American television could always use a healthy dose of British humor, and as Sally4Ever heads to HBO on Nov. 11, we’ll be getting just that. The show, co-produced by Sky Atlantic in the U.K. and spearheaded by comedian Julia Davis, tells a tale of love gone awry. Protagonist Sally is a people pleaser who suddenly leaves a long term partner to be with someone very different, always searching and grappling with what it is she really wants. It’s a relatable premise, but is Sally4Ever a true story?
It doesn’t appear to be — Davis told the U.K.’s BeyondTheJoke.com that she came up for the premise of the show partially when she randomly improvised one day with Catherine Shepherd, who plays the titular character. “Julian [Barratt, Davis’ longtime romantic partner] played the therapist, a boyfriend and various other characters, and from there I realized we had something quite interesting that I wanted to explore further.”
Improvisation apparently was a large aspect of how the show ultimately came together. “I do always try to plan the overall story of a series first, but usually I get impatient and have to start writing scenes to reassure myself that there is something tangible that’s going to work, as for me the comedy tends to come from characters more than situations,” Davis continued in the same interview. “On Sally4Ever I got together with Catherine to improvise scenes and from there I wrote up more stuff and kept honing it and honing it. By the time I got to set with long scripts I made my life easier by then letting everyone do takes on script and off script, which resulted in hours and hours of footage that I can’t use.”
Davis is no stranger to creating bleak, oddball comedies — she also created and starred in Sky Atlantic’s show Camping in the U.K., which has now been adapted for American TV with Lena Dunham at the helm. Davis’ original version of Camping was a hit, and reviews thus far for Sally4Ever have seemed promising, though not outstanding. Alice Vincent for the U.K.’s Telegraph praised the show’s unabashed queerness — the first person Sally throws herself in the arms of after leaving her male partner is another woman — and despite the faults she found in the show’s pacing and delivery, said that there were “glimmers of off-beat brilliance” and “quiet, perfectly observed quips.”
Lucy Mangan of the Guardian had praise for the show, too, while acknowledging just how “out-there” Davis’ material can get. Mangan says that Davis’ dark, gritty comedy is spawned from “appalling genius,” and that the news of a new project from her is something that elicited a “strange mix of abject fear, dread, delight, anticipation and soft weeping.” And Kevin Ritchie from NowToronto.com called the show “unrelentingly funny” and says it’s “a perfectly uncompromising introduction to her gleefully inappropriate comic auteurism for North American audiences.”
This is exactly the kind of show that could shock the system of American television, and do so in a wonderfully apologetic way. If the cult following Davis has developed over the years across the pond is any indication, viewers this side of the Atlantic should ready themselves for an interesting ride.