Getting a “checkup” is not always mundane on this streaming TV series
In our community, getting our “checkup” means something a little different than most. It’s not the typical “turn left and cough” or the mundane “deep breath in, breathe out” as a freezing cold stethoscope presses against your bare back. For us, it’s exposing our deepest secrets, the details of the latest “Sexcapades,” or simply a chance to get peace of mind. The best part of the trip to the clinic, however, is the gentle, non-judgmental reminder to practice safe sex with PrEP, prevention, or contraception.
Have you ever been curious what our friendly neighborhood sex clinics must see on a day-to-day basis or what stories they could tell? Riley Nottingham has. Creator of the fantastically entertaining Metro Sexual and lead actor in the sitcom, Nottingham lets viewers behind the curtain in a small-town sexual health clinic. I got to probe a little deeper with Nottingham and have the full scan for our readers.
How are you feeling since the premier?
Riley Nottingham: Oh, really just happy and stoked for it to be out there. It’s such a weird thing when you work on something for so long, but then all of a sudden, it’s out there and people can watch. It’s a bit surreal. It came out in Australia just before Christmas, early December, and that was a whirlwind thing. I think Season One for a lot of people kind of slipped by. Season Two, a lot of people were reaching out and saying, “well done” and that they’re enjoying it and they’re laughing, which is the point.
Metro Sexual is so fun to watch and it feels like it’s The Office meets Parks and Rec with a sprinkle of Schitt’s Creek, basically all of our favorites blended into one, but without neglecting how unique it and original it is. Can you tell me what inspired the sitcom?
RN: That’s very kind, Johnny, and we’re definitely fans of all of the above wonderful shows you’ve mentioned. It’s been a bit over five years since the original idea. We’ve got a little group here, Humdrum Comedy, which is myself and my colleagues, Nicholas and Henry, and we all kind of wear multiple hats. I act and produce and Henry directs and Nick writes. We’ve kind of been that way for a while and we’d done a show in 2015 in Australia, which was a short web series. Very short episodes.
We were thinking of new ideas, and I was in a sexual health clinic as, you know, could happen, especially if you’re a single person in this world. And it just struck me. I was like, I’ve been coming here for a while. When I was in high school, you know, grade 11 or 12, it was kind of a secret thing that all the kids would pair up and go with a close friend to get a sexual health check because they didn’t want to tell their parents. It was very taboo, and it just struck me. I was like, “this is such an interesting world that everyone can relate to. Almost everyone has sex, has had sex or thinks about sex.”
So, the idea just started forming and developing and I began writing it for a couple of years. We then shot a little TV pilot in 2018 and pitched it in the days before COVID when we could more easily fly. We flew to Sydney and pitched it to all the major networks in Australia on one day and got a couple of offers. That led to Season One which happened in 2019 and then came Season Two. So the world of sexual health, even though it is dealing with genitals and stuff that we usually don’t talk about in an office environment, for these doctors, it’s just normal. It’s like, “you can’t surprise me.”
I’m cracking up because I’m thinking of a few scenes with you and Steph, played by Geraldine Hickey.
RN: Yes, those are some of the more shocking scenes I would say!
I bet you all have a really good time!
RN: Such a good time. It’s so hard not to laugh. Especially Geraldine is so funny, so dead pan and that’s the hardest thing when she is just so dead bad and it’s so hard to not laugh. We have a lot of improv. We do the stuff as scripted but there’s heaps of stuff that we just make up and I laugh a lot. It’s something I’m always working on. There’s also Ryan Shelton, he plays Steph’s cousin. He’s in season one a bit, but he comes into the clinic every day in season two. He is so funny, and I reckon there’s one scene where we did like 20-30 takes because it was just so hard not to laugh. Sometimes you start off the day, you’re focused and everything’s great, but after 10 hours, well, you’re the only one who finds it funny and the crew is like, “come on, let’s get outta here.” It definitely doesn’t suck to be me because it’s a real gift to work on.
I sense your passion! We’ll be excited that we can say we interviewed you and watch as you continue to grow into your success! As a globe, we’re obviously facing a lot of health crisis. How does Metro Sexual bring to light the importance of sexual health?
RN: The world has a lot of issues facing it, right? I guess in our little pocket, sexual health is something that, because it is taboo, I think sometimes people are afraid to bring it up. We know the classic jokes about guys in their fifties, you know, not wanting a finger up their bum to test for prostate cancer and that kind of thing. But quite seriously, so much can be treated with prevention, prevention is the best treatment. The idea of Metro is that while it is a really funny backdrop, and it is a comedy first and foremost, it’s our deep desire that the audience can not just find this entertaining, but also go, “Ah, maybe I should Google that.” Or “That’s a good reminder. Maybe I should get that checked.”
If you can be more confident and say, “Hey, this is what I’ve been doing” with no judgment, with whatever you’re doing in your personal life. It’s not about necessarily what you’re doing. It’s the fact that you just wanna do it in a safe way. So, if you’re worried about this lump or this bump or this rash, or this oozing great crater that you’re like, “Gosh, I really do need to get checked out,” then go into a doctor and just be confident. The caveat is I’m not a doctor, we have the medical disclaimer! I’m definitely not a doctor, speaking as someone who’s older brother is a doctor. But so many things are preventable. It’s just going to get that checkup that can sort a lot of issues.
So, do you believe that the show helps to remove the stigma around STIs and such?
RN: I’m biased, but I would hope so. I guess Metro is the epitome of most sexual health clinics that I’ve experienced, which are so inclusive. It’s like, “Hey Johnny, come on in!” It doesn’t matter who you are, what type of person you are. You have a place here and it’s just a judgment free zone where you can be yourself. It’s not like it’s your parent who has these expectations of you or your friend who’s put you in this particular box, or your boss at work who definitely doesn’t know about that part of you or whatever. It’s just a medical professional who’s here to help and be a friend.
How did COVID 19 impact your ability to produce the new season?
RN: So “Metropolitan Sexual” is a health clinic in Melbourne. It’s a really important aspect of the show because Melbourne’s a real melting pot of creativity and diversity here in Australia. When it came time to filming season two, with COVID it was like, “Can we do this? Well, we’ll see.” For us it was like God parted the heavens and this magical filming angel came down and bestowed us with good fortune because we were in a lockdown. All the different costume departments and makeup and camera, we were all kind of doing as much as we could, but on Zoom, in our homes. Then we came out of lockdown for this four week period that happened to coincide with our filming.
We were able to largely do all of our filming as per the plan. There were a couple of people we couldn’t get to come from inter-state. And we actually edited the whole thing in Vancouver. So, Nicholas was stuck in Vancouver where the whole show was edited. Instead of being in one room to edit, there was someone in Vancouver, someone in Melbourne, someone in Queensland, all online. So it was all done remotely and a few days after we finished filming, we like packed up the clinic space we rented out and the day we handed back the keys to the agent, Melbourne went back into a lockdown for another four or five months. Honestly, if it had been a few days, either side, it’s totally possible that we just wouldn’t have been able to film and season two wouldn’t have happened. We we’re just so fortunate.
But thank God it was a comedy though, because if COVID stuff was going on and we were working on a really gritty, depressing, dark thing, I think that would be especially tricky. I think we are all grateful to be working on something that was so lighthearted and positive.
The chemistry between you and Geraldine and, I mean, everyone, seems so healthy. Can you tell us about the experiences with your cast?
RN: Everyone is so amazing. We’ll start with Geraldine who plays Steph. She’s just won the biggest comedy award in Australia at the last comedy festival and most outstanding show. She’d been supporting Hannah Gadsby here in Australia. She’s just a fantastic comedian in her own right. We contacted her in 2016 on Twitter and said, “Hey, we’ve got this idea and we think you’d be good for this role.” And she was open to it. I’ve worked with her now for over a half decade and she’s always been so fantastic. So on board with the project. You can’t speak more highly highly of her especially since she was doing radio in the morning, then filming and then doing shows at night.
Then Urvi Majumdar, who plays Gwen the Receptionist, Ryan Shelton who plays Greg, the Bikie (short in Australia for Motorcycle Biker) who is always there, and Shabana Azeez, who plays Yasmin, a new medical student. They’re all just so easy going cause we’re quite a small team. They embody the roles just so perfectly and they’re so generous in what they offer. They’ve always got ideas for their character and for their storyline and they’ll throw improvised lines that are always so funny. I guess they’re all just equally passionate. That helps when everyone’s wanting to make something really great and just tell a really fun, funny story.
Then there are all these different characters throughout the season. All of them are wonderful people and they’ve been perfect for this role. It’s just like this wonderful family. I guess because of this dark COVID cloud around the outside, it was kind of amazing that people could come onto set and just play and just be ridiculous and have so much fun. That gratitude really went through all the cast and the crew as well.
We say the same thing at the end of season two, as we did at season one, we go “See you next season.” And everyone says, “Can’t wait to be back.” And that’s awesome.
With season two underway, are there more plans for Metro to continue growing?
RN: Yes. Season two actually ended up only being six episodes, we were originally going to do 10. Because of COVID, we ended up going with a bit of a shorter run just to get it across the line. We’ve done a fair bit of development for season three and we’ve only just scratched the surface. I don’t want to give too much away. I really do feel like we’ve only reached the top of the iceberg. You haven’t seen the last of us.