It’s not every day a quirky, six-part Australian-made TV series wins a top international TV award, but that’s exactly what happened over the weekend with ABC workplace sitcom Fisk.
‘I’m absolutely thrilled, especially when you look at the competition – we were certainly the scrappy underdog in the fight,” says the show’s writer, co-director and star, comedian Kitty Flanagan.
“It’s incredibly satisfying to learn that our Australian comedy proved to be relevant (and, more importantly, funny) to an international audience.
“Fist bumps all round to the entire cast and crew.”
In Fisk, which ran over six weeks back in March, Flanagan plays a high-end solicitor who falls from grace in Sydney, and finds herself in the low-rent suburban world of wills and probate back in Melbourne.
The series was up against seven others in the Comedies Competition at Series Mania 2021, Europe’s largest television festival based in Lille, beating Emmy-nominated HBO series Hacks and the UK’s Starstruck on September 3.
In a statement to The New Daily, ABC head of comedy Todd Abbott said: “Kitty Flanagan is one of the world’s funniest humans, so it’s no surprise that international audiences have embraced Helen Tudor-Fisk and her colleagues with the same affection that Australians did”.
“Fisk became an instant Australian classic as soon as it hit screens, and we couldn’t be prouder of the brilliant team that makes it.”
In accepting the Best Series Award in her “best French”, Flanagan, who plays “mature lady” Tudor-Fisk – good with contracts, not good with people – decided to have a bit of fun given she couldn’t be there to accept in person.
She got a little bit of help from fellow comedian, writer and Eurovision host Julia Zemiro (teaming up as office manager Roz Gruber in Fisk), who speaks fluent French.
“Unfortunately, I don’t speak French,” Flanagan begins.
And before we know it, Zemiro starts speaking in French, doing the voice-over while Kitty tries to mouth the words, and keep up: “Luckily, I am very good at lip-syncing so I’m sure you won’t even notice”.
We all notice. She’s not good at lip-syncing, but the acceptance speech was a classic.
Porchlight Films’ co-creator and producer Vincent Sheehan (The Kettering Incident, Operation Buffalo) came up with the idea of probate as the basis for a television series when he witnessed, secondhand, a messy and complicated fight over assets after a friend’s great-aunt died.
“I realised that probate cases are riddled with mysteries. They twist and turn as more things from the past are brought to light and everyone fights for what’s left behind,” he says.
He took a broad outline of the idea to Flanagan (who worked closely with her sister Penny) to see how she would respond: “I still remember the look on her face. It was an immediate look of, ‘This can work’,” he says.
He said the recognition could not have come at a better time, IF Magazine reported.
“Having attended Series Mania in the past, I know first-hand how passionate and committed their audience are, so to receive this award, and in the company of such strong competition, is rather special and great timing as we embark on developing season two,” he said.
The ABC told TND Fisk was the network’s No.1 program on broadcast this year to date and also the highest-rated non-kids program on ABC iView ever.
‘Unpleasant and a little bit antisocial’
The appeal of the show lies in Flanagan’s brown suit-wearing Tudor-Fisk, described by the festival as a “little bit unpleasant and a little bit antisocial”.
It also delivers as an “old-fashioned sitcom”.
ScreenHub‘s Anthony Morris says Fisk’s locations are “basic – an office, a café, Fisk’s temporary Airbnb home – and filmed in a straightforward way that never detracts from the comedy”.
And its strength lies in the fact the writing is sharp (and is available in Spanish and French) and they use actual comedians.
There are also “hilarious” cameos from comedians Glenn Robbins, Dave O’Neil, Marg Downey, Ed Kavalee, Denise Scott and Sam Pang.
Adds Morris: “Australian television most definitely needs more series like Fisk. If we see a smarter, funnier local sitcom this year then it will have been a very good year indeed”.