Rather than a disappointment, the ABC and Netflix series The Letdown has proven to be a highly successful creative release for series co-creator, co-writer and lead actress, Canberran Alison Bell.
Negotiating motherhood, parenting and, more broadly, contemporary women’s issues with a comedic sensibility, the six-part first season struck a nerve with a global audience, and is back by popular demand.
Bell told Canberra Weekly prior to season two debuting on the ABC on 29 May that she was blown away by the reaction to the first season.
“We had no idea the show would land outside Australia, let alone the far reaches of the world,” she said.
The Letdown’s first season debuted to wide domestic acclaim on the ABC in late 2017 before receiving international release on Netflix in early 2018, at which point it became a global juggernaut.
“(Co-creator and co-writer Sarah Schaller) and I were very prepared for radio silence, we just thought it was going to go under the radar,” Bell said.
“It was quite a wild experience from the moment it dropped on Netflix to be receiving all these messages, and then to receive the attention of publications like the New York Times and Vanity Fair.”
Bell said they were astonished their distinctly Australian comedy was landing internationally.
“It’s kind of a testament to the fact that babies are all the same, and there’s kind of a universality to it.
“We’re very grateful it’s caught on at a time where women’s stories are really being celebrated,” she said.
With both Bell and Scheller mothers themselves, the material is heavily derived from their own lives, and the lives of those around them.
“Everything in our show comes from real experiences that either Sarah or I, or any friends of family went through,” Bell said.
She said the tone of the show reflects the tone of her friendship with Scheller.
“We do a lot of talking and gossiping … often mild traumas or irritations form those conversations that we twist into the TV show.”
Bell said a lot of the feedback they received to season one praised the show’s dark moments, so in turn they’ve gone further in that direction for season two.
“The big response to the darker and sadder moments in the show led us to believe that’s where the gap in the market really is.
“These kind of slightly more taboo moments on the screen seemed to really land with people, and for that reason that we’re interested in the darkness as much as the comedy.
“And our aesthetic can be confronting to people. No makeup to make it was raw and real as possible.”
Bell said season two will look to expand thematically on what was explored in the first season.
“Series two is very much about the family; we broaden the scope of the story a little bit and it’s very much about navigating the needs of the family and of the individual.”
Having grown up in Canberra, Bell looks back on her time here fondly.
“Like many Canberrans, as a teenager I was desperate to get out, but at the same time I was afforded a really beautiful childhood and a lot of opportunities.
While studying at the ANU, Bell worked as an usher at the Canberra Theatre, and said that shaped her career immensely.
“I got to work these incredible visiting shows night after night and study these performers … I was in the very privileged position to see that world I knew I wanted to be a part of.”
With family still here, Bell loves returning to her hometown.
“There’s a calm in Canberra, and I find that an incredible comfort in my life that’s anything but calm.
“I think there’s space for our imagination there. We’re not a country town but we’re not a manic hyper urban metropolis either, so there’s space for a lot of daydreaming.
“My fondness for Canberra has grown exponentially since I left it. I feel very lucky,” she said.