, just days before it was due to start. What’s going on?
Peter Salmon reckons the perfect time to watch a New Zealand drama about a second-wave Covid lockdown is during a second-wave Covid lockdown. Prime disagrees, having removed new short drama INSiDE from its programming only a few days ahead of the scheduled Sunday premiere.
Salmon is the director and producer of INSiDE, a mystery-thriller about reclusive germophobe Rose (Morgana O’Reilly) who begins to unravel during a fictional second-wave lockdown. Obsessed with staying Covid-free, Rose barely speaks to her flatmate Adrian (Josh Thomson), preferring to get her human interaction by secretly watching strangers’ video calls. When Rose bumps into her old high school bully Sam (Sam Snedden) online, she’s forced to confront the secrets of her past, and must separate her real life from her pandemic-induced paranoia.
The eight episode series was funded by NZ On Air as part of its $700,000 Covid funding boost, which funded projects that could be produced quickly, safely and in lockdown. It was written during level four, with Shoshana McCallum and Dan Musgrove leading a writing team that included Tom Sainsbury, Kura Forrester and Nic Sampson. They developed the series over Zoom, and filming took place in Salmon’s house during level two, with a skeleton cast and crew taking on a variety of roles.
The decision to postpone INSiDE was a surprise to Salmon. “We were kind of confused, to be honest,” he says. “We spent so much energy making sure the show is sensitive to Covid-related issues. It’s a drama about an important mental health issue in these times, done in a sensitive way. I don’t want to speak badly of Prime, because they’ve been super supportive, but it’s troubling.”
Prime put out a statement on Wednesday explaining the decision. “The series INSiDE deals with Covid-related themes. When initially scheduled for broadcast, New Zealand had experienced a long period of no community transmission,” a spokesperson said. “In light of yesterday’s government announcement we have postponed the screening of INSiDE on Prime.”
Hesitations about watching a lockdown drama during lockdown are understandable, but the first two episodes of INSiDE reveal a well-made, intriguing series that nails the bizarreness of the lockdown experience. With each episode lasting around 12 minutes, INSiDE gives a short, sharp peek into Rose’s world during enforced isolation. O’Reilly is hugely compelling as the anxious and uncertain Rose, and the mood is lifted by many moments of dark Kiwi humour.
Salmon reckons Auckland’s return to lockdown means there’s no better time to broadcast. “It’s talking about this thing that’s happening now, and I feel we shy away from that.”
To Salmon, INSiDE is important because it captures the mood of New Zealand’s Covid experience. “We were channelling all the feelings and anxieties that we had. It was a last-minute decision for us to make the story go into a new wave, because we felt like, after New Zealanders came out of lockdown, everyone was really chilled, and we wanted people to remember the anxiety they felt when it happened.”
He also thinks the show is about more than the pandemic. “Covid’s just the backdrop,” he says. “After episode two, it’s barely talked about. It’s about Rose’s anxieties, her relationship with this bully and finding comfort in watching other people’s lives. It’s more about spying on people than it is about Covid.”
Prime is yet to confirm when INSiDE will be rescheduled, but Salmon says the network is still keen to broadcast the series. “They’re super proud of it, and they want it to be on air, but they haven’t given a specific date.” Regardless of when INSiDE screens, Salmon says postponing the show misses an opportunity to creatively communicate an important event in New Zealanders’ lives.
“I understand Prime’s concerns – they don’t want to feel like we’re jumping on people’s anxieties, because it is a real thing that’s happening,” Salmon says. “But I worry that if we can’t do fast-response stories that talk about relevant themes, without it being censored in a way, it’s a really sad state of affairs.
“It is a drama, at the end of the day.”