We hadn’t many male-led projects on Merman’s development slate when Frank walked through our door. Not that we had any policy on developing only all-female projects, it was just what interested us and there are already plenty of male-written comedies in existence, starring men and directed by men.
What appealed to us about Frank, once we’d got over the fact that he was male, was that he was funny, vulnerable, unexpectedly lovable and flawed. We loved the dynamics that Brian, Domhnall and Michael had crafted between Frank and the other characters in his world. They said what they thought and didn’t seem to worry about the consequences. The silliness of the show appealed to us and made us guffaw. Big belly laughs, not polite lady-like chuckles. That was a good sign. We didn’t have anything else like the show. It felt unique and yet also relatable. This was a guy who lacked motivation and drive, who still lived at home with his mother even though he’s in his (early) thirties. His mother was desperate for him to leave and start living independently. How many families can relate to that scenario, particularly after the year we’ve had?
There were initial questions about the tone and the look of the show, how big would these characters be? How would the female characters be as distinct and interesting as Frank and Doofus? Channel 4 green lit a ten-minute taster to give us the time and space to start addressing these questions and help the show find its feet. That exercise also gave us an insight into how our writers worked together and their approach. I was impressed by their attention to detail, how well they knew their leads’ backstories and how that central relationship functioned. When the taster was then developed into a six-episode series, we saw how forensic the creators were in their clever plotting and the rounding out of Frank’s world. As in our other Merman shows, there’s just as much happening under the surface with unexpected story twists and subversions as on the surface as the jokes play out.
While Sharon and I kept an eye on ensuring the female characters were as fully developed as they could be, the writers were as determined as we were to give them agency and make them as funny as possible. We loved Mary’s (Pom Boyd) determination to live as she chose, without her clingy son getting in the way of her sex life. And Aine’s (Sarah Greene) confusion over who she wants to be with coupled with her determination to sing and be the star of her own life, despite the efforts of her distracted father (Pat Shortt) and self-obsessed fiancé (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor).
We still had eight days left of the shoot when Ireland went into lockdown. We weren’t able to pick up filming again until September. In the meantime, our director MJ Delaney had returned to New York and she was able to work remotely with our editor in London. It was a fragmented process, but it did give us the time to plan the remaining shoot and think about the shape of the episodes. So, when we were able to resume, we were all confident in the tone and the pace and each character was tracking well.
If I’ve taken anything away from Frank and his world, it’s possibly Mary’s directness: when Frank asks her why everything turns out shit for him, she replies, “Because you’re a prick Frank”. That’s a woman telling it like it is.