Tom Edge (Interview)
Words by Jessica Rovniak.
In the search to find a new series to binge-watch last summer, Scrotal Recall continued to show up on my Netflix suggested list. I thought, What is this? What did I watch to make them think I’d want to watch something with this title? Little did I know, I’d re-watch the series an ungodly amount of times and recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Scrotal Recall is a pleasant surprise for all willing to forgive the rather crude, yet quite accurate, show title. When Dylan (played by Johnny Flynn) is diagnosed with Chlamydia, it sparks a six-episode recount of his ex-lovers. Flashing back up to six years, we see Dyaln’s past relationships (and relations) with women, and where they are now as he relays the medical news. (Get it? Scrotal Recall? OK, I’ll stop.)
The sustaining element of the series is his friendship with Evie (played by Antonia Thomas) and Luke (played by Daniel Ings), and the equally complicated relationship between the three once roommates.
The series plays with love, friendship, and time–all elements I discussed with the show’s writer/producer Tom Edge after receiving the news that Netflix had renewed the series for a second season.
JESSICA ROVNIAK: You’ve written for many different romantic comedies, including series’ like Pramface, Threesome and now you have your own Scrotal Recall…
TOM EDGE: I love romantic comedies: Groundhog Day, Annie Hall, and When Harry Met Sally. Over time, I was led to Preston Sturges‘ material, and films like It Happened One Night, which is the original romantic comedy. It’s great to get under the hood of characters even if you’re not especially interested in their romantic life, oddly. You reach the end of Annie Hall and you feel like you know those characters, their neuroses, and their problems intimately. You have an understanding of everything that will be problematic in their lives. That was one of the ambitions of Scrotal…[Laughs] I still struggle to say the title of my own show–It remains challenging.
What do you think is different about Scrotal Recall?
There are a million shows out there that could tell the stories of friends growing up in their ’20s. Often, inevitably, you’re used to a very lineal shape of treatment. One of the real joys of this show is that there’s quite a lot of “have your cake and eat it too” moments. You could play in the present day frame, where it’s still unsolved. “What happens next?” is more powerful storytelling than “why did that happen?” which is more nuanced and arguably, slightly more intellectual. It’s also less galvanizing. We still get to do a little of the former while indulging in the latter.
You also get to explore their lives through the lens of romance. Looking at past flings, boyfriends, and girlfriends through the lens of romance, you get to understand changing, shifting friendships and people maturing, trying to move on, and trying to change, but you get to do it in quite an unorthodox manner. For me, that’s very satisfying because so often you have to begin at the beginning, end at the end, and hope people remember where you started. In a returning series that’s potentially asking people to throw their minds a long way back. Whereas here, you get to see that was seven years ago, and then the next minute, you’re seeing six months ago. Those juxtapositions are interesting to me.
Do you plan on sticking with the same non-linear format as season one?
Yeah, very much. Another real joy of this show is that, let’s say you say this person’s dead in an episode, it doesn’t lock you in as it would in a linear show, where you occasionally talk in hushed and melancholic tones about the dead.
You can go back and forth in time and you can pick up with people who you thought you left behind. You can find your way back to them in some unorthodox way. There are quite a few people who I think by the time you’ve reached the end of season one, you sort of think their story is done, and sometimes we manage to find our way back and add a new dimension. We continue to delight in what the structure affords us.
Even though the premise is Dylan and his past sexual partners, the real bread and butter of the show is the friendship between Dylan, Evie, and Luke. Seeing it grow over time like we do, it ends up portraying a pretty realistic friendship–Hopefully that’s what we’ll get to do a lot more of in this second season, and watch them meet as friends for the first time. We also get to understand what’s going on in the present. If the first series has you asking “bang your head against the wall” type of questions (“C’mon guys, get it together. Why can’t you? Why has your timing been so terrible?”), then in the second season, it’s about asking tougher questions. It tries to probe assumptions and reasoning, like why it may not be terrible timing and why people who end up together shouldn’t and vice versa. There’s always the warmth and stability of that central friendship, but I think you see the characters’ tougher edges to an extent. Hopefully you ask a few more searching questions of them, which is good. To me, that feels like quite a natural stage for them to hit, maturing a little bit, and taking a deep breath and going, “I don’t seem to fall in love as quickly anymore, maybe this is a good thing.”
What about writing about love intrigues you the most?
One of the things I’m really interested in is memory. Love and memory seems to be a very potent combination. When you think of where you are now back to how you felt about someone you went out with five, 10,15 years ago, it’s often inevitably difficult to truly connect with how you felt back then. That happens with everything, right? Whether it’s grief or the hurt you feel in an argument, time blunts those things. It reduces the magnitude of how you feel about those things. If you felt as bad as you do the morning after a break-up five years later, then someone bringing them up in conversation will have you curled up in the fetal position in a bar, sobbing your eyes out–that would be awkward and challenging to live in. Well done, memory, for doing that valuable service. I am interested in that.
One of the things I wanted to do with the show was be able to track a character in two time zones. That’s what I was trying to set-up in the very first episode of season one: Dylan in the present is standing in the bar watching this woman who he’s realized he’s in love with and he can’t change that. He’s watching her get engaged to another man, and yet, at another time in his life, he didn’t see her that way, and she did see him that way, and so you get to experience her acutely wishing he felt different and her inability to make that happen. You get to experience him in the present day. I think that to me was really powerful and unusual, being able to access how you felt in the past in contrast to how you feel today.
Did this group of three stem from your life or did it just work in the writing?
Three is a good uneasy number to play with. I also wanted to make sure that the angles, in terms of attitudes to love and romance, were distinctive. Even though some begin with tropes and play with them, you get the sense that the characters have different hesitations.
We were very assiduous in casting. We didn’t want to reach for just good comic actors. There’s a roster of them in Britain, often people that have done live comedy and the kind who can play a comic type. For this show, we wanted actors who had a real range of gears, and Antonia, Johnny, Dan all have that in spades. They’re off doing Shakespeare and everything else. They’re terrific dramatic actors.
You’re never feeling constrained. You’re always thinking that this cast can go anywhere that you ask them to go, and it’s great fun to write for that, knowing how good they are.
What’s the message or question that the series asks?
Well, a better title for the show arguably would be Last But One. It goes with questions the show evokes, like, Have I already dated my last but one person? Is this the person I end up with or am I dating yet another last but one kind of person? Is something better around the corner? Have I got an awful lot more last but ones ahead of me? A few people I know feel like they may have thrown away something good in their mid-’20s because in their mid-20s, they didn’t want to settle down, and thought they had all the time in the world, and why wouldn’t you think that? Then they reach that pretty terrible point which is, “I was never happier. Dammit, the other person’s invariably moved on, and it doesn’t feel the same way.” I think it’s an acute question of wondering, Is this it? Should I be happy enough at this junction or should I push for more? A lot that is tied up in Dylan’s journey is this kind of restlessness.
The other thing I would say is, sometimes people who think of themselves as great romantics are actually the same people who require an inhuman amount of love in their relationships, because they’re after the big love, the big “we never argued. We made love every night, and lived happily ever after. We just lay exhausted on the sofa as our souls cha-cha across the carpet” type of love. I think that’s really difficult because people are complicated and everybody is flawed. If you demand perfection and badge that as romance, ultimately it can sour and be very difficult. It oddly ends up being tantamount to avoiding an evasion of commitment because you’re refusing to commit to anything but the impossible. You’re doing it on the grounds that you believe in love and romance, which is an interesting paradox.
I think part of Dylan’s journey is moving from that romantic absolutism to something a little bit more despairing, hopefully towards something that is more human and sustainable, and to figure out his own flaws and those in others.
For Season 1, Scrotal Recall was on Channel 4 in the UK and then went to Netflix. How did that process happen?
Netflix saw the show and really liked the show, and decided to come on board. This was after Channel 4 commissioned it, and badge it as a partly Netflix Original kind of show. From season two on, it will just be a wholly Netflix show which is great and it will be worldwide, including the UK. I have no idea how many countries Netflix is out in now. It’s like a hundred plus or something crazy.
We will be a Netflix Original pure and simple, and that will be great. They’ve been terrific to work with. They really love the show, and they want more of it. They seem to have a good deal of faith in us, that we know the show we want to make. They’ve been terrifically supportive, all the while long really keen to find out what we want to do with it and help us make that happen.
I’ve only heard great things about working with Netflix.
Yeah, I get that impression as well. I’m doing other stuff on Netflix. There’s a show called The Crown, which is shooting at the moment. It’s Peter Morgan’s show about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, which was a huge commission. I’ve been doing some work on that. I’m writing an episode in its second season…that is not a sex comedy. [Laughs] Netflix is really bold in their ambitions and very supportive of the writer-creators they work with.