Plunkett on TV: We Are Not Alone

It’s become notoriously difficult in the age of Trump and Truss for satirists to outdo the real-life exploits of our political overlords. So writers Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond went the extra mile - many billions of miles in fact - for Dave’s new feature length comedy We Are Not Alone by viewing humanity through the eyes of an all-conquering invading alien race known as the ‘Gu’un’.

Travelling light years across the galaxy was nothing for the Gu’un - led by Vicki Pepperdine and Mike Wozniak - compared to the challenge of governing something as bizarre and utterly baffling as the human race.

“When we first started talking about this show, Trump had happened and Brexit had happened and it was like, everything you think is not going to happen, happens. It got to the point where if someone said the aliens have arrived, you’d go ‘yeah …’” remembers Rickard, co-star and co-writer along with Willbond.

“Everything has already got so ridiculous that … in terms of humanity you are almost past satire.

“But as soon as you get the point of view of someone looking at the place from orbit for the first time, that you kind of go right what would they look at and think is weird and mad and worthy of comment, and within about five minutes we had listed everything.”

Having renamed countries according to their size - the UK is now simply ‘number 78’ - with Clitheroe as its new capital (because it’s at the centre of its landmass), the Gu’un recruit a hapless local planning officer Stewart (Declan Baxter) to be their new ‘human liaison’.

Stewart strikes up an unlikely bromance with a lowly Gu’un called Greggs, played by Joe Thomas, but finds his loyalties stretched to the limits when he is recruited by the Anti-Alien Resistance including his local pub landlady (Georgia May Foote) and politician (Amanda Abbington).

we are not alone 2

Willbond, a regular collaborator with Rickard on shows such as

Ghosts, first had the idea for the show on a train as it passed through Peterborough.

“It was a really grey day. I just thought to myself, ‘If aliens invaded they would probably end up governing from somewhere central like Peterborough, and it would just be really dull.’

“The idea just stuck with me. I pitched it to Larry and we had a real laugh about it … I have nothing personal against Peterborough, for the record.’

While the show has fun at the expense of our political leaders - a scene in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fired from an airlock into outer space feels particularly prescient - it also makes points about mankind’s destruction of the environment, but always with the lightest of touches.

Pete Thornton, head of scripted at UKTV, wasn’t looking for a high concept show when he was first sent the script by independent producer Big Talk at the end of 2020.

Having done fantasy parallel universe comedy Zapped, starring another Inbetweeners alumni James Buckley, several years ago, Dave has since focused on more down to earth comedy such as Porters, Sliced and Sneakerhead.

“We have been purposefully moving away from high concept into a much more relatable, down to earth, sensible world and that really has worked for us generally, across Gold as well, to keep relatability front and centre,” says Thornton.

“But what became really clear when I read it is that while it is quite high concept - it’s an alien invasion - but actually it’s not about the invasion at all, it’s about the aftermath, and that’s what makes it exciting and original.

“It’s a much more interesting in, using the fresh eyes the aliens have to shine a light on us as a species.

“That’s what really appealed to me - using these guys to make us question our behaviour, which is incredibly relatable. You guys can’t even agree which side of the road to drive on, you speak 250 different languages, that kind of thing.”

We Are Not Alone is a little broader than those other Dave shows, going for a 25 to 45-year-old audience rather than the 25 to 35-year-old target viewership of shows such as Sliced or Sneakerhead.

The comedy was originally pitched by Big Talk as a 6x30 minute sitcom and while the aim is still to go to a series, depending on the audience and critical reaction, UKTV’s Thornton wanted to begin with a bang.

“There’s a lot of story to tell - the aliens have arrived and they’ve taken control and they’re now running everything - and we didn’t think we could do it in half an hour.

“The idea was with 90 minutes we could give the guys time to establish the world and the characters, have a good story and have some fun without feeling the pressure of having everything up and running in seconds.”

Plus, a feature-length special feels like a treat for viewers. “That’s definitely how we see it, a big one-off treat,” adds Thornton.

“When there’s so much competition for eyeballs now it gives us a different weight to play with. If we can just bring people in and direct all our marketing heft to one event, if the show is good enough the audience will hopefully stay for that 90 minutes.

“The other thing that appeals to me is that no-one else is doing it. I don’t see a lot of other broadcasters playing in the 90-minute comedy world, it feels like it’s somewhere that we own that space a little bit.”

We Are Not Alone airs on Monday 28th November on Dave and is available for catch-up on UKTV Play

  • John-Plunkett
    John Plunkett
    Ex-Guardian broadcasting correspondent and freelance writer
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