Pallavi Sharda, Ilai Swindells and Maria Angelico.
The ABC has ordered a six-part narrative comedy from Unless Pictures and Orange Entertainment centred on COVID-19 isolation, due to start filming – remotely – this month before airing in July.
Titled Retrograde, the series follows the lives of a group of 30-something friends, as they drown their sorrows at a ‘virtual bar’ during the pandemic. It will star Pallavi Sharda, Ilai Swindells, Maria Angelico, Esther Hannaford and Nick Boshier, with guest star Ronny Chieng.
The cast will film from their respective locations, activated by remote technical operators and working with an overarching technical director, as they record a group video chat that forms the central storyline. In addition to the main eps, there will be extended digital content to deepen audience engagement.
The full synopsis: “Gemma is about to embark on an exciting career in Korea when COVID-19 crashes her farewell party. Faster than you can say “social isolation” she’s made unemployed and has to find a place to live — like, yesterday. Thankfully she hadn’t got around to dumping her boring but nice boyfriend Rob, so she can lockdown with him — and his daughter. Even at 32, adulting is not something that comes naturally to Gemma and to make things worse her ex has returned to Australia and is back on the (online) scene. At least she doesn’t have to drink alone. Her friends have created an online bar where they can commiserate and workshop their questionable life choices. Gemma is forced to take a good hard look at herself in the preview window — and work out what she wants her life to be in lockdown world and beyond.”
Retrograde is led by Content co-collaborators Meg O’Connell and Anna Barnes; O’Connell is the creator, producer and writer and Barnes lead writer and co-producer. Mark O’Toole is the co-creator.
The director is Natalie Bailey (Avenue5, Run, The Thick of It), script producer Sophie Miller (The Family Law, Maximum Choppage), and other writers Declan Fay (Ronny Chieng: International Student) and Michele Lee (Hungry Ghosts). Alongside O’Connell, the producing team includes Dan Lake, Jackson Lapsley Scott and executive producer Kurt Royan.
The series has received investment from Screen Australia, Film Victoria and Screen Queensland.
O’Connell says: “The COVID-19 lockdown means the characters in Retrograde are finally having the existential crises they put off having in their 20s. They’re being forced to look at their reflections in the mirror (or video call) and are asking themselves: Do I like what I see?”
ABC head of drama, comedy and Indigenous Sally Riley says: “Making scripted content means it’s not always easy to respond in the moment to the terrifying events and changes in our world. But we’ve reimagined the way we make drama and comedy to bring Australian audiences a show that illustrates the very real impact the pandemic has had on life as we know it. Crossing humour with a layer of existential dread, Retrograde tracks from beginning to end our journey of the first wave of lockdown.”
Screen Australia senior online investment manager Lee Naimo says: “We’re excited to support this team who have responded so quickly to the strange new normal with an incredibly innovative and clever series. Retrograde brings our online lives into focus and introduces a new kind of viewing experience to Australian audiences, and I can’t wait to see it.”
Retrograde will premiere on ABC and iview July 8, 9.30pm.