For Bryan Elsley, co-creator of controversial teen drama Skins, his new series represents a significant change of pace. Whereas Skins uncovered the party-hard drink-and-drugs lifestyle of teenagers in Bristol, new 9x30mins show Dates employs the more measured format device of awkward first dates to investigate the human condition.
“The show is a bit broader than Skins and a bit more grown up; it’s a much simpler concept,” Elsley tells TBI. “I wanted to take things back to basics and that’s what this is – two people interacting over dinner, or in some cases, in bed.”
Popular UK actors including Lawrence Olivier double-winner Sheridan Smith and her former Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps co-star Will Mellor add weight to the show’s snappy scripts, which were developed in what Elsley describes as “US-style writers’ rooms” and cover topics such as confessions, lies and sexual confusion.
“There are eleven characters, some of whom you see once and others you see a few times. We’ve tried to make it funny without being a comedy, but that said the episode we’ve done with Sheridan is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” he adds.
The episodes can be viewed as standalone performance pieces – a drama format currently in vogue in the UK thanks to the popularity of Sky Arts’ Playhouse Presents… strand – but those viewers willing to commit to all nine will “find a pattern and an overarching narrative”, says Elsley.
The show also represents a first commission for Elsley’s new north London-based production company Balloon Entertainment, which he launched last year with UK comic, actor and screenwriter Harry Enfield. (The pair’s partnership stretches back to their days at the University of York in the 1980s, where they performed as comedy duo Dusty and Dick). Elsley, Enfield and Skins producer Chris Clough executive produce, with a number of different directors attached.
UK terrestrial Channel 4 will broadcast the show in June. Dates represents a continuation of Elsley’s relationship with the network, following Skins initial run on Channel 4 youth channel E4 between 2007 and 2011 and, further back, 1998 miniseries series The Young Person’s Guide to Becoming a Rockstar. Elsley is also working with All3Media-owned Company Pictures on a seventh and final season of Skins, which launches this summer.
Meanwhile, Entertainment One, which coproduced the short-lived US remake of Skins with Elsley in 2011, has taken distribution rights to Dates.
The show: Dates
The producer: Balloon Entertainment
The distributor: Entertainment One
The broadcaster: Channel 4
Concept: A grown up drama about first dates from the co-creator of controversial teen series Skins