Deep Heat axed by ITV2, but Max & Ivan preparing big West End show

ExclusiveMonday 12th June 2023, 8:29pm by Jay Richardson

Image shows left to right: Max Olesker, Ivan Gonzalez, Max & Ivan. Credit: Rachel Sherlock
  • ITV2 wrestling sitcom Deep Heat will not be getting a second series, creators Max & Ivan have revealed
  • The double act talk about their experience of making the grappling comedy for TV in their upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show, Life, Choices
  • The pair are also developing a "riotous" farce for the West End stage in London. "It's our first live show that couldn't just be a Max & Ivan project" Max Olesker said

Wrestling sitcom Deep Heat has been axed by ITV, its creators Max & Ivan have exclusively told British Comedy Guide.

But the double act are open to bringing the series back on another channel and are currently working on a West End stage farce with transatlantic production company Wessex Grove.

Max & Ivan, aka Max Olesker and Ivan Gonzalez, reflect on the ill-fated ITV2 sitcom in their upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show Life, Choices.

Following its six-episode debut series last year, Olesker jokes that Deep Heat hasn't been cancelled, rather it's "one season arc reached its conclusion".

Co-written by the pair with Andrew Ellard (Nova Jones), the sitcom starred Jahannah James and Richard Fleeshman as warring siblings Holly and Nick and co-starred Olesker, a sometime wrestler himself, Gonzalez, Sharon Rooney, Pippa Haywood, Paul Olima, Alistair Petrie and Sasha Desouza-Willock. It also featured Matt Lucas, John Thomson and The Pin's Ben Ashenden in guest roles.

Deep Heat was made by Stephen Mangan's production company Slam Films. And Olesker told BCG that: "We were phenomenally lucky to have the opportunity to create a sitcom for ITV and even luckier for them to continue to have faith in it as Covid collapsed the entire thing and budgets were annihilated left, right and centre, staff changed and so on. It was a white knuckle process to get it over the line in the first place."

A second series has been written and "if any channel controllers are reading this and want to pick up the phone, we're open to chatting" he adds. "Or we can, you know, meet up after our Edinburgh show in the Pleasance Courtyard!"

Potential further episodes would see an "uneasy alliance" between Holly (James) and the brattish Nick Nitro (Fleeshman), with the latter's redemption arc recalling Nick Mohammed and Phil Dunster's characters Nate and Jamie in football comedy Ted Lasso. "[Nitro is] an insecure little boy who's been babied for too long and he's acting out" Olesker says.

Deep Heat

For reasons that remain vague, Gonzalez's character in the sitcom, Woodhouse, has an ostensibly South American, ne'er-do-well father named Enrique.

Yet despite sharing the same name as Gonzalez's actual Argentinian father, John Thomson's portrayal of the noxious Enrique "The Panther" is a world away from his namesake, as the duo explore in their paternally focused Edinburgh show.

Partly inspired by Gonzalez recently becoming a father himself, Life, Choices explores Enrique and Olesker's father, Stuart, "having lived extraordinary lives but in a totally different way".

"For the record, his dad is lovely, a far better person than The Panther, who was a dissolute piece of shit" explains Olesker. "I'm not sure why you didn't rush to defend him Ivan, I thought I'd better step in. But he's basically lived an extremely colourful life, done a hell of a lot of things and lived to tell the tale. He's a thrill-seeker.

"My dad is a poet, an artist. And spending time with them for this, it's been fascinating to see how life can play out differently. Our mothers feature too. But it's essentially about the nature of fatherhood and the nature of being a man. Because there's so much eccentricity, we're hugging to the story of our dads."

Since their early days as a sketch act, Max & Ivan's shows have evolved through multi-character, single arc narratives to more personal material, arriving at what Gonzalez now describes as a "kind of two-man stand-up".

"It's definitely not sketch" he suggests. "And it's not what we used to do. It's two-man storytelling."

"But that doesn't sound funny" Olesker admits.

"So nobody wants us doing that" continues Gonzalez. "Rather we're jumping in and out of each other's story, interweaving between our narratives. We're talking about our double act too, so that dynamic is still there."

Image shows left to right: Max Olesker, Ivan Gonzalez, Max & Ivan. Credit: Rachel Sherlock

The pair have benefited from having fellow comedians to help shape their shows, with Jessica Ransom and Tom Parry directing previous hours and a despairing Kieran Hodgson returning to advise them for a second time this year.

Life, Choices has multiple twists. And Olesker accepts that "elements will be queried but it's fundamentally completely true.

"Kieran, wonderful man, keeps telling us that there's enough material to make three shows, that we're cramming too much into 50 minutes. But we're looking to keep it trim, as sharp as possible."

With their live shows increasingly focusing inwards, looking backwards has also become a natural perspective for Max & Ivan.

"We're quite warm-hearted, sentimental boys" Olesker admits. "One thing that probably hasn't changed is our lack of cynicism. There were a lot of arch eyebrows in comedy when we started. But we've always wanted heart in the things we're doing.

"We're both drawn to portraying friendship when we work together. And as we become extremely elderly, venerable statesmen of comedy, even as we're making work in the present, that will probably manifest itself in some nostalgia."

Probably best known for their live extravaganza The Wrestling, featuring scores of comedians as grapplers, commentators and in various other assorted roles, their biggest show yet transplanted the spandex-clad spectacle from Edinburgh to London's O2 Arena last year and they anticipate bringing it back in the future.

The Wrestling at Just For Laughs London. Image shows left to right: Max Olesker, Phil Wang, Ivan Gonzalez. Credit: Mark Muldoon

"The Wrestling is completely unique" Olesker points out. "We love collaborating with brilliant people and it was such a joy to do it in London. There was a moment, backstage after the show has just ended, when I was overwhelmed by the critical mass of talent in one room. It was a thrill to bring them all together to viciously attack one another."

As to their "riotous" but mysterious collaboration with Wessex Grove - which has just announced a run of Vanya, a one-man adaptation of Anton Checkhov's Uncle Vanya with Fleabag star Andrew Scott in London's West End, after winning an Olivier Award for Nick Payne's Constellations last year - Olesker and Gonzalez are remaining largely tight-lipped.

"Basically, we had an idea for a big old farce that requires a big West End cast" Olesker explains. "It's our first live show that couldn't just be a Max & Ivan project, it'll involve a whole heap of people coming together. The production company have been wonderful and there will be more details anon."

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