Sally4Ever may be the most unapologetically filthy show of the year. The new HBO series hails from the mind of creator, director, and star Julia Davis, who plays Emma, a bawdy temptress who breaks up a 10-year relationship between the paralyzingly meek Sally (Catherine Shepherd) and her hapless, hopeless boyfriend, David (Alex Macqueen). What follows is a torrid lesbian affair that spirals into obsession, which may sound like the premise for an infidelity-based thriller. Yet the series is actually an outrageously comedic romp about love and sex and the often insidious way in which romance can take over our lives.
Davis, known in England as the reigning queen of dark TV comedy, also created and starred in the original U.K. version of Camping that’s currently being adapted (and toned down) by Girls team Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner for U.S. audiences. Yet Sally4Ever strikes HBO directly from the unrestrained mind of Davis, and the series will make a November 11 debut sure to send many jaws straight to the floor. In typical Davis fashion, no subject is off limits, and the humor takes a visceral turn, including multiple cartoonishly explicit sex scenes, graphic depictions of illness and death, and more. It’s an enormously dark comedy, and Davis (who has also appeared in Black Mirror and Phantom Thread) was gracious enough to chat with us about the series.
You’re known in Britain for your outrageous humor. In the U.S., we have some notorious male TV writers who push the envelope, but my first question after watching Sally4Ever, which is uncompromisingly raunchy, was whether you’re worried about additional backlash as a woman?
A little bit? My feeling is that there are definitely people who won’t like the show, but I would presume that they’d just not tune into it.
In the first few episodes, there are two sex scenes that are more explicit than anything I’ve seen on TV in the U.S. — even by HBO’s own standards — where writers tend to focus more on violence than sex, or sex mixed with elements of violence, both in harder-rated movies and TV.
Yeah, I agree. I also think that in drama, explicit stuff, as you say, violence, seems to be okay. But in comedy, I feel, there’s still a thing that it’s less common to see, and I think some people will be quite shocked by the content.
In addition to being titillating and inspiring laughter, these scenes are astonishing, even if they don’t feel programmed that way. What was your intent in crafting these scenes?
I don’t think I ever sit down to shock people in a deliberate way, just for the hell of it. I do sort of enjoy it and find it funny — kind of an explosion of delight — about images or whatever, but honestly, I was quite inspired by the Blue Is The Warmest Color. I loved the film, I thought it was really sensual and brilliant. I also could see the potential comedy, even just the way they ate … the close-up of them eating spaghetti, the sensuality of it all. But that sort of inspired some images and ideas, and I was also thinking of juxtaposing those sort of things against someone very disapproving while seeing those things. Like, for example, the attitude of [Sally and David’s mothers]. Especially in Britain, thinking of my upbringing, where there was quite a lot of religious judgment and stuff, it’s all kind of churning around [and] where it all probably comes from.