TCA 19: Britbox series ‘There She Goes’ explores the life of a family with a severely learning disabled child

There She Goes is a dramedy about a British family and their trials and tribulations while raising a 9-year-old daughter with a severe learning disability. Based on the real story of creator Shaun Pye’s own family, and his daughter Joey, the series takes a realistic and unapologetic look at the life of this family, their love and frustrations. The series stars David Tennant and Jessica Hynes as the parents of Rosie, and her brother Ben, and takes place in two time periods – present day and 10 years ago during the pregnancy and while the family struggle to come to terms with the reality of having a child with a rare chromosonal disorder, and having to listen to people constantly telling them there’s nothing wrong with their daughter, while they are sure the opposite is true.

The series aired in the UK on BBC 4 in late 2018, and will be hitting Britbox in the US in April 2019. Creator Shaun Pye, Executive Producer Clelia Mountford, and BBC Comedy Comissioner Shane Allen were joined via satellite by star David Tennant to discuss the series at this year’s Winter TCA Tour.

One of the most important things that Pye wanted to be sure about with the series was not to portray the parents as being any kind of heroes. That they be real people, just living their lives. Of course, that’s only thanks to his partner, both in life and in writing the show, Sarah, who helped chart the course of the series.

“I recently reread the first draft of the script that I had written three years ago,” says Pye, “And in that draft it was about a guy who had a daughter with a severe learning disability and he was the hero of the piece, and he was holding everything together, and it’s even with the fact he had a wife who, like, [is] in his ear the whole time. She just, I mean, Jesus, love, give me a break. But this guy, he was a hero, and I showed it to Sarah, my wife, and said, ‘What do you think of this?’And she just said, ‘You are not fucking making this show, mate. You can go fuck off. You need to seriously get out of town.’ And so she came onboard, and she’s co-written the scripts with me, and what we’ve ended up with, obviously, have very much brought a rounded, rounder, and she’s obviously the hero of the piece.”

Going back to the drawing board, Pye instead showed the reality of his situation, which perhaps doesn’t paint him in the best light. Simon (Tennant) is shown constantly avoiding his responsibilities by faking late nights at work and instead visiting the pub, or doing crosswords in the kitchen while he claims to be cooking dinner. And Jessica Hynes apparently picked up on something perhaps Pye didn’t even see about his own series. “Jessica, on the last day of filming, we filmed the scene that’s in Episode 4, and it’s very emotional. It’s where Jessica basically lays into David’s character and just lays bare how badly he’s been behaving and about how much she needs, how strong she is, and it’s an incredibly emotional scene, and some of the crew were sort of a little bit emotional at the end of it, and Jess was very emotional, and it was amazing, and she got up off the set and walked over to me, and she went, ‘This is basically the most elaborate apology anyone’s ever made to their wife; isn’t it?  You’re so, you’re such a shit that you’ve had to make a television program to apologize.’ I mean, everyone just fell about laughing. It was very funny.”

The honesty portrayed by Pye in relating his own inadequacies was what drew Tennant to the role. “I think what was very striking when I read the script was just how honest Shaun had been about his life and about his family’s life and about his part in it, and the very fact that he was ready to be so honest about his own shortcomings, I think, means that there is something heroic, actually, about him. I know he can’t say that, but there’s something in the journey that he goes on, that it’s something very moving and very touching, because I think it actually is about parenting. Obviously, it’s about a family with a very specific set of challenges, and that’s Shaun’s family, and he wrote – it’s basically an autobiography – and that’s very touching, but because it’s so honest it becomes a, sort of, universal story of what parenting is, I think, and how we all fall short and the gap between the ideal parent we might like to be and the very real parent that we actually are, and all of our struggles to, kind of, swim between the two. So it was all there on the page, really, this very moving story, a story that I hadn’t really seen anywhere else. It’s just very real and honest and vivid, and I just wanted to be part of telling that story, and I was very humbled to be representing Shaun within that.”

On what he learned from the series, and any eye-opening moments he had, Tennant adds, “I think the thing that it makes you consider as a parent, as a human being, and this is what I think was so impactful when I read the script the first time, you just think what would I do? How would I react if the perfect child, suddenly I discovered they had all these challenges that I just wasn’t expecting from the prenatal classes. I wasn’t expecting from the romantic notion of what getting married and having a family together is. And that’s the journey that you go on I think as a viewer and obviously that Jess and I had to try and understand as actors. But I think that’s what’s so compelling about this bit of writing that Shaun has produced. And that’s what made me want to tell the story. It’s all the challenge, but it’s that journey from an idealized version of what being a parent is to the reality of what a parent is, and particularly in this specific set of circumstances.”

For Pye and Mountford, in producing the series once the tone had been found, was in casting Rosie, the child at the center of the story. According to Mountford, learning disabled children were auditioned for the role, but on the advice of a child psychologist they quickly decided that they couldn’t pursue one of those actors. “[They] actually said it would be far too demanding for such a child because of the schedule and also aping certain behavior like running out into the road, pouring milk over themselves, [and so] it wouldn’t have been advisable to do that,” says Mountford. Enter Miley Locke. Preparing Locke for the role meant many breaks, interactions with Joey, and advice from Pye.

There She Goes was the highest rated comedy to air on BBC 4 to date, and after a screening held for other families with learning disabilities, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. It was largely for those families that Pye and his wife wanted to make the series. “When I started writing this, the question that dominated my thinking was if I had just received the news that I got 12 years ago and this program was on television, what would I take away from this program? I was obsessed by this. And so what I set out to do was two-fold. One, not sugarcoat in any way the challenges that you’re going to face and that I went through and the emotional difficulties and the strain it puts on your family. But then I also wanted, within the same show, because we have the two timelines, I wanted to show how wonderful life with my daughter is. Jo is the most amazing person I’ve ever met and she brings joy and life and happiness and humor and frustration and anger and all the wonderful things that make up humanity, she brings every single day to me and my wife. So if in the same show I could say to those people, ‘I understand what you’re going through.’ I’m not painting a rose-tinted spectacle vision of the world. I mean it does suck. I mean I’m not going to gloss over that, but in my case, look what you end up with. Just look how brilliant it can be and it’s frustrating and it’s difficult, but look how wonderful life can be. And I’ve had so many people get in touch with me personally to say thank you for telling that story because that’s my story as well. That’s what we went through.”

It’s not in my nature to do a warm, fuzzy, sentimental look at what’s happened. I wanted it to be as truthful and honest as possible and the truth is sometimes it sucks and it’s terrible. Sometimes it’s funny. You know, well let’s just serve it all up and then call it comedy, call it drama, call it whatever you want to call it. But as long as it’s truthful, that was fine. In terms of people’s reaction, overwhelmingly and when I say that I mean I’m struggling to think of anyone who’s come back with negative comments. People in similar situations have said, “Yes, you’re telling a truthful story. It speaks truth to us.” So we haven’t had any pushback from them. In terms of the BBC who made it, I literally never worked on a project that’s been more supported in every aspect than the support we’ve had from the BBC. It’s been tremendous.”

There She Goes will drop on Britbox for US audiences in April 2019.