"I look forward to a time where people don't need to compare female voices on television because there'll be so many of them."
2019 is proving to be an incredible year for television comedy and this week BBC Three have launched their latest masterpiece, Back to Life. Daisy Haggard's debut script is about a woman who committed a terrible crime and 18 years later has left jail and returned to her home town.
As is the modern way, the entire series dropped as a box set on BBC iPlayer leaving BBC One to offer a weekly showing at 10:30pm on Mondays. After watching episode one I resisted (for about a day) before binging on the entire series in one sitting. And I'm so pleased that I did.
Uncle star Daisy Haggard has created something really special in Back to Life which moves along at a wonderful pace that fills you with warmth, not just for the characters but also for its location. The series is as heartwarming as it is dark and as funny as it is sad. It's difficult to stick it in a box which is one of the reasons why I love it so much.
After my binge-watch (and upcoming weekly re-watch), I caught up with writer and star Daisy Haggard to find out more about the series and to discuss those (in my opinion unhelpful) Fleabag comparisons.
What's the reaction been like since the first episode aired and the box set dropped?
It's been really brilliant and I'm so happy. Me and Laura (Solon) are delighted because it feels like people get it and they like it. I've been checking all the tweets looking for someone saying something mean (laughs) but they've all been really nice.
Explain the premise of Back To Life for those who haven't watched it yet...
It's about my character Miri Matteson who after 18 years in prison comes home to this small town where she once committed a terrible crime and she returns to the family house with her two parents who have lived all this time with the impact of her actions.
But she can no longer hold a conversation with them and despite everything that's being thrown at her she's trying to start her life.
Miri is an optimist. She's a fighter who drags herself back up again and part of the humour in the show comes from her being a relentless optimist. If she was beaten down by everything that happens in the show, that would just be awful.
She's also desperate to carve out a new life in the face of a small town who don't want her to.
How do you want the audience to feel about her?
I think people watching it are trying to work out who she really is. I want people to relate to her and when they discover what she's done, it's their job to judge her for the woman she is now and who we end up getting to know throughout the series. The show is about second chances.
How would you describe the tone and genre of the series?
Well it's not funny, but then it is funny and actually it's lots of things. It's a mysterious comedy drama with a big heart. That's what I want it to be. I wouldn't want to assume, but that's what we'd hope it is.
Where did the idea come from for Back to Life?
I'd been developing it for a while with Sarah Hammond and Two Brothers, the lovely Harry and Jack Williams. So it all started by me brewing ideas and pitching ideas to them and then I came up with this one because of my fascination with how harshly we judge women who have done a bad thing, compared to how we might judge a man.
We're more forgiving of men in general. So it was an imagining of what it would be like to be a woman of that age coming back into the life she had before but with this terrible past.
How did the writing process work between you and Laura Solon?
Well when we got the pilot commissioned, I was eight months pregnant and I begged Laura Solon to come on board so that I could steal her brain! (Laughs)
She's in LA and I'm here in the UK so I'd send her things and she'd send me notes and thoughts and we'd Skype. Sometimes I'd have to set the alarm to get up at 4 in the morning which was insane. But we did it and we didn't fall out! We had a really good time doing it.
We were on the same page which was really brilliant because I'd been working on it for a few years but I'd never written a show. Laura's very experienced in structure for example which I'd never done and she really got inside my head about what I wanted to do.
She was the best person I could have ever co-written it with. I love Laura! (Laughs) Will she marry me?
You reveal what Miri did in her past quite early on...
We talked about that a lot. Obviously Two Brothers are very experienced in this field and we decided that it'd be too annoying if it was the last thing you ever found out. We wanted the information to come out early because there will always be different versions of the truth.
The podcast S-Town actually was one of the many things that popped into my head before writing it because you hear different versions of the same story. So we wanted the audience to find out what she did early so that we could get on to the more pressing or depressing things.
And I guess all the characters are hiding something aren't they?
Yes, everyone's flawed and hiding something in the show. I guess everyone does terrible things and some people get caught, some people don't. When writing, we were thinking that in the face of that, sometimes Miri seems to be the most reasonable or sane of them all, yet she's done the worst thing.
Speaking of the other characters, what a cast!
We were really lucky to get such brilliant actors. I basically phoned Adeel (Akhtar) and begged him to do it. I got his number and stalked him! (Laughs)
Geraldine James played by mum before so we're mates and she'd always been in my head as my mother since inception really. Christine Bottomley is a great mate as well so that was just wonderful when she got the part.
You can only suggest and put forward your best friends but you don't know for sure that they'll get the parts so you just wait and see what happens and what everyone else thinks of them.
Any favourite scenes?
There are lots of scenes I like and really enjoyed doing but one that's just popped into my head is Jamie Michie going onto the fish and chip truck shouting for Miri and looking for her in a small cupboard because he's drunk! (Laughs)
Where is the series filmed? Because it looks beautiful...
We filmed the exteriors on the Kent coast - so Hythe, Dungeness and Folkestone - and the interiors were filmed within a seven minute drive of my children so that I could put them to bed. (Laughs)
When Chris Sweeney jumped on board for the taster tape, we talked a lot about how it would look and he was brilliant at assembling a team including Ben Wheeler our DoP and Charlotte Pearson our designer. They created a look that fitted with what we'd always imagined.
We always wanted that feel of an American indie film but in a British comedy setting. From conception that was always something I was passionate about. I wanted it to look and feel different.
And what about the music?
Ah! That's my husband, Joe Wilson who's one half of Solomon Grey along with Tom Kingston! I didn't even employ him, the execs at Two Brothers loved him anyway so that was good.
I'm so proud of the soundtrack, we really cared about that because the music is something that can really enrich a series I think. I love the music and it takes you on a different journey I think.
Audiences are being given the choice of binging on the whole series or watching once a week. What would you recommend?
I love that people have been binging it, that makes me happy because it means it's doing its job. We were torn when writing it but we did write it so that it could be binged but then also we wanted people to watch once a week.
I'm torn because I want everyone to binge it, but also I don't want them to just use it up in one go... can't they just do both?! (Laughs)
To have secured that Fleabag slot on BBC One as well is quite something!
It's amazing and we're so lucky to have got that slot, we didn't expect that so that was a really exciting bit of news.
How do you feel about the comparisons to Fleabag?
I understand. But Phoebe (Waller-Bridge) is a goddess. That show is amazing so to be uttered in the same breath is brilliant, but also they're incredibly different.
Perhaps it's because these two shows have come out so close to each other. But I suppose it's proving what we already knew which is that people want to hear stories of strong flawed female voices. They want more of them and I think it's fantastic that the BBC are supporting that.
I look forward to a time where people don't need to compare female voices on television because there'll be so many of them. The more that there is, the less that would happen.
But Fleabag, my God that was good, wasn't it? Wow!
What's next for you?
I'm currently filming Breeders with Martin Freeman for Sky One which is very exciting. We play a couple with two children. And hopefully a second series of Back to Life. That would be amazing... but maybe after a two month holiday! (Laughs)
Back to Life is available as a box set now on BBC iPlayer and airs Mondays at 10:30pm on BBC One