With what seems like possibly the quirkiest angle for a TV show to date, Outland is a 6-part comedy series full of surprises. It’s got heart, warmth and enough fake penises to sink a ship. Adam Richard, noted comedian and co-creator/writer and star of the series, reflects with his own timely warning: “So many fake penises. I’m surprised nobody got RSI from episode 3.”
“In the closet, no-one can hear you squeal. Can a group of openly gay but closeted nerds find where they really belong?”
Creating the series seven years ago with writing partner John Richards and starting life as a short film (“John decided I needed a ‘vehicle’ and a sitcom about a gay sci-fi club seemed like the easiest thing to sell.”), Outland has been a long time coming for Richard but well worth the wait. It also has provided him the opportunity to come out of another closet, this time as a science fiction fan – who plants himself firmly in the Star Trek camp. “(Star) Trek is about the writing, (Star) Wars is about the dollies.”
The comedy series offers a unique take on embarassment and finding your tribe – where in the past it’s been socially unacceptable to be either a science fiction fan OR gay, these days both are now so acceptable that each in turn have become the subject of various sitcoms, though neither topic has collided until now. “Sci-fi fans are vocal and passionate – they will argue over the most demented points, and have fun doing it. Hanging out with nerds reminds me of when I first came out and found other gay men. Outland is essentially about belonging.”
“We all want to know we have somewhere to go where everybody else is, in some way, the same. Trainspotters, knitters, Eurovision freaks, Twi-hards, everybody wants to know they aren’t alone. The gay/geek thing is a coat-hanger. Ultimately it’s about the characters. Hopefully people will love them like I do.”Each of the characters are like gems – some nuanced and subtle, others outrageously flamboyant and as shallow as a puddle. Their common love for sci-fi is what brings them together but ultimately it’s the relationships they form as a group that is their strength. Everyone knows a gentle if obsessive Max (Toby Truslove) or a closeted-camp Toby (Ben Gerrard); but if they’re really lucky they know a more extreme Andy (Paul Ireland), straight-talking Rae (Christine Anu) or deliciously fabulous Fab (Richard). Richard speaks of Anu’s Rae with great affection. “We saw a lot of people for Rae, not all of them indigenous (we did try colour-blind casting), though no one made Rae warm and friendly like Christine, but still no-nonsense. Now I can’t imagine anyone else running over my feet in her chair. She was so committed to being Rae that we’d freak out when we saw her using her legs!”
He’s more self-effacing when speaking of his own flamboyant and outrageous performance as Fab. “I have no range.” This kind of deprecation from the writer/comedian is typical of all his work. Nothing is ever quite right despite adulation from audiences – be they at comedy festivals or listening to him on the radio deliver his daily segments across the Southern Cross Austereo network (“I find it almost incomprehensible that any of the characters on Big Bang Theory are meant to be heterosexual. Sheldon! Totes gay. That’s why they cast Bette Midler as a child from Beaches as his love interest.”).
Offering a comedy where the entire central cast is gay is unique in that it would not have had a chance until at least the new milennium, though perhaps society has reached a new level of tolerance. “Being gay now is not what it was even ten years ago. It’s not as big a deal coming out as gay.” When questioned about people being more comfortable in their skin and accepting their sexuality or even nerd/fan status, Richard goes for the funny bone via the jugular. “Well, for gay men (who can have a tendency to be shallow) being a nerd is not the most acceptable trait! Although the original Sulu and the new Spock are openly gay, so you’d think the Kylie queens would get on board!”
Both John and Adam didn’t pull any punches when it came to double entendre and pun-laced comedy when writing, at times referring to the group as both “arsetronauts” and “gayliens”. They’ve drawn extensively from their own sci-fi fascinations to offer hat-tips to their favourite writers and series, with a musical episode and a horror episode laced around an Alien-esque premise. Some of the props may be confronting to some less-adventurous viewers though: “When it screened at the Seattle Gay and Lesbian film festival, the audience recognised the fleshlights on sight!
The professionalism of the cast and crew is evidenced by how good the series looks on screen. “Every single person on the production put in a monumental effort, and hopefully it shows,” says Richard. Ever the deflector of praise, he quickly adds, “It’s not compulsory to watch it, but hopefully, if you don’t have anything better to do between Hillsy and David & Margaret… Watch it for Christine Anu! She is amazing!”
Outland has cult-hit written all over it. Not because it is a comedy about five gay people, rather because it is a comedy about five hardcore sci-fi nerds who happen to be gay. Their sexuality isn’t the punchline, though it sets many a premise for gags up. Outland is a joyous celebration of vulnerability, relationship and everyone’s inner nerd. And the gay.
(Extracts taken from tweeterview with Adam Richard & SteveMolk on 07/02/2012. View the full conversation here.)
Outland – Wed 9:30pm, ABC1.