The first series of mould-breaking sitcom King Gary subverted masculine stereotypes. An RTS panel reveals the ambitions for series two.
It’s been a year since we saw “geezer diva” Gary King (played by co-creator and co-writer Tom Davis) attempt to take over his father’s building business and stay a doting father and loving partner, all the while appointing himself as the central figure of Butterchurn Crescent.
Centred on an alpha male who lacks the alpha-ness the role requires, the layered sitcom spoke volumes about modern-day masculinity, the working class, new money and family dynamics.
It garnered a solid 5 million views on iPlayer, which led to the green light for both the Christmas special of 2020, and a second series for 2021 that key members of the cast and crew introduced at a recent RTS event.
This time around, and spurred on by the warm reception to the first series, “the big thing was to be a little bit braver and more ambitious,” said Davis. “The response to that first season was, like, incredible, but me and James [De Frond, the co-creator, co-writer and director] are always analytical, and we looked at it and thought, ‘We could have done this better and that better’. It was always about pushing the script but also pushing the people in it [so] there was that little bit more drama.”
Picking up where the first series left off, this run has seen Gary and Terri (played by Laura Checkley, also in Detectorists and Action Team) planning their wedding. But, of course, there are arguments, hiccups and trials along the way – and not only on-screen.
“The original idea was for a wedding in Spain but, because of Covid, we had to completely rewrite episodes five and six at the last minute,” explained De Frond. “Weirdly, the rewrite actually strengthened it – it made us concentrate more on the characters’ relationships and the complexities of it all.”
The second series also finds new characters added to the motley crew, such as Terri’s friend Alison (Lily Brazier of People Just Do Nothing), whom Terri wants to set up with the newly single neighbour Stuart (comedian-turned-actor Romesh Ranganathan).
“Lily is incredible. She wrote on this series with me and James, and she knew this world intuitively,” said Davis of his co-star. “The thing that breaks my heart is that she’s in four series of a Bafta-winning show and literally nothing else. That’s because she’s not in a clique, she’s not a member of this or that, and it shows you an almost snobbery in our industry. She should be in so much more. She blew me away every day she was on set.”
Elsewhere in the crescent, there is disruption when Gary and his frienemy Stuart unite against new resident Aaron (Morgan Watkins). When this happens, Stuart realises “Gary’s a bit of a knobhead if he’s going to be your enemy, but he’s actually unbearable if he’s trying to be your friend,” said Davis.
“We had the idea of a bad neighbour as a plotline, but we wanted to work on a Gary and Stuart bromance, so the new neighbour was something we orchestrated to bring them together,” said De Frond. “The smart thing with that was making him a younger guy, meaning that Gary wanted to be firm with him, but wanted to impress him, and he was all over the shop.”
In keeping with the sentimentality of the season, the Christmas special touched the heartstrings as much as the funny bone.
Having seen the impact of that, the tone of the second series was altered accordingly, so King Gary’s comedy is set against higher drama. “The great thing about this show is you can do big funny, but then you can pull the rug and get the emotion going. That’s down to these guys being fantastic actors as well as comics,” said De Frond.
We see this in episode three, when a camping trip provides bonding time for Gary and Stuart. It leads to some of the most emotive scenes performed by Ranganathan, a long-standing friend of Davis (they also present the Wolf and Owl podcast together). It transpired that, to raise his game, he took acting lessons after the first series.
“Stand-up and panel shows give you timing, but I’ve learned to go into these scenes with a better appreciation of what Stuart is going through as he knocks on Gary’s door, or walks into the wedding,” said Ranganathan. “It adds something else, and it’s something these guys do so naturally, but I’ve had to work at it.”
There’s also plenty of comic drama in the squabbles between Gary’s mum, Denise (Camille Coduri), and Terri.
“It’s that typical mother-in-law and wife-to-be confrontation, it’s natural,” said Checkley. “Terri’s not to be messed with and Denise sticks her nose in that bit too far.”
Coduri suggested that there’s some of Denise in Terri, and Checkley agreed – “that’s why they clash, for sure”.
The series airs a memorable face-off restaurant scene between the pair “which allowed us to channel our Goodfellas or Carmela Soprano,” said Checkley. “Usually, you see a couple of fellas doing a scene like that – it’s great to see women do this.”
“The women are hilarious, and James and Tom have allowed that to be shown,” added Coduri. “That doesn’t happen very often, here [in the UK] anyway – in the US, it’s different.”
While there are plenty of new and improved elements, some things just aren’t going to change in Gary’s world. He’s still wearing figure-hugging fashion – “that comes from Terri, telling him he’s beautiful and buying his clothes for him one size too small,” said Davis.
And his sensitive character is just as endearing, not least because it paints him as a man in today’s world, with all the expectations and difficulties that come with it. This series sees him suffer from an anxiety attack. The aim was less to draw sympathy from the audience than it was to display vulnerability on screen.
“When we were writing this, me and James were conscious of showing the anxiety and the pressures of modern masculinity,” said Davis. “He’s in a real hard place because he wants everyone to be happy, he wants it to be the best wedding that anyone’s ever been to, and he wants to be the centre of everything. And you just can’t be – that’s just never possible.
“Across the whole thing, there’s the expectation placed upon him by his dad, and being the crescent warden. And, at 42, you realise age is a thing, so the new neighbour coming out with youth and a better car than him...”
The heart of the show remains the affectionate relationship between Gary and Terri.
While their bond is tested with the stress of the wedding planning, Ranganathan isn’t wrong when he says that “they’re so ferociously in love with each other – many people would die to be as close as they are”.
And, as long as that’s a constant in Butterchurn Crescent, we can rest easy through all the other melodrama.
Report by Shilpa Ganatra. The RTS event ‘King Gary preview and Q&A’ was held on 26 July. It was chaired by journalist Boyd Hilton. The event was an RTS/Multitude Media production.