Comedy following the lives of a group of addicts is Scotland's new answer to Friends
It is the new Scottish comedy billed as Scotland’s answer to Friends, but with one significant difference – all the characters are addicts of some kind.
New York-born writer and director Annie Griffin, creator of the hit Channel 4 series The Book Group, has joined forces with Scottish crime writer Denise Mina to create a show set at a weekly therapy session.
Known simply as Group, it will explore the friendships, tensions, relationships and bonds which emerge between various drug, alcohol and gambling addicts brought together after forking out for expensive treatment run by a fictional American wellness guru’s company.
Mina and Griffin envisage the show as a long-running series like Friends which will have a core cast supplemented by guest appearances from well-known actors and comedians playing various addicts who have also signed up for the “post-therapy” treatment.
They are developing a full series of Group for the new BBC Scotland channel after getting the green light last year to make a half-hour pilot, which will be shown on Monday night.
The initial cast of the Glasgow-set show includes Outlander star Grant O’Rourke, Only An Excuse creator Jonathan Watson, award-winning Edinburgh Festival Fringe star Lucianne McEvoy, Doctor Who star Lois Chimimba and Scot Squad favourite Sally Reid.
Griffin said: “This project has really come out of a sort of wellness week away with a group of people which went very wrong and I came back so angry. I just hated it from the beginning. In retrospect, I should have left much earlier, but you think you should do your best and have a go.”
The show was pitched well before the launch of the new BBC Scotland channel to the broadcaster as a murder mystery drama series set in a castle which had been converted into a rehab centre.
However after they agreed to turn it into a sitcom focusing on a weekly group therapy session in Glasgow, they were given a few weeks’ preparation ahead of filming at Pollokshields Burgh Hall in the city’s south side, with their script gradually evolving through workshops and rehearsals with the cast.
BBC Scotland says it will explore “our addiction to seeking a better version of ourselves, and the need to tell the world about it”.
Mina said: “Annie and I met socially, became pals and then starting talking about working together.
“We originally came up with an incredibly complicated murder mystery story for a series which was inspired by the fact that a lot of castles in Scotland are basically rehab centres now.
Annie and I mapped it out a bit and really loved writing together. We really made each other laugh.
"Our sense of humour is pitch dark and quite sinister. I’d describe it as funeral humour.
“When we got the opportunity with the BBC to make an episode, we took the murder mystery element of it out completely. Although the thing we originally wrote was very dark, the group therapy scenes were really funny.
Griffin said: “I just think dark stuff makes for the best comedy. I love the idea of desperate people at odds with each other, but with a reason to be keen to come together, and them needing each other and hating each other at the same time.
“We thought the show would be more interesting if it involved a group of people who had paid to go to each session so they had made some kind of investment in it."
The opening instalment will see the arrival of a newcomer to the group, Tony, played by Bhav Joshi, encounter Steph (Reid), Rob (O’Rourke), Nell (McEvoy) and Billy (Watson) for the first time at the session run by the company founded by Adam Derekson, played by Derek Riddell.
Mina said: “Each episode will look at what happens during a therapy session. We thought that you could do them in a really small space with a core cast, but also have people come in to join the group for an episode.
“The idea is that it will have a story that gradually unfolds. I’m thinking of it like Friends – it is very much an ensemble comedy-drama.”
Griffin added: “It’s a challenge to do something that will really grip viewers but also be really funny. We want there to be big storylines with a lot at stake. That’s what happens with a group of people – deep tensions and attractions develop over time.”
“We developed the show with the actors that we really wanted to work with, so that the characters very much came out of them.”