Imagine if Conan The Barbarian had social anxiety disorder, was a germaphobic hypochondriac with bad hair and had wench trouble, and you've got Krod Mandoon.
Krod Mandoon And The Flaming Sword Of Fire is not a spoof or a parody of a genre. It's a character-based comedy set in an ancient fantasy realm. Krod and his gang of freedom fighters have a job to do. In their case it happens to be to save the entire republic. But in order to accomplish this, Krod must first defeat his greatest enemy: himself.
The first hurdle Krod (Sean Maguire) must clear is his relationship and obsession with ex-girlfriend Aneka (India de Beaufort), a beautiful Pagan warrioress who uses her sexuality as a weapon. The Prophesy of Angomara has declared that Krod and a pagan maiden will save the Republic - "the triumph of the resistance under the leadership of the Golden One". But can you really work with an ex? While Krod swears he can keep it professional, it's absolutely clear that this will be an ongoing struggle for him.
Besides Aneka, Krod is saddled with perhaps the worst band of freedom fighters ever assembled. There is his beefy side-kick Loquasto (Steve Speirs); a half-human, half-grobble (on his mother's side) who insists on calling Krod "master", which undermines Krod's hard-won credentials as a slavery hating freedom fighter.
Also joining Krod is Zezelryck (Kevin Hart), Krod's warlock-in-chief. Unfortunately, he is about the worst sorcerer ever; at best he's a David Blaine-type poseur who uses his magic to get wenches. While Zezelryck does have some magical skills, they are half-cocked and often complicate the situation more than they help it.
Completing the line-up is Bruce, (Marques Ray), General Arcadius' prison lover who, after the death of Arcadius, joins the group and shares his unapologetically fierce perspective on their adventures.
Background To The Production
Director Alex Hardcastle describes this comedy as follows: "Krod Mandoon And The Flaming Sword Of Fire has elements of Princess Bride, Indiana Jones and Star Wars. It's like a mixture of comedy, action and romance in a semi-mystical land."
Producer Mario Stylianides adds: "The ongoing narrative sets it apart. It's an epic quest told over five episodes rather than a traditional sitcom where it ends in the same place it started."
It's an ambitious series, way beyond the usual setting of most TV comedy, with its five episodes featuring more than 50 characters and huge, filmic sets built on a Hungarian sound stage: "The intention from the outset was that it would look like a rich, glossy drama, and then as soon as the actors open their mouths it feels like a comedy," Mario explains.
He continues: "It's hard to define the series. The tone of the humour at times feels a bit like Indiana Jones. Some of Krod's drier lines would sit comfortably in the mouth of Indy. The dynamic of the main group and the resulting humour could easily be described as a workplace comedy but set in a fantastical land. Other scenes feel like a period drama (with laughs). So it really is a mix."
"It's almost easier to say what it isn't. It's not a sitcom in the traditional sense because of the evolving narrative across the five episodes and I don't recall many sitcoms featuring a bisexual Cyclops! It's certainly not a comedy-drama, but our intention was always for it to look like a high-end glossy drama, yet play like a comedy. Probably the best way to describe it is as a funny epic mini-series or an action-comedy. Yes, it's a period comedy but we never state which period and the characters' sensibilities and traits are decidedly modern."
He continues: "I honestly believe that Krod Mandoon is like nothing else that has ever been on British TV. Things like Monty Python and Red Dwarf have been suggested as inspirations by other people, and whilst there may be some similarities, no other show has attempted to mix action and comedy in the way we have. Certainly not on TV."
International co-productions might be common place in drama, but in comedy they are much rarer. Krod Mandoon is a collaboration between the BBC and US network Comedy Central, produced by Hat Trick Productions and written by American duo Peter Knight and Brad Johnson. Alex Hardcastle says: "We've been massively blessed by the fact it's set in this other world. I think that helps in terms of us being able to play on both sides of the Atlantic."
Jimmy Mulville, Managing Director of Hat Trick Productions, explains that co-producing Krod Mandoon And The Flaming Sword Of Fire was an exciting new challenge for Hat Trick Productions: "This is the first time that we have worked in the field, producing a show, with the United States by way of Comedy Central. This is also the first time the company has done a co-production and we've learned a lot from the whole experience."
Mario explains how the co-production deal came about: "Comedy Central needed another network to come on board to help fund the show. Jimmy Mulville was out visiting the States - he and I read the script in January last year and liked it a lot. Jimmy sent it to the BBC who expressed an immediate interest. We then flew out to LA to meet Peter Knight, the creator and writer of the show and Brad Johnson (writer) to see if this partnership would work. They'd never met us before and I would imagine it must have very felt strange for them to suddenly have these two Brits, who they knew nothing about, sitting in front of them talking about potentially helping them produce their baby in a foreign country. We were passionate about the show and the meeting went well and the next thing you know, following the longest casting process known to man, we were standing in a field in Budapest on the first day of the shoot."
He laughs: "When I woke up on 1 January 2008, I didn't think I'd be spending three months of my life that year in Hungary! None of us had filmed there before and we didn't know what to expect. They're used to working on big Hollywood features with a budget to match. Once it got through that we needed to shoot much faster to get what we needed in the time available it went well. The standard of their crews is exceptionally high and we had quality in every department."
Jimmy continues: "It's very different and ambitious for an hour-long opening special and four half-hour episodes: there are huge, ambitious, filmic sets; dozens of extras; thorough-bred horses; special effects; stunts; and CGI - there is nothing else like it out there. In fact Krod is one of the most ambitious things we at Hat Trick have ever done. There was a very large budget for a half-hour comedy series and it's all up there on the screen - and we finished on budget!"
With Hat Trick and the BBC now on board as co-production partners, casting the series could get underway. The scripts quickly drew some top-notch actors to the project, from top comedians to classically trained RSC actors: "The scripts are very funny, very different and very compelling. There is also knockabout comedy and character comedy. All in all it is a nice combination."
But, Jimmy adds: "It was a big job to cast the show. There is a richly diverse cast. Sean plays the vulnerable lead very well." Although Sean Maguire plays with an American accent - and has been based over in the United States for some eight years now - he is actually very British, as is India de Beaufort, who plays with an English accent. Jimmy laughs: "Kevin Hart is the only American actually playing an American in the series!"
He also felt it was a real coup casting Matt Lucas: "There was a Scarlett O'Hara scenario with casting for Dongalor, and the chemistry between Matt and Alex MacQueen who plays his henchman Barnabus is wonderful. The relationship between Barnabus and Dongalor is one of the highlights and joys of the show."
Mario agrees: "One would hope that after seeing close to 300 people for parts in the show we'd assembled a good ensemble cast! The quality of the scripts attracted some big names that we may have thought were out of our league. Matt Lucas is a prime example. We are so lucky to have him in the show. The man is a genius and I do not use this word lightly. So utterly brilliant in every take and his professionalism on set inspires others and makes them raise their game. The precision of his performance is remarkable even the way he uses his hands is funny. He plays the villain of the piece but even after he has killed a girl's father in front of her very eyes and abducted her, you still want them to be together. There is depth to the performance."
Playing bad was a departure for Matt Lucas, but one director Alex Hardcastle says he made with aplomb: "I first imagine Alan Rickman playing that part, but now I could never imagine anyone apart from Matt. He really took it somewhere different."
Mario continues: "We could not have wished for a better Krod than Sean Maguire. He plays the flawed action hero brilliantly: he looks the part, he's funny, you like him and you're on his side." Alex explains: "He's an idiot, but perhaps worse he's surrounded by idiots and he's let down by them more than he lets himself down."
Mario adds: "I'm just as excited about the cast members that British viewers may never have heard of before. Alex MacQueen who plays Barnabus, Matt's right hand man, will be a revelation to many who are not familiar with his work. There is a wonderful chemistry between him and Matt. His deadpan delivery beautifully counter-balances Matt's slightly bigger performance style. They are a joy to watch together."
"Kevin Hart as Zezelryck and Marques Ray as Bruce have funny coursing through every vein in their bodies. I cannot wait to see how the British public responds to them. Steve Spiers as Loquasto took a difficult part and made his every utterance resonate. I hope we've managed to make this main group likable. We want our viewer (hopefully there'll be more than one but you never know) to really connect with the main group and want to spend time with them."
As a co-production between the UK and America, was there a danger in having to please everybody? "There was trepidation at the outset as to how the show would play featuring an ensemble cast that had both British and American accents, but I think the quality of the scripts and the performances means that you very quickly concentrate on character and story rather than the differences in their voices. Sean Maguire has exactly the right sensibility to play Krod. So while, initially, Sean playing Krod with an American accent may seem odd to a British audience, we felt that it was a better fit for the all-action hero. We tried the British accent and it wasn't as credible. Throughout the casting process we were conscious that the cast had to work on both sides of the Atlantic whether we've been successful in achieving this is now in the hands of our viewer."
The supporting roles were fun to cast too: "We wanted to keep the standard high for the guest roles, and once again the quality of the writing for characters that may only be in one scene was of a high standard and meant that we were able to secure the services of wonderful character actors like Roger Allam, Geoffrey McGivern, Janine Duvitski, Neil Fitzmaurice and Jonathan Slinger."
Mario adds: "What can I tell you about Hungary? That Hungarian is the most ridiculously difficult language to try and learn and the fact that we even tried meant a lot to the crew. If you called out the names Zoltan, Gabor and Tamas half the crew would turn round. Real fur is cheaper than fake fur (a rug made from the fur of 100 hamsters anyone?); they have the best stuntmen in the world; vegetables are a delicacy; there were two big Neo-Nazi rallies while we were there; and carp soup really is dreadful. If you've got a Hungarian crew laughing on set you know you might be on to something. Unlike the Brits, humour isn't their default setting in times of woe. I have very fond memories of filming there!"
He really hopes that audiences on both sides of the Atlantic will quickly warm to Krod and his gang: "I really hope that it attracts a broad audience. I'd be disappointed if the show was considered 'geeky' or 'niche' because of the period setting and the action-adventure story-lines. There is so much more to the show than this and I hope that enough people come to the show in the first place to appreciate it. I also hope that some of the newer members of cast get the credit they deserve, both critically and in the hearts and minds of the viewers."