What’s the show about?
We are not based on the best-selling book The Couple Next Door, to avoid confusion. It is very loosely based on a Dutch series called New Neighbours which was a massive hit in Holland and ran for several series. For a long time, I’ve wanted to find a vehicle to explore the ideas of what suburbia is because I think a lot of us grew up in suburbia. Mine was a bit more down market than this one, but there are interesting unwritten boundaries and rules that everyone understands. So, it’s about a couple moving into this world, who think they understand each other having been in this long-term relationship. For Evie it’s her only real adult long-term relationship. They encounter another couple who completely undermine their understanding of what they think about themselves. For Becka and Danny, it’s about trying to live as you really are in this world that doesn’t want you to be like that. It becomes quite Gothic towards the end.
There’s a lot of male toxic tension early on?
Danny is an obvious threat to Pete’s masculinity. The moment he appears on screen, he picks up a dishwasher and walks off, so there is about a crisis in masculinity in the show. Pete thinks he’s a new man, he understands the world and he’s comfortable with himself, but a threat comes along, and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. Danny thinks he is living in a perfectly functioning non-monogamous relationship until something derails that. Alan has decided that he hasn’t got what he wants in his life and is in a very grim, nefarious way he’s trying to vicariously live through these young attractive people, so they’re all riffs on how men operate in the world around the women in their lives.
But then you undermine a lot of that very quickly?
Danny played by Sam Heughan appears like an all-action hero. He’s a traffic cop, a great muscular presence, and he lives with his wife in suburbia, which he seems quite happy with. They’re comfortable there and they’re raising their son. Danny has a lot of anxiety about the way that he’s perceived. Even when he first speaks to Pete, he’s worried that Pete doesn’t like him. There’s a huge tension between the admirable and masculine public figure, and this morass of anxiety. Becka, his partner, is Australian, played by Jessica De Gouw. She has had a really free-wheeling, hippie upbringing - home schooled, wandering around the Gold Coast and brought up living on a beach. She has a sunny optimism but also idealism about how she wants to live her life. She did not expect to end up in suburbia, this is not the place that she really wanted to be.
How do Evie and Pete upend that?
Evie is a Yorkshire girl from a Dales farming family, who are also Born Again Christians. They’re very ultra-religious, so she’s brought up in a quite austere family and that scar runs quite deeply down her. She’s constantly dealing with sin and being ‘good’. Although she’s trying to reject that, it continues to haunt her decisions. There’s something dangerous in Evie that is unresolved because she hasn’t experienced enough in life. Pete Thomas is a kind of all-round nice guy, local journalist on a failing newspaper. He feels that he was Evie’s saviour - saved her from the clutches of the family. He’s not a guy who necessarily questions his own moral boundaries, he’s probably quite middle of the road in a lot of ways, and not as edgy as he thinks he is. The encounter with this other couple begins to unnerve him. He begins to realise that he’s less comfortable in his masculinity. His unravelling is one of the most extraordinary parts of the story really, without giving any spoilers.
What are Hugh Dennis and Kate Robbins roles?
Alan and Jean - Alan is a bookkeeper in his 60s who struggles with getting older and losing his sense of value in self and has turned himself into a bit of a nosy neighbour. Jean has mobility issues. She has been trying to get a stairlift fitted into her house for a long time. He stopped paying attention to her, and instead he started essentially spying on Becka and the other residents. He’s got a telescope, and he cuts a pathetic figure really. It is a kind of feminist revenge fantasy really. Jean is an interesting character because she’s the one who’s trying to call out the fact that their marriage doesn’t appear to exist anymore and then take matters into her own hand.
How do you balance these stories with the thriller?
I think the key is our four key characters and what they are they going through. It might be that Danny’s involved in nefarious activities, but when he comes back through the door, how does that affect his marriage? Alan is a reminder to Becka of why she doesn’t want to live in suburbia. We call it a relationship thriller.
Did your soap experience on Hollyoaks help your take on the gossip of a suburb?
I think it’s a great writing challenge to put your characters in impossibly even quite extreme situations and still be able to recognise and believe that these are real people doing real things, and the very best soap writing does that. It’s the best possible training ground for anybody coming into the industry because you just learn so much about writing characters. I was keen that this wasn’t a condemnatory exploration of anyone’s sexuality, or of their life choices. It is an opportunity to play out a kind of fantasy that may turn into a bit of a nightmare.