Casey Donovan, Rob Shehadie and Tahir Bilgic in ‘Street Smart.’
Two years since the Nine Network’s Here Come the Habibs! set a milestone as the first original Australian comedy commissioned by a commercial free-to-air broadcaster in 15 years, two of that show’s creators have embarked on another sitcom.
Tahir Bilgic and Rob Shehadie play cousins who are arch-rivals in Street Smart, a CJZ production for Network Ten which boasts a multicultural cast and started shooting in Sydney today.
Bilgic is Steve, who is turning 40, broke, unmarried, and still living at home with his parents in the Western suburbs. He figures that forming a criminal gang will be the solution to his problems.
Shehadie is Joseph, a parking inspector who dreams of becoming a cop and thinks that catching Steve and his cohorts red-handed will fulfil his goal.
The twist: the cousins are equally clueless and deluded and destined to remain that way.
Ten years ago Bilgic first had the novel idea of a comedy series in which all the lead roles are played by multicultural actors.
That idea stayed figuratively in his back pocket until after Here Come the Habibs!. Bilgic and Shehadie developed the concept and took it to Damian Davis, CJZ’s head of entertainment and comedy.
That trio fleshed out the idea, added some characters and dropped others. After initial interest from Ten CJZ commissioned a pilot script from Mark O’Toole, whose credits include Spicks and Specks, Open Slather and You’re Skitting Me.
The producers organised a live read with a cast of 10 in front of an audience which included Ten’s chief content officer Beverly McGarvey and other network executives.
“That was a high-risk strategy,” Davis tells IF, but it paid off as Ten commissioned eight half-hours. “It felt good straight away,” Bilgic says.
Network Ten executive producer Paul Leadon said: “Street Smart is broad, accessible and very, very funny. Sitcom has been the missing ingredient in Australian commercial television for too long but Street Smart is about to change all that.”
Davis is directing seven episodes and the other is being directed by Jane Eakin who is on a director’s attachment as part of the Australian Directors’ Guild shadow directing program.
O’Toole wrote four scripts, Tahir did two and Nicola Parry and Joel Slack-Smith each contributed one.
The cast includes I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!’s Casey Donovan as Tia, a probationary parking cop who is keen to learn the ropes from Joseph, Dina Gillespie as Steve’s mum Zena, a traditional Arabic matriarch, and Naveen Hanna as her sister and Joseph’s mother Marie.
As the fellow gang members Dave Eastgate plays Steve’s childhood friend and eternal optimist Shane, Andy Trieu is the nerdy Hung and Neel Kolhatkar is Uber driver Raj. Maria Tran is Hung’s ambitious wife Trans, who owns a combined nail salon and pork roll bar.
The gang meets in Steve’s parents’ garage and comes up with outrageous plans to steal, rob and rip off whoever they can, usually involving maximum effort for minimal returns.
While the comedy is aimed at a broad family audience, Bilgic tells IF it also raises questions about why sections of society frown on men of Steve’s age who are still single and live with their parents.
And while he is delighted to be surrounded by a multicultural cast he says that is not highlighted in the script: the characters are who they are.