One of the most curious comedies to emerge on both sides of the Pond this year is “Flowers,” which features Olivia Colman and Julian Barratt in a dark look at a dysfunctional family. Think “Arrested Development” as brought to life in the pages of a Roald Dahl book.
“Flowers,” which bowed in April on the U.K.‘s Channel 4 and is available on NBC’s Seeso comedy streaming service, is the brainchild of Will Sharpe, the multi-hyphenate who has a supporting role in the show, produced by Endemol Shine’s Kudos banner.
Barratt plays a renowned children’s book author, Maurice Flowers, who is battling severe depression as he tries to sort out his not-quite-complete divorce from his delusional, music teacher wife Deborah, limned by Colman. The couple’s two adult children, twins Donald (Daniel Rigby) and Amy (Sophia Di Martino), have their own considerable quirks. Sharpe plays an energetic Japanese illustrator, Shun, who works with Maurice.
The show’s first season is easily consumed in a quick binge — six half-hour episodes (written and directed by Sharpe) that take the Flowers clan and their bizarro associates in an English country town on quite a journey through the canyons of their minds. “Flowers” plays for laughs but also demonstrates a sensitivity to mental health issues that has earned praise for the show and for Barratt’s performance. Colman, as ever, impresses with her dexterity in a role far removed from the dramatic fare she’s best known for in the U.S., such as “Broadchurch” and “The Night Manager.”
“It’s a show about melancholy,” Sharpe explains. “We’re not making fun of their pain. I want people to see it as an ultimately uplifting show that in the end leaves you with a feeling of hope.”
“Flowers” amounts to an “I’ve arrived” statement for Sharpe, 29, who has always balanced his acting work with his ambition as a writer and director.
Sharpe grew up in Japan until the age of 8 — his mother is Japanese, his father British — when his family moved to the London area. He attended Cambridge University and was a member of the school’s Footlights acting troupe.
After graduating in 2008, Sharpe did a mix of standup comedy and a year a half stint with the Royal Shakespeare Co. He landed a role on the long-running U.K. sudser “Casualty” in 2009. The following year, he co-wrote and directed his first feature, the murder mystery “Black Pond,” which nabbed a BAFTA nom.
Sharpe spent a lot of time sketching out the world of “Flowers” before pitching it to Kudos. To his surprise, Channel 4 “got it” and commissioned a pilot. (Seeso came on board as a partner after the pilot.) He was equally surprised and grateful when his script attracted notable stars in Colman and Barratt.
“The best thing for me about making the show was working with a cast that was all so good,” he said. “Julian is so controlled and really good. Olivia can always deliver what you need to achieve.”
Although Sharpe’s career focus is more on writing and directing than acting, he crafted a role for himself in “Flowers” because he wanted to infuse it with the over-the-top broad humor found in Japanese films and TV shows.
“I wanted that flavor to be in the show somehow and the Shun character is the conduit,” he says. “He’s quite an un-British character and I quite like holding him up against the more British characters.”
Sharpe was keenly aware going in that there was no assurance “Flowers” would live on past its initial six-episode commission. He designed the ending to work as the end of the family’s story — or not.
“I think it could definitely carry on. I don’t think for ages and ages but I feel like there is more to find out about characters,” he says. “There’s a feeling of conclusion to the series but a lot of it is left open-ended.”
(Pictured: Olivia Colman in “Flowers”)