Sunday September 26, 2021

Iain Stirling: They sold this idea of ‘you’re special, and you can be whatever you want to be’

July 29, 2021

Children’s television has proved a springboard for all manner of telly talent over the years. Whether it’s Phillip Schofield’s journey out of the Children’s BBC Broom Cupboard or SMTV’s Cat Deeley, who soared to stardom as a presenter on both sides of the Atlantic, the possibilities for progression are seemingly infinite — unless you’re the main character Iain in new ITV2 sitcom Buffering, that is.

Created by and starring comedian and Love Island narrator Iain Stirling, the six-part series was born, in part, from his own experience fronting Bafta-winning children’s series The Dog Ate My Homework. “I had an Edinburgh Fringe show that revolved pretty heavily around my time on kids’ TV,” recalls Stirling, 33, of Buffering’s origins.

“I think there was a story about me spending a few days in Bath with Jedward after I’d broken up with a girlfriend of four years, a week before Christmas. So that was a very enjoyable experience for everyone concerned.”

With the anecdote being noted as ideal sitcom material by the executives at television production company Avalon, Stirling — who is married to Love Island presenter Laura Whitmore — joined forces with long-time collaborator and comedian Steve Bugeja to create Buffering.

“We wanted to articulate that bit in life where you’re in your late 20s — you’re too old to be going out partying and be carefree, but you’re not rich or old enough to get a mortgage and settle down,” says Bugeja, best known for his work on CelebAbility and The Russell Howard Hour. “You haven’t really found the right job or the right relationship, and you’re sort of stuck in limbo.”

Centred around Iain, a children’s television presenter with a distinct aversion to kids, his struggles — and those of his fellow housemates — reflect the feelings of a generation regularly suffering from comparison culture.

With the concept of a “perfect” life regularly thrust in the characters’ increasingly furrowed faces, the motley collection of housemates find themselves navigating an age of uncertainty, punctuated by regular disappointments.

“We grew up in a world of instant satisfaction for social media, and we had parents that were from that baby-boom generation, where they were told to have a family, settle down, earn a living,” says Stirling. “There were very keen for us not to live that life, so they sold this idea of, ‘you can be whatever you want to be’.

“We have this weird generation of people who were told they were special and unique and could do whatever they wanted to do, and then they went into an office and were told to sit over there and make coffees and photocopy stuff, and it was a massive hit to the ego,” he adds.

Noting there “wasn’t as much of a focus on work ethic” when it came to the typical upbringing of Millennials, the comedian says those in their late 20s and early 30s were led to believe they “had one shot” at success, with the idea of failure being the “end point rather than a signpost on the way”.

Buffering documents the sharp learning curve experienced by a generation. Whether it be relationships, work or family life, Stirling says the series reflects this, focusing on “how you deal with that failure as opposed to not failing in the first place”.

Fresh out of a long term on-off relationship with television producer Olivia — played by Killing Eve’s Elena Saurel — Iain finds himself ready to take the dating world by storm. “On paper, his life is quite good,” explains Stirling, “but there’s something deep down inside that’s bothering him, that doesn’t feel quite right, and I don’t think he’s got the social tools to articulate that discomfort and misery.”

Explaining that his feelings “manifest themselves in bizarre behaviours”, the comedian notes the character is “basically me, but younger — and now, because of lockdown, me but younger and thinner.”

Add to the mix a host of celebrity appearances from the likes of Joel Dommett, Michael Spicer and Vicky Pattison, Buffering positions itself as a sitcom to be reckoned with.

When it came to crafting the sitcom’s central characters, the roles of Rosie (Jessie Cave), Greg (Paul G Raymond), Ashley (Rosa Robson) and Thalia (Janine Harouni), alongside Ashley’s former flame Robbie (Sean Sagar), were planned down to the last detail.

“We spent ages trying to make sure the characters were different and that they clashed in every story, just to make it as funny as possible,” Bugeja reveals.

“We’ve got backstories on all of these characters that go as deep as [the fact] we have everyone’s wifi passwords,” continues Stirling enthusiastically. Anything that could give an insight into who they are as a character.”

Alongside the minute details both he and Bugeja found themselves jotting down, Whitmore also found herself coming up with ideas in the early stages of her husband’s project. “My wife suggested we gave every character a favourite item of clothing,” says Stirling. “Everyone’s got one item of clothing that we think sums them up.

“We’ve got a look book for every character which is all generic pictures on the internet — apart from Rosie, which was just screengrabs of Jessie’s Instagram. “So if Jessie hadn’t done this gig, we would have been in a lot of trouble really.”

Buffering premieres with a double episode on ITV2 on Thursday 5th August at 10pm. All episodes will then be available on ITV Hub.