Witless is back for a second series on BBC Three, just nine months after THAT cliffhanger at the end of series one. And the good news is that all five episodes will be available to watch at once.
Because I enjoyed the first series of Witless so much and because the stars of the show, Kerry Howard and Zoe Boyle were a joy to speak to last year and I had to catch up with them again to find out more about the second series.
The setup in series one, for those who missed it, was that after stumbling upon a gangland shooting, flatmates Leanne and Rhona enter the Witness Protection programme. But unbeknownst to them, the criminal gang are tracking them down. When they learn that a corrupt cop has leaked their safe house location the girls have no choice but to go on the run.
But before they’ve even managed to get out the door they’ve got two big problems: hit-man Benny is moments away and at the end of series one they accidentally shot their overbearing neighbour Jackie.
Trapped and unable to trust the police, they’ll have to solve this dilemma on their own. Here’s what Kerry and Zoe had to say about series two…
First of all, congratulations on a second series of Witless. Were you pleased with the reaction to series one?
Kerry Howard: Yeah! So pleased with the reaction. It’s not surprising because I really loved the scripts and thought they were really really funny, but you never know how an audience is going to respond to what you’re doing.
But to capture people’s imaginations in the way that it has, it’s just been delightful. It’s been so lovely.
I always knew when I walked on to the set that we’d get a second series of this because the storylines were so strong and there was a cliffhanger element to it.
But I was quite shocked with the response on Twitter and from people on the street. I thought the BBC internally would love it, but I didn’t think about the public. I thought it would be another cult hit like the other shows I’ve done.
But I feel like Witless has reached out further. Maybe that was because it was replayed on BBC One after Graham Norton We were so lucky with that slot. That really helped us reach our audience.
Are you finding that people are coming to the series at different times as a result to it being available online, and as you say the BBC One repeat?
Zoe Boyle: Yes. It’s also reaching different strands of the audience, because I think the younger audience might watch things on BBC Three/iPlayer more and then people of my mum’s generation who are watching Graham Norton on a Friday evening and then Witless starts.
You touched on it earlier, but the first series ended on quite the cliffhanger. Unusual for a comedy. Were you ever worried that Witless wouldn’t come back and the audience would be left feeling disappointed?
KH: Yeah totally! When I was reading the scripts, I was like “This can’t be the last episode” – I was gagging for more so I think the audience would have felt cheated if that’s how it was left.
They’ve kept that high pace tension through series two. I feel like every episode is a bit like Breaking Bad, in that every episode ends on a cliffhanger.
The intention with BBC Three this time around is to release the series as a boxset so you can binge watch it, because after watching episode one you definitely watch episode two and again and again like that.
Then it’ll transmit on BBC One, hopefully in the same slot as before, but on a weekly basis.
So, for anyone who didn’t watch the first series, how would you sum up series one?
KH: It’s a comedy of errors, trying to escape from gang lords.
ZB: Yes Kerry! (Laughs) That’s so good!
Thankfully, series two starts right from the moment series one ended. What can you say about what happens next?
KH: Oh… we can’t give anything away!
ZB: What we can say is that Leanne and Rhona go on the run and the stakes get a lot higher, so the danger levels and threat levels go up. As always happens, as soon as the stakes go up, the comedy becomes more heightened as well.
KH: The wholes series is across three to four days, so it’s a really high-paced show. The girls don’t really have any time to procrastinate or miss home. They don’t have any time to talk about any background.
It’s all now in the present and what they have to do. It’s definitely a life or death situation in series two.
How are Leanne and Rhona coping with witness protection now? Are they more used to it?
KH: I think they’re in flight mode with the situation that they find themselves in. They just push forward and are constantly trying to survive.
ZB: I’d say they’ve both become a little bit tougher I think. Rather than just being on a chase, they’re trying to affect a change in their situation this series.
What is it each of you enjoy about playing your characters?
KH: I love the physical aspect of it. I love the action. It’s very rare that a woman gets to have these fun action scenes. Very rare. So when you have the opportunity you go “Let me do it! Let me do it!” because you never really get the chance.
I was cheeky. In one scene I did do something that the stuntwoman should have done. I just wanted to try it out to see if I could do it and nailed it. i nailed it.
ZB: We do find ourselves doing quite a lot of physical stuff actually. It’s nice to have the opportunity to be able to do all of that. And also to be able to throw yourself into something that’s really fast-paced. We shoot it really quickly as well. Obviously between myself and Kerry it’s just “Boom, boom, boom, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue”. We’re working very quickly which means you never have time to stumble or get bored. The energy is always up and fun, and that’s just a pleasure.
KH: Yeah. You don’t have time to over think a scene. Witless is quite refreshing like that. I think the show would really suffer if we started to get too heavy with our questions – “But what does it mean?” (Laughs)
What was it like, the first day back?
KH: The first day back, we picked up from our last day so it was surreal. It’s like we’d literally had two weeks off and then we’d come back – but it had been a year!
There was a great screenshot of us at the beginning of the scene, and I was like “Oh is that from last year?” and the director was like “No. That’s from this year!” So he’d compared both screenshots and it was exactly the same. I was worried because of my skin… Oh my God I’m going to age! (Laughs)
Any highlights from this series?
ZB: Probably in the hallway, when we got the giggles. But that won’t be in the show. It was the last week of filming and we’d been so good, so strong, and not corpsed but one afternoon every time we looked at each other and the camera was up, we just started giggling. That was like my favourite day.
KH: I think it was the adrenaline of “Oh my God, we’ve just got through these last five weeks” – I think we were just giddy that we’d managed it so we were allowed one day of fuck ups. Let’s just fuck this show right off! (Laughs)
Is John Inverdale back?
KH: John makes a brief and wonderful appearance. But that’s the thing I like about the boys writing. They’re not stuck in a form. You think it’d be bookended again with John, because that’s what they did in the first series – but they’ve changed that.
Again, it just feels authentic to the show. Every series it seems to evolve and change and surprise and I’m quite happy about that.
ZB: What’s clever about the second series is that they’ve added a bit more space to the gangs and added a few more gang members who are really threatening. Really funny but actually quote scary, so it’s upped the level of fear.
Is there scope for a third series, and would you want to come back again?
KH: Hell yeah! Hell yeah!
ZB: We’d love to do a third series. I don’t think Rhona and Leanne’s journey is done just yet. There’s loads of scope so we’ll just have to wait and see I guess.
KH: We’ve already written the treatment between us. Whether they’ll take it on board… Constantly on the last day I’d be like “You can do this. You can do that.” Writers love that. When actors tell them how to map out their show. We’ve managed to do that quite a lot this series too…
Anything you’ve changed this series?
KH: There are a few points which they’ve taken on board. After the first draft I was like “Hmm…” and they did take on board some of my suggestions. Which were the same suggestions the producer had as well. Everyone has the same dialogue when it comes to the characters and things. That’s why this show works, because we’re all singing from the same page.
What are you working on for the rest of this year?
KH: I don’t know yet. There are a couple of things floating around. I’m working on some development stuff, possibly something for BBC One to fill in the Miranda slot. That’s in a very very early stage!
It’s a shame that Young Hyacinth didn’t get picked up for a series.
KH: Yeah… Well they’re still talking about it. So it’s a funny one. It might actually happen, but it might happen somewhere else. Not necessarily BBC One. It might have another life somewhere else!
Witless returns Wednesday 25th January from 10am on BBC Three with all episodes