Infertility & Adoption… The Comedy? The Stars of UK series Trying On Why British Comedy Has Mastered The Art of Dark Humour

With comparisons to the massive hit Catastrophe, the AppleTV+ series Trying is a British comedy that follows a young couple trying to grow their family. Starring Rafe Spall and Esther Smith, the second season of this delightful and witty show premieres this Friday. Emma Clifton Zooms across the planet to chat to the lead actors about finding humour in the hard, filming during London’s lockdowns and how this show has given them a far better understanding about how dedicated adoptive parents are.

In a previous life, press junkets were very similar to the ‘Horse and Hound’ scene in Notting Hill; the talent is trapped in a hotel room for 12 straight hours, slowly going mad, and the press is brought in, one at a time, to ask them (let’s face it) probably the same five questions. Now, of course, it’s all done online and you really have to lean in to the sheer insanity that is an online press junket, knowing that a) you don’t have to leave your house and b) there are a team of stressed publicists running the world’s largest Zoom in order to make this international timing possible.

And so it is that I am beamed into the faux lounge set up of Trying actors Rafe Spall and Esther Smith, one Tuesday morning for them, and at 9.30pm on a Wednesday night for me. You go from staring down a blank camera to suddenly being broadcast onto a giant screen in front of two very well-known UK actors and the effect is jarring on everyone.

“Emma! What a surprise to see you here!” Rafe immediately jokes. “We were just sitting here, in our ‘house’ and then here you are.”

“We were just talking, weren’t we, that we haven’t seen Emma in ages,” adds Esther, as we all have a little giggle at how surreal this set up is. My trans-Atlantic chat is happening at the beginning of their press day, Rafe says. “You’ve got us early on, so you’re lucky – we’ve got about 400 of these to go.”

The natural rapport between the pair is one of the many, many, many reasons Trying (on AppleTV+) is such wonderful viewing. The first season introduced us to Nikki and Jason, who have been trying for a while to get pregnant and it hasn’t worked. The second season follows them trying to adopt, plus assorted brilliant side characters, including UK screen icon Imelda Staunton and Teachers actor Navin Chowdhry, who is ageing like a fine wine. Comedy wise, it’s got the black humour of Catastrophe mixed with the warmth and whimsy of New Girl (plus the absolutely sensational wardrobe of the main character). In short, it’s a joy to watch, while also deftly tackling some very serious subjects. It’s an art that British comedies do so well – that balance of light and dark.

Imelda Staunton with Esther Smith and Rafe Spall, all photos supplied from Apple TV+

“I think there is a difference between British and American, and perhaps European, comedy,” Rafe agrees. “It’s one of the things we have in common with Australia and New Zealand; that sense of humour is more or less the same, right? I mean, when you go to America, there are some things that don’t translate. But I think when the comedy is good enough, when it’s real enough… It’s universal. Funny’s funny, d’you know what I mean?”

The first season was released in May 2020, the second season was filmed last September through to December, at the height of the pandemic in London and amongst on-off lockdowns (The show has also been renewed for a third season). Trying may have the authentic feel of an indie-style of show, but it comes with the financial heft of Apple behind it, which proved very necessary when it came to all the extra requirements to keep the production secure from Covid-19. “For me, it was such a relief coming back to work,” says Esther. “It was so lovely to know that we had this to come back to, to have that bit of normalcy. They really made sure we were looked after. I’m amazed that we were able to finish it without any hitches, really.”

“There was a genuine concern about how were we going to get back to doing our job again,” Rafe says. “And that’s still the case for theatre – theatre’s not back in the rest of the world, and that’s a real worry. It was just great that we had the might of Apple behind us to be able to pay for proper Covid-19 security; there was a stringent testing process that meant we could still touch and be close to each other in our bubbles…. And the second season is as good, if not better, than the first season, even though we filmed it under some quite [serious] restrictions. Which is satisfying.”

The fact that we’ve all been trapped in our cities for so long also made it incredibly enjoyable to watch a show set in London, I say. “You forget, because we’re obviously filming in the same city that we haven’t been able to leave, that this is going to be a real joy for people to see London in the way that people know it. Because it’s such a brilliant city and that’s what’s been hard during this time, London feels like a very different place with all the lockdowns. So to be able to live in that world again was a really special thing.”

Playing two characters who go through years of trying to conceive a child, and are now embroiled in the layers of paperwork in trying to adopt one, has given both actors a real appreciation for how many hopeful parents go through such an arduous process. “It’s really hard to adopt a kid, and if you get through that really hard process, you must really want a kid,” Rafe says. “Whereas I’ve got kids in real life and really not that much went into making them; it was pretty easy.”

It wouldn’t be a press junket without hurling in a silly question, so to wrap things up I ask which fictional sitcom characters would they want to be their own adoptive parents. Esther is thoughtful and then says “Mine’s quite old school, do you know The Good Life? I’d pick Tom Good and Barbara Good,” she says, citing the classic 1970’s British comedy. Rafe offers another, more recent pop culture reference. “Uncle Phil from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” he starts, then thinks. “And then I’d have… Ross from Friends. I would have gay parents. What more could you want?”

Trying season two premieres Friday 21 May on Apple TV+ 

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