Hounds goes to the dogs

By Scott Kara

Writer Ryan Hutchings has gone to the dogs for his new TV series, he tells Scott Kara.

Actor Mick Innes plays oddball trainer Marty in TV3 series Hounds. Photo / Supplied
Actor Mick Innes plays oddball trainer Marty in TV3 series Hounds. Photo / Supplied

It was Ryan Hutchings' birthday a few years ago and he thought a flutter and a few jars at the greyhounds might be a good way to bond with the lads.

After a few too many bourbons they ended up buying a dog and - not that he knew it back then - the writer and director also had the beginnings of a television series.

"We fell in love with the place," he says of the greyhound track beside the cycling velodrome in Manukau. "And we had this greyhound so we kept going back to watch it race and there are so many interesting characters out there and we knew it would be a great place to set a TV series."

While Hutchings and his mates at Auckland production company the Downlow Concept, who are also the creators of Friday night's 7 Days, got their slow-burning comedy series Hounds up and running, the dog they invested in was not so successful.

"He was incredibly fast in a straight line but couldn't take the corners.

All the other trainers hated it as well because he would take off out of the box and then the first corner he'd blow all the other dogs out - there would be crash and tumble."

Hounds tells the story of Will (played by Toby Sharpe), a 30-something lawyer and "big selfish penis" (that's what his cutting and savvy 12-year-old half-sister Lily rightly labels him) whose dad dies leaving him half a house, a greyhound, and the dog's oddball trainer, Marty.

"At the heart of it is this story about a family," says Hutchings. "It's a modern-day family, four characters who have been thrown together because of circumstance - and with the hounds tied into it as well, it makes it even more interesting because out there [at the track] you never know who you're going to be sitting next to."

Marty, played by veteran actor Mick Innes, is one of these entertaining eccentrics you might come across at the track. "He's loosely based on an amalgamation of a few different trainers we met. He is complete salt of the earth and he knows dogs but not much else."

With the delightful pace of Hounds, and characters like Marty and Lily, played with cutting, deadpan brilliance by young actor Susana Tang, it is funny and easy to watch.

Much of it is typically dry Kiwi humour but with a ruthless edge.

The show has already sparked controversy with its greyhound racing star initially called Lundybainwatson, as in convicted murderers Mark Lundy and Scott Watson, and the acquitted David Bain.

But following complaints from Bain's lawyer Joe Karam the Downlow Concept agreed to change the dog's name - though a final decision on what it will be has yet to made.

Hutchings says the name was just a bit of fun and reckons it probably would have gone unnoticed on the show.

"It was also in keeping with the characters too, because Will's father was a judge and when he was alive he took a big interest in all those cases."

Controversy aside there is also a lovely warmth to Hounds which was something that surprised lead actor Sharpe.

"I didn't expect the show to be so warm," he says, and likens Hounds to Australian film The Castle. "I watch [that film] quite often and the more I watch it the more emotional I find it and I find I get a tear in the eye when they start doing the speeches at the end."

There is certainly more than a little Castle-style dysfunction in Will and Lily's unusual family, with the brother and sister especially having a few issues to sort through.

"Everyone else is a little bit more whacky than Will is," says Sharpe. "Even though he's a bit of a dick, he isn't quite as eccentric so all the crazy seems to be happening around him. Because the way I kind of think most people perceive their own life is that they kind of think they are normal and everyone else is crazy."

And the biggest challenge Sharpe faced in Hounds was not coming across as likeable even though he is a "big selfish penis', but surviving working in close quarters with the dogs.

"They fart something chronic. They stink more than you can possibly imagine a dog can stink, but they are really sweet natured animals. If they're not running, or about to go running, they just stand there doing nothing."

Both Sharpe and Hutchings believe there is a big gap for some unique New Zealand TV like Hounds at present.

"There's a lot of stuff that is really good at what it is," says Sharpe, "and I don't want to knock it because even if it's not my thing it's good at what it is, but it's all the same sort of thing. So I'm really stoked that Hounds has been given a chance because there doesn't seem to be a lot of these sorts of things that do get a go."

"In a way," adds Hutchings, "we're lucky to have made it because it's not got cymbal crashes and punchlines. The jokes are buried a little bit deeper.

"That sense of the story unfolding slowly, and people not telling jokes and people talking as they would talk and the comedy coming from the people and the characters really suited the story of the family and the greyhounds."

- NZ Herald

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