Staged: David Tennant, Michael Sheen & The Art of the Lockdown Series

Staged is arguably the most successful lockdown TV series. It was conceived, shot, and broadcast during the lockdown. It was so popular that a second series was almost immediately greenlit. That was written and shot when lockdown in the UK was eased, then ironically premiered on the eve when a second lockdown was declared because of surging infection numbers. Only the BBC could pull off a lockdown sitcom where the US failed.

Staged is a sitcom about what happened when actors aren't working. In short, they go nuts. The boredom, the tedium, the insecurities and pettiness they hold at bay when they're working comes pouring out. David Tennant and Michael Sheen play gonzo versions of themselves while their respective spouses Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg play patient and saintly versions of themselves trying to keep their men grounded and sane. Show creator, writer, and director Simon Davis plays a nervous, disastrous, stressed-out version of himself. The show is a meta hall of mirrors and satire of show business that skewers those who work in it.

Staged Returns to a Different World, a Different Mood
Still from "Staged Series 2", BBC Studios

Series 2 is even more meta – the actors deal with an American network that wants to remake this show – Staged – for the US. This turns the series into an even bigger funhouse of meta mirrors where show biz threatens to eat its own tail for laughs. "Tennant" and "Sheen" are more insecure and frantic than ever. Want to make an actor's life hell? Tell them they're not good at the thing they think they're good at. They'll never get over it. Remake their show but refuse to cast them in it.

NBC attempted a lockdown sitcom called Connecting and did everything you shouldn't do when you decide to make a lockdown show using video chat. Nobody watched it because nobody wanted to watch a show about people dealing with the pandemic. Everyone is having an awful time being stuck in their homes and worrying about COVID and doesn't need to be reminded of that. It had that Hollywood flaw of desperately trying to be likable, wanting to be loved, which feels pandering and cloying. It died a painful death before it was moved to NBC's streaming service Peacock where nobody is watching it. Staged used the lockdown and the video chat format to enact a satire about people in an industry – show business – fretting about their egos and bringing out the worst in themselves.

It made for endless conflict and social comedy with a bit of bite, the latter of which US sitcoms often bend over backward to avoid. Staged understands that the best comedy comes from people being awful and miserable rather than being insincerely chirpy and lovable all the time. In TV shows, the first rule of lockdown is not to talk about the lockdown. Talk about everything else – it's already implicitly about trying to get on with life under lockdown. The elephant in the room stays silent because it's too painful to directly look at. Life goes on in the Pandemic, and we empathize with people going crazy like us, not glamourous pretty people having a good time. And movie stars in cameos playing asshole versions of themselves also helps.

Staged Series One is now streaming in the US on Hulu. Series Two is on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist who just likes to writer. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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