We've told you about No Heroics before - the hilarious British sitcom that makes you realize that superheroes are just as screwed up as the rest of us, if not moreso. If you're not convinced that this should be your new favorite sitcom yet, we talked to show creator Drew Pearce about the show's history, his geek influences, fan fic and a lot more. We've even got some potential news about the chances of the show appearing in the US. So read on and discover why you too will soon believe that a man can fly... and then need to go for a drink afterwards to calm down.
io9: No Heroics isn't your average British sitcom, because of the "sit" part: Superheroes seem, probably due to their origins, much more of an American concept than a European one - Was that something that was in your mind when creating the show? Something that could mix what you loved about the genre with a certain level of "This is what we Brits would do with them"?
Drew Pearce: That was absolutely part of the starting point. There's something so un-british about superheroism. There's a certain self-confidence that has to come with the job, and a bit of show-off-ery. That's why, in many ways, Excelsor (the arrogant, awful but very successful nemesis to our b-list capes) is representing - what a Superman or Supreme would really be like if they were British. Which is to say a bit posh, a bity of a city boy, and perhaps a bit of a wanker. Having said that, there's enough of a British tradition at marvel especially that I think it still sits in a superhero universe. It's just that there's always a sense that the big boys of the superscene are always going to be on the opposite side of the Atlantic from our gang. And, of course, on some levels the show isn't about superheroes - it's a comedy about a group of mates first and foremost, and maybe also a show about the wanton fame-lust that has taken hold of the world in the last ten years. But I'd be lying if I said, as a comic book reader of 20-odd years, that the idea of creating your own superhero universe to play those ideas through wasn't massively exciting. Plus I got to help design our very own pub. I mean, it's kind of the best job in the world.
Your talking about the show not really being about the superpowers and costumes, but instead the relationships reminded me of the writers of Red Dwarf saying similar things about that show being essentially Steptoe and Son in spaceman drag - No Heroics is, at its heart, a sitcom about people that just so happens to have "superheroes" as the "sit" part of the equation. Are you worried that audiences - or more likely, critics - are going to focus on the superheroics to the point where they miss what the show's REALLY about?
Well, I think different audiences come to the show with different expectations, and you can’t really pander to everyone. I just try to strike a balance between the “realities” of their personal lives and their working lives as capes, and make it as funny as possible. No Heroics is about loads of things all at once - friendship, fame, failure, fucking (all the “f”s) - but it IS also about being a superhero, and I’d hate to shortchange that aspect, even though it’s the “real” lives of the characters that I’m most attracted to. I do think the best sitcoms get funnier the more you get to know the characters, and as that happens, the “sit” aspect fades a bit into the background, whilst hopefully still providing you with enough jokes to be useful. But they’re all important parts of the equation.
Was the show a hard-sell to broadcasters? I think that superheroes are ripe for this kind of affectionate parody, but I'm guessing that there may have been some pushback in terms of budget?
It wasn't too hard a sell - it does, for once in a comedy, have a one-line high-concept pitch at it's heart : off-duty superheroes in a pub. having said that, a high concept can work against you in comedy, and a lot of the scepticism upfront was about whether the idea can sustain. What people don't know till they see the show is that the jokes come more from character and situation than superheroism. But hopefully people will spot that as the series progresses. Or they won't.
Admit it - You pitched it as Heroes meets Coupling, didn't you?
No! Heroes wasn't even OUT when I pitched No Heroics three years ago! I swear to god when it came out, I was thinking "Oh crap. Either it'll do well and there won't be any point in us doing this, or it'll do badly and that'll hurt our chances". As it turned out, it's now just an important part of the bigger superhero landscape we're finding ourselves in. Though here's a No Heroics / Heroes Funfact: on the shoot, I nearly got crew t-shirts made up that said "Fuck The Cheerleeader - Let's Go To The Pub". But even I am not quite that immature.
How many times when pitching did you have to say the words "No, it'll be nothing like My Hero. I promise"?
Oh, not many. Maybe, you know, every single day of my life for the last two years? Roughly. I mean, basically people will always compare you with something that came before. And that's fine. Mainstream press will compare the show to My Hero. Film-ier press will compare it to Hancock or Mystery Men. Geek press will usually bring up the live-action Tick, or maybe The Specials if they're going deep. And comics people will chuck anything from Top Ten or GLA to Hero Happy Hour at it. And I'm happy to say I've seen most of those things, and what we're doing is different. We may share common concepts, but our approach is pretty much the opposite to most of the above. Though I do love the GLA. There, I said it.
The GLA? Somewhere, Dan Slott is beaming with satisfaction. Does this mean you're checking out his Amazing Spider-Man? What's on your imaginary bedside table superhero reading stack?
I actually love Dan’s stuff. The first 12 or so issues of She-Hulk were fucking unbelievable - probably, for my money, the funniest comicbook writing of the last ten years, and so smart to boot. (Though they lost me when Shulkie heads for space. I’m generally a little grumpy when superheroes get mixed up with either space or magic. It goes against my OCD-ness). I’ve browsed the new Spiderman stuff but not got into it yet, just cos Spiderman feels a little played out for me. I know, I know, that’s the point of the reboot. But he kind of works best for me right now as a background “quipper”, like in the big scenes of Civil War. My imaginary bedside table is not even imaginary – it’s a pile of trade paperbacks and books with a lamp on top. Right now, I’m enjoying the reissue of the Justice League International stuff, which is way ahead of its time and yes, very similar in tone to No Heroics. On a similar note, the American Flagg reissues are lovely and indispensible. I adored the end of Y: The Last Man, and welled up accordingly. (Oh yeah – I cry at comics. I’m man enough to admit it.) Runaways was ace. For the splattery-superhero part of my brain Kick-Ass and particularly The Boys are getting me jazzed. Plus I love DMZ. That’s off the top of my head – I know I’m missing out favourites left, right and centre here…
So does this show represent some subconscious desire to be writing for Marvel or DC? (And if so, what do you secretly want to write?)
I don't *think* that's why i did it, but that's the pesky thing about the subconsious, isn't it? Though I'd have to be mental to say no if marvel or DC asked. But I write tv, and hopefully someday films, and those are what I want to make and direct. And there are already an awful lot of very, very talented comics creators and writers, so I wouldn't want to tread on anyone's toes, plus I'm not arrogant enough to think that I could. Having SAID that, if I got the chance? I'd love to have a go at Cloak And Dagger in the Marvel u. I like peripheral characters and those guys fascinate me. And in DC, I'd probably have to write something from a supervillain's perspective. As for film, there are two Marvel properties that I think, particularly as the universe gets nailed down onscreen, I'd love to see - and I'm sure they're both happening, somewhere. One is Runaways - I love BKV, and it's just so obviously, brilliantly a John-Hughes-In-The-Marvel-Universe dream of a movie. And the other end of the spectrum is Bendis' Alias. I want to see a proper, lowish budget, gumshoe movie set in the arse-end of Marvel-land with that brilliant female character front-and-centre.
Maybe I'm biased, but the best sitcoms tend to know when to get offstage - but a lot of successful genre television gathers so many hardcore fans that that becomes increasingly difficult. What're your feelings on a kind of Red Dwarf level of fanbase for No Heroics that'd see you celebrating the 20th anniversary of the show with a new special episode?
I completely agree - there's something about great sitcoms, in the UK at least, that gets out before the shows get lame. And I like that - characters you adore, unspoiled and observed for jsut a section of the life you know they're going to lead. But man, if No Heroics gathers that rabid a fanbase, it will be, as an American friend of mine calls things, "a high-class problem" to deal with. Though I saw my first bit of Don (Timebomb) fan-fic today and it was definitely a great moment. In the last couple of weeks, with the show out there in the world, you suddenly realise that you've built this universe, but that it's a lot of fun to watch other people play in it.
When you see fanfic, does part of you just think "Oh, fuck. That's a great idea. I want to steal that," or is it all "Well, Excelsior would never fuck She-Force while Batman watched and masturbated"?
Well, there is always a part of a writer’s snake-brain that goes “this had better not actually be better than what I’d write”. But mostly, I actually kind of enjoy the fan fic. It’s like watching your kids grow up, leave home, then have filthy sexual encounters with fictional characters. And who wouldn’t want that for their children? Having said that, one bit of fan fic I got sent last week was a BIT creepy. It was an actual transcription of sexy online roleplay, where two real people made each others balls fizzy by “flirting” as two No Heroics characters. And it was quite heavy “flirting”, if you take my meaning. But each to their own, and obviously, that’ll end up in some future episode of the show…
Kind of almost along similar lines, what are the ideas that you're unable to do on the show, because of budget or decency? Well, maybe not decency if you're about to write in characters having cybersex, but you know what I mean. Are they all going to end up in the inevitable tie-in graphic novel? Because, come on. You're going to do a tie-in graphic novel, right?
I’d love to do a graphic novel to tie in. There are billions of ideas for what that might be. And we’re talking to lots of people about them – because above all else, they have to be funny and properly cool and not just some crappy “brand extension”. Unless that’s the point of them, which would fit snugly into a No Heroics episode (The Hotness would KILL to have a comic, however shit it was) but that would be rather annoying if you’d paid money for the actual comic. And I will say this - I really want to write a Timebomb comic so the world can see how badass he used to be, before he retired. Because believe me, that guy, when he worked in black ops? Dark as fuck.
Okay, last and most important question for the majority of io9 readers: No Heroics is an indie production for ITV, which doesn't make it IMPOSSIBLE to show up on BBC America over here, but maybe unlikely... Has there been any talk about US transmission or DVD release...?
Well, interestingly enough, the show has just been signed up by BBC Worldwide for distribution. So it’s not IMPOSSIBLE that it might end up showing in the states, and other companies. But I just make these things - I don’t know how all the complicated legal stuff works…