The new local black comedy Fresh Eggs premieres on TVNZ2 tonight. Sam Brooks talks to the creators about what makes it so different.
Fresh Eggs doesn’t look or feel like anything else on New Zealand televsion right now – or ever.
The show, about two city-dwellers who move to the countryside after some life upheavals, has a black comedic tone that I’ve found difficult to place. A dated local reference might be Black Sheep, and a less dated one might be Housebound, but even those are both films.
As someone who spent far too much time in a rural sports bar in his adolescence – a different story for a different time – the humour in Fresh Eggs rings true. Everybody is fair game for jokes, except the people who aren’t playing the game. And, in the world of Fresh Eggs, bad things usually end up happening to those people.
It’s fun, it’s irreverent, and it stands apart from other New Zealand small screen comedy.
I wanted to know about the minds behind the project, and how exactly it got to the screen without being workshopped or developed to death, so I talked to the writers and creators Nick Ward and Kim Harrop, and also executive producer Philippa Rennie.
So let’s just get into it then. What’s the actual genesis of this show?
Nick Ward (co-creator, co-writer): It was from a conversation I had with a guy in the pub. Because there was a new expressway coming into the Kapiti Coast [where I live], a lot of lifestyle blockers were moving in. He said, “Ah, they’re all fresh eggs”, and I said, “Wait, what?”
And he went, “Oh you call them fresh eggs – they’re lifestyle blockers – because the first thing they do is put up a bloody sign that says ‘fresh eggs’. Like we don’t have eggs in the country!”
We have this perception of what the country is and it’s not really like Matakana, is it? Small town New Zealand is a beast all to itself. I love it, that’s why I live there you know, and so I wanted to write a bit of a love letter to it.
I had this thing that I had written, and nobody wanted a piece of! Then I took it to this crazy woman here [he gestures heartily at Kim Harrop] who saw the potential in it, and then together we worked it up and made it into the show that it is.
Kim Harrop (co-creator, co-writer): It was really great, because around about that time it was kind of the beginning of the housing crisis.
There were lots and lots of, like, Aucklanders moving to the country, especially people who were trying to get on the property ladder – so the idea got a bit of traction from that.
NW: It had to be made. What I wanted to do was take all the stories that I knew, that were, you know, these stories that people would tell you down the pub, and you’d go “are you… is that for real?!”.
It has quite specific tone that sets it differently from anything else I’ve seen on TV. Is that a conscious choice, to be unlike everything else?
NW: We got an email from a chap who was going on to be the DOP [director of photography], and he wrote: “I’ve read the scripts, they’re great – they’re funny, they’re visual, they’re really exciting. So please can you send me the real scripts?”
KH: We wanted to make something different, and we wanted to stick to our guns and make it a black comedy, the sort of humour that we all liked at the writing table. We all liked the pervy, silly, sick, weird humour – which we think people respond to. And, honestly, that’s the sort of shows that are succeeding on Netflix. But we were frickin’ lucky, because the planets were aligned and when we went into pitch it was at a time where I think TVNZ were ready to take a risk, and we were really lucky!
We were pretty much left alone, right?
NW: They wanted to take a risk; but boy howdy, what did they get?!
KH: It’s kind of evolved its own identity. In selling it, it’s hard to put into a box, because it doesn’t fit into–
Philippa Rennie (executive producer): It’s not one thing. It does have its own distinctive style, though there are references and touch-points that we have throughout. From a Warner Brothers point of view, you know, selling it internationally, they were immediately struck by the fact that it didn’t look like everything else on free-to-air television. And they liked that, because of course the free-to-airs need to be able to now compete with those other platforms.
NW: And also we really pushed it with the scripts, and then when people came on board to direct and produce, and the DOPs, and the costumes, and the art direction – they all went, ‘Okay, you’re pushing it, and we’re going to push it too.”
I have a vivid memory of sitting at the story table with Kim, and I went “Okay now this is the way it’s going to go,” and Kim went “… no!” So we all stayed sitting down, and I’m so glad we did because we came up with a cracker, to finish off that story.
Because when you’ve done all this great work, you don’t want to finish on good – you want to finish on cracking.
KH: We’ve all worked on other shows which are quite prescribed – Nick has worked on like a million shows, and often there’s a lot of feedback from the network and things like that. But we had a dream run – we were pretty much left alone, which is so unusual.
It was really important to us that we got the right people in terms of our HODs [heads of department] who got it and wanted it as much as we did, and we wanted them to feel the same creative freedom.
On that, how do you make sure that people stay on the same page as you? How do you ensure that you all have the same thing in mind at the end of it?
NW: The simple truth is that sometimes you don’t. In my mind, I’d always had this image of Chalky, the vet, being this little round, fat older man. And [actor] Stephen Papps turns up, and owns the role. [He] turns up and you go, “Oh, there you go, it’s that guy.” If you went down a prescriptive route, and said “I wanna cast that guy, and I wanna do this,” then you get nothing.
KH: At the beginning we thought, “We have to get the right people, we have to get the right HODs.” And so, we spent a lot of time interviewing all the HODs, and we basically sort of sent them scripts and stuff like that, we said “This is what we’re looking for, but if you get it we’re totally open to your vision.”
NW: We’d put it on the page – we really laboured over every word of every scene – and then you come in and you see like, the art department labouring over making fake dog turds. Putting as much love into those turds as we put into the words on the page. I almost wept with joy when I saw those turds. They really knocked those out of the park.
KH: We spent time getting the right people, to get kindred spirits. There’s our HODs and our cast, and we were flying. Flying the way that we flew.
So what kind of response do you expect the audience to have?
NW: Listen, you know this as a writer. You want people to like your work – we want to be liked. We’ve given our best, and we’ve put everything into it. And so you do hope that people appreciate that you’ve done that. But most of all, I just hope they come and have a really good time. Because we’re throwing a party, and it’s going to be fun. And do not expect–
PR: –bland. Or beige – there’s not a lot of beige.
NW: Do not expect bland!
PR: I mean, I think we’re realistic that there’s probably going to be some… well, it will be polarizing.
KH: There’s something to offend everybody.
PR: Yeah, there’s a good dose of it. But hey look, we can’t please everyone, and we’re not trying to, because we are not middle-of-the-road. This is not middle-of-the-road television, this is not ‘oh that’ll be nice to have on in the background’.
If you’re in, you’re in – then you’re buckled in. You’re going to have a response. We’re confident there will be a response.
K: All the characters we’ve created with such love; there’s no scorn, everything is based in love – and also, I think New Zealand audiences are mature enough and smart enough to be able to laugh at themselves. We’re all grown-ups, and we can all laugh about it. Everything’s based in love – the bad people get theirs, and the good people get theirs, and it’s.. everyone’s satisfied.
NW: Absolutely. And anyway, who doesn’t like a good fart joke?