The new eight-part Australian road trip series Upright on Sundance Now may not be based on a true story, but crossroads with the life of its co-writer and star Tim Minchin lend themselves to that conclusion. Minchin, who spent the last 12 years working in the US and UK, only recently returned home to Australia after hitting some professional roadblocks. His animated film for Dreamworks was canceled; his musical adaptation of Groundhog Day saw only a short run on Broadway. Upright, too, tells the story of a homecoming under gray conditions. Lucky Flynn (Minchin) is driving across the dusty Outback from Sydney to Perth to deliver the family piano back to his hometown before his mother dies.
Still, if the story feels infused with real life ennui, that’s no accident. Minchin, who also grew up in Perth, took a trip to Western Australia with his brother in the midst of the creative process. At the time, he was plagued with existential worries, like what it meant for him to be coming home after a dozen years away, and what it means to spend such a long time away from those who Minchin calls “your people.”
“I was really quite depressed, and I went running along the beach in Broome and the whole backend story kind of came to me and made me upset – and if something makes you upset, in your head you go, ‘Okay, there’s something there,’” he told a Foxtel reporter.
But the project was more than a cathartic exercise for Minchin. It was also a chance to tell an Outback tale that bucked the Hollywood clichés of koalas and kangaroos and country bumpkins. "I really liked the idea of trying to tell an Australian story that celebrated the beautiful landscapes and stuff, without being parochial, and kind of 'Crocodile Dundee',” he told the Irish News. He wanted to invent a West Oz character who didn’t play into the stereotypes he associates with mainstream Aussie portrayals, like Rebel Wilson’s dim but loyal turn in Pitch Perfect. "America loves Rebel. I like Rebel too, but that's how they want us. They're like, 'Oh Australia, they're real sweet and a bit dumb. And they're funny because they're a bit simple'.
In the UK and Australia, where the program has already aired, its culturally specific brand of truth telling has drawn comparisons to Fleabag, Atlanta, and Ramy; Joss Whedon and Judd Apatow are both fans. Now, Minchin is excited for an American audience to finally connect with Upright too. "It’s quintessentially Aussie and, at the same time, utterly universal. And I’m pretty sure it’ll make you really laugh and properly cry.”