In early March, as the coronavirus inexorably spread to Australia and countries such as Italy and Spain were running out of beds in their intensive care units, television writer and producer Meg O’Connell and her friends in Brisbane started to self-isolate. For consolation and mutual support they put together an online video meeting space, which they imagined as a BYO bar.
More than a dozen people passed through on the Friday night the digital space opened, and it became a nightly – and sometimes daily, with coffee – habit for participants. On the Sunday evening O’Connell’s friend and fellow creative Mark O’Toole checked in, and by the next morning the pair were swapping story notes on a show inspired by the meeting place. They even had a one-sentence pitch: “A 30something Cheers for the internet.”
No one yells “Norm!”, but for the most part the series that emerged from the duo’s drinks and rapid development stays true to the outline. With six episodes both about and produced during the social isolation era, Retrograde is an ABC comic-drama about Maddie (Pallavi Sharda), an unfulfilled 32-year-old in lockdown with her boyfriend, Rob (Max Brown). Her uncertainties are exacerbated when Maddie discovers her ex, Dylan (Nick Boshier), has suddenly returned to their social circle via the show’s sole setting of an online hangout.
“For many people this time has thrown up questions over whether they’re happy with their life choices,” O’Connell says. “You got to ask yourself questions you haven’t had the time or space to previously consider, let alone answer.”