Dead On Arrival

Press release time!

New SBS Digital Originals series A Beginner’s Guide to Grief is a baptism by fire that proves laughter is the best medicine

The dark comedy premieres Sunday 4 September on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand

Once a hot mess – now just a mess – Harriet ‘Harry’ Wylde (played by writer and creator Anna Lindner) is about to learn that grief doesn’t play by the rules. Soon, neither will she. Join Harry as she navigates the loss of her two terminally ill parents in the one week, and the unpredictable fun park of grief that follows in the Digital Originals short form dark comedy, A Beginner’s Guide to Grief. Based on Lindner’s personal story, the series looks beyond the flowers and hallmark cards, and dares to lean into the terrifying messy but transformative experience that is grief. The series will premiere on Sunday 4 September on SBS Viceland and SBS On Demand.

Alongside Lindner, title roles are also played by Cassandra Sorrell as Daisy ‘Fireball’ Jin (Bump, Eden), Georgina Naidu (Seachange, Fisk) as Aunty Barb, Rory Walker (The Hunting, Escape from Pretoria, Hotel Mumbai) as Uncle Trev, Carlo Ritchie (of comedy duo The Bear Pack, Prank You Very Much, Celebrity Letters & Numbers) as Isaiah Wylde, with Caitlin McDougall (The Alice, Always Greener, A Country Practice) as Diane Wylde, Glynn Nicholas (The Big Gig, The Glynn Nicholas Show) as Reggie Wylde, and Brett Goldstein (Ted Lasso) as the voice of the grief expert on a series of cassette tapes. Joining them is Yazeed Daher (The Hunting, Safe Harbour) as J.W. Nathaniel, Danny Ball as Seth, Lori Bell as Senior Constable Peta, Zoe Min O’Callaghan as Young Daisy, Daisy Kennett as Young Harry, and Leela Varghese as Kamille. 

It is directed by Renée Mao (The Last Line, The Sound of Drowning), whose work is rooted in powerful, narrative-driven storytelling, and often tackles intimate, sensitive subject matter. The producing team from KOJO Studios is executive producer/creative producer Linda Ujuk and producer Kate Butler, together with producer Julie Byrne.

Harry (Lindner) never imagined things panning out the way they have. Having to forgo her dream New York arts scholarship, being the only child, she had no choice but to return to her tiny hometown back in regional South Australia following the news of her father’s (Nicholas) terminal cancer diagnosis. Later, her mother (McDougall) soon receiving the same fate.

Losing both parents in the space of a week isn’t helped in the least by her devout Lutheran Revivalist father announcing moments before his death that they never believed in God and leaving Harry to handle one puzzling last request – to be cremated. This is made even more complicated when surrounded by a strict Christian community who are dead set on giving Harry’s parents a full blown, Holy Spirit-certified burial. Fortunately, her mother left her the worst gift ever: an old Walkman and some vintage cassette tapes about grief, offering little comfort other than an excuse to block out the world.

With an entire village all up in her business, Harry has no time to acknowledge her grief. First, there’s the chance encounter with her dysfunctional childhood foster-sister, Daisy; a pyromaniac who is fresh out of prison, then there’s her overbearing Aunt Barb, her socially awkward and outright peculiar cousin Isaiah, her Uncle Trev with the full force of God on his side, and an entire Christian community firmly against cremation of the dead. While the rest of the town follow God’s will, Harry is hell-bent to follow her own… even if that means giving the entire community a transcendental high so intense, only heaven could compare.

SBS Commissioning Editor, Scripted, Loani Arman said:A Beginner’s Guide to Grief not only explores the uncomfortable and confronting nature of grief, but also how surprising and transformative the experience can be. We’re proud to continue the success of our Digital Originals initiative with this story and offer even more pathways to underrepresented creatives.”

Executive Producer at KOJO Studios, Linda Ujuk said: “I’m extremely proud of our first original and the cracking female-led key creative team memorialising a deeply personal story of grief with all its messy absurdity and beauty. I’m thrilled an audience finally gets to experience the dark comedic brilliance of Anna Lindner, a powerful new voice whose sharp honesty and humour will loudly resonate with anyone who’s experienced the loss of a loved one.”   

Writer and Creator of A Beginner’s Guide to Grief, Anna Lindner: “This is about giving a voice to an experience that is totally unique to me, yet simultaneously universal. An experience that is undeniably precious, sacred, and can be positively life-changing, but only if we allow ourselves the time, compassion, and permission to be present with it. I want people to know that grief and joy don’t just co-exist, but they belong together.”

Screen Australia’s Head of Online, Lee Naimo said: “We are proud to have supported this compelling and authentic story through our Digital Originals initiative, and I’m thrilled to see it reach audiences next month.”

South Australian Film Corporation CEO, Kate Croser said: “The SAFC is proud to have supported this exciting new series from South Australia’s KOJO Studios and written and created by emerging regional South Australian writer Anna Lindner, establishing her as a new South Australian ‘Greenlighter’ talent with a bright future ahead of her.”

A Beginner’s Guide to Grief is a KOJO Studios production in association with SBS. Principal development and production funding from Screen Australia, financed in association with South Australian Film Corporation, and supported by the Australian Government through the COVID-19 Temporary Interruption Fund.

Not having seen this series, it would be wrong for us to make any comment about its quality or lack thereof. It’s probably really good. But will it be really funny?

We’re going to go with “no”.

Here’s a question: if you’re making a comedy, do you hire as a director someone “whose work is rooted in powerful, narrative-driven storytelling, and often tackles intimate, sensitive subject matter”, or someone who “makes people laugh”? Answers on the back of a blah blah blah.

What this seems to promise is a whole lot of stuff about dealing with death, and that some of that stuff will, if seen from a certain angle, seem amusing. Sure, grief and joy might belong together, but let’s be real here: grief usually takes the lead in the week after both your parents die.

It’s no mystery why this kind of series gets labelled a comedy (or even a “dark comedy”). While creatives desperately want to explore their own personal experiences, audiences for the most part want to be entertained. Comedy? Entertaining. Watching someone bury their parents? Might be a bit of a chore.

We’ve said it before, but here it is again: in the wake of the rise of dramedy – and audiences realising that “dramedy” usually means “shit drama” so the term “dramedy” has been quietly shelved – the definition of comedy has expanded to a point where it’s now all but meaningless.

Today drama is a very narrowly defined genre that is 100% serious all the time in every direction; everything else now, no matter how much or little comedy it contains, is a comedy.

Just don’t expect to laugh much at it.

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