A comic supergroup is born! People Just Do Nothing and King Gary team up in The Curse | Television

JJust a few minutes in Channel 4’s new comedy-drama The curse, the narrator informs us that a chain of events has started and that all the characters except her will die. You don’t exactly have to be a comedy expert to know that stark reminders of humanity’s futile impermanence don’t traditionally draw butts to seats, but that’s the kind of show The Curse is.

Set in the East End of London in the 1980s, the series follows a handful of hapless would-be gangsters who find themselves thrust into a world of trouble when a petty robbery ends in the accidental transport of gold bars. It’s narratively tight and hugely gripping, but it also finds plenty of pockets of loose, jaw-dropping comedy. As with Only Murders in the Building before it, it’s a balancing act that seems unlikely to work, but manages to strike again and again.

The Curse was created in part by Steve Stamp, Allan Mustafa and Hugo Chegwin, who accounted for three quarters of the masterminds behind the breakout BBC Three People Just Do Nothing. This show was a funny, silly, wonderfully observed sitcom that, by design, was really going nowhere. But this? It slaps like an airport paperback.

“It’s like we’re all at that point in our careers where we want to create something that feels next level, something different and unexpected,” Stamp says, speaking on Zoom from his kitchen, a long row of trainers leading neatly to her front door.

Mustafa, joining the chat from his own kitchen, where an unopened subscription box of smoothies is balanced on the worktop behind him, can’t hide his excitement about how different he was from his last show. “It’s the first time we’ve done something that looks more stylized, like a movie,” he says. “The kid in me keeps saying, ‘Damn! That actually sounds like a good thing!’”

Meanwhile, Chegwin – calling in separately during a break from filming – has a simpler reason to enjoy The Curse. “My dad loves it, so that’s the main thing,” he explains. “He doesn’t really show any emotions, and he did.”

Which brings us to the rest of the creative team: Tom Davis and James De Frond, the duo behind Murder in Successville and King Gary. Figuring out how this comedy supergroup came to be took some deep questioning — there’s a lot of fuzzy talk from everyone involved about reuniting at a nebulous industry awards show — but the genesis from The Curse appears to be a speech Chegwin had about an aspiring screenwriter hiding in the witness protection system. “It was shit,” he assures me repeatedly.

But Mustafa urged him to present the idea to Davis and De Frond. “And then they said, ‘Actually, we have this idea,’ which is actually The Curse, and said, ‘We would like to try and develop it collectively. “”

What’s lovely about this collaboration is that both ends seem to think they’ve got the better deal. The People Just Do Nothing contingent is clearly beside themselves that a heavyweight like Davis would pick them to work with, while Davis can’t believe his luck that they actually agreed.

“It’s a phenomenal band of boys,” Davis says, smiling, in what is either a large spare room or a small warehouse. “I was dying to work with them from the moment I saw People Just Do Nothing. And I think the influence they had on the comedy world is pretty underrated. That show , I think, speaks to a generation.

According to Davis, the key element of the bond is that they all rose through the ranks without the traditional privileges. “[We] have very similar backgrounds to each other, but have not passed through the normal Oxbridge world,” he explains. “I think, weirdly, you can see it in the show and in the writing — it’s that underdog spirit.”

I confess to them all that I am fascinated by such a sprawling collaboration. To me, it seems like it has the potential to be a minefield of ego and compromise. As they explain, it seems that the success of The Curse is due to its unhurried development – Davis estimates that it took four years to bring it to our screens – and also to the ease with which each found their role. in the collective.

Masked men (from left to right): Clive Cornell (Peter Ferdinando), Joey (Abraham Popoola) and Albert (Allan Mustafa) in the episode The Robbery. Photography: Ben Blackall/Channel 4 / Ben Blackall

“James [De Frond] and Steve [Stamp] are kind of like puzzle masters,” says Chegwin. “They look at it in a very deep way. Like, they’re super funny and super creative and imaginative, but they put the puzzle together really well in terms of structure and stuff.

“Having the director as the screenwriter is amazing,” says Stamp of De Frond. “James led most of the writing. He also kept all the notes for the scripts as we went through them, which was good for me because I’ve never had that before, really.

“He’s the father,” Mustafa adds.

“And Tom [Davis], he pulls out the craziest stuff,” Stamp says. “He’s just going to add a whole new story to his character, where he’s dating a 7ft woman or whatever. And it’s like, ‘Where did that come from?’ “

“We all have the same end goal, which is to make it as good and as funny as possible,” continues Chegwin. “And if it doesn’t make sense or it doesn’t work, there’s no ego in the room; there’s no such thing as “Oh no, my idea has to be in there”, or anything like that. It’s all just love.

On top of everything else, The Curse looks like an authentic period piece, set in the 1980s but – like in real life – the characters’ clothes and music are a few years behind. I ask Mustafa if it was hard to find pockets of the crumbling old East End, given the gentrification of London’s composite sketch. “We filmed it in Liverpool,” he tells me. “There are so many amazing places there. You have the docks, you have the arches. Even just the fact that they have so many old abandoned buildings. Our coffee set was not a studio; it was just a real old cafe that we recreated as an even older cafe.”

Sidney (Steve Stamp) holding a camera.
Pictured… Sidney (Steve Stamp). Photography: Ben Blackall/Channel 4 / Ben Blackall

The choice of the time, the creators explain, was partly due to necessity. In a time when Line of Duty has taught everyone that CCTV, DNA traces and mobile data means no one can ever get away with anything, petty crooks like these would banged up in an instant. But 40 years ago, that just wasn’t the case. “When the police just left to chat with the locals, you could get away with more crimes,” Mustafa says with a smile. “Also, Tom and James are very old and they were around their 80s. Put that in there.

The key to making The Curse successful, Davis explains, was to make the characters peripheral to the gang crime of the time. “Everyone in this time and in this world was probably always rubbing shoulders with guys that you could have gone to school with, who are embedded in this criminal underworld,” he says. “But then you have to make them lovable and you have to make all the difference against them.”

Like all good gangster stories, The Curse doesn’t really begin until after the robbery itself, when everyone has to understand the consequences of their actions. “You’ve got all that fucking gold; What are you going to do with that?” Davis said. “And also, how are you going to deal with that? How is that going to change you? and friendship, but the rope is starting to unravel And, I think for four, five, six, it’s a case of “be careful what you wish for”, because everyone will come and bite you the ass.

Given its cinematic nature and doomsday opening prophecy, I had assumed The Curse was intended as a one-season wonder: a story told confidently with everything aiming for a finish line. Apparently, however, that is not the case.

“There’s a finish line in the sense that some of the characters are going to die,” Stamp explains. “But you don’t know how long that timescale is, basically. In an ideal world, we want to go to the next decade, so it will be the 90s. There’s a lot around where that gold ended up and what it helped create. The drug scene in the 90s was very much related to the journey of this gold.

“There’s a long way to go in the gold journey,” Mustafa says, “but I guess we’ll see.”

Hugo Chegwin, on the other hand, seems less concerned about the future. The curse is already a victory for him. “I think my dad loves me now,” he whispers into the phone. “It just took him 36 years, but that’s cool.”

The Curse begins airing weekly on Channel 4 from Sunday February 6 at 10 p.m.

Comments are closed.