Is ‘Ill Behaviour’ A True Story? The Showtime Series Turns A Cancer Diagnosis Into Cathartic Comedy

The BBC limited series Ill Behaviour follows Joel (Chris Geere) whose friend Charlie (Tom Riley) rejects traditional cancer treatment in favor of more natural remedies and has its American debut Nov. 13 on Showtime. But is Ill Behaviour based on a true story? In order to force his friend to accept treatment, Joel kidnaps Charlie and makes him undergo chemotherapy against his will. The plot is definitely intriguing and absurd, but thankfully it doesn't appear to be grounded in real life.

Co-creator Sam Bain told Digital Spy that Ill Behaviour was originally hatched as a movie script, but a miniseries was a more achievable option. "Originally I wrote [Ill Behaviour] as a film, with Iain Morris and Damon Beesley of The Inbetweeners fame, but the film was really hard to get made, partly because films generally are, but also it just wasn't an easy sell," Bain told the site. The showrunner said he was met with mixed reactions upon telling people what the show was about, especially when it was marketed as a comedy. "Whenever I pitched it, people always looked a bit alarmed," he said. "Like, 'Oh, that sounds interesting.'"

The show is a six-part series, according to The Hollywood Reporter, but even that wasn't its next step after a movie didn't work out. Ill Behaviour was originally packaged for the BBC as a three-part series, with hour-long episodes, according to IndieWire, but was again reimagined into six half-hour episodes when it was acquired by Showtime.

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Bain said he knew that the sensitive nature of the somewhat dark plot meant he had to take good care of it. "We all knew there's potential for going wrong here - to blend tragedy, disease and death with knockabout farce and one-liners... it's quite a difficult cocktail," he said in the same Digital Spy interview. "You have to be careful with all the details, I think." Bain said he also thought that the story was more of a story about friendship than it ever was about cancer. "I've had experiences with friends — who've been in bad relationships, or whatever — and you wish you could just grab the steering wheel of their life, and turn it sharp to the right... and of course you can't," he said. "You have to sit back and let them make their own mistakes. So the show's really a wish fulfillment fantasy — about taking that steering wheel, against their will."

Ill Behaviour also stars Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) and Jessica Regan (the UK series Doctors), who told Metro News that the script appealed to her because of its unexpected premise. "I don’t think it’s a comedy about cancer," Regan said. "I think it’s a comedy about friendship, the comedy is very much mined from the insecurities and the resentments and the extreme situations these friends find themselves in and possess."

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The actor also said that she doesn't think cancer is the actual punchline in the show, which is another reason the edgy story works. "The cancer stuff is no laughing matter, and it’s quite unflinching with what people go through with chemotherapy and the gruesomeness of it and the depression of it that can ensue, so there’s not a lot of cancer LOLs," Regan said in the same interview. "It’s more that these characters and their rather extraordinary choices, and stories is where the comedy is mined from."

Given that Good Behaviour deals with the complexities that accompany both sickness and strained friendships, this comedy could be cathartic for anyone who's been through either one. And while you may not be able to relate to physically kidnapping your friend, you'll probably be reminded of times when you wish they'd let you make their decisions for them.