By FIONA RAE and LOUISA CLEAVE
Remember your twenties? Remember your flatmates, the job that you weren't sure you wanted and the girlfriend or boyfriend you weren't sure you wanted either?
It's an era of young Kiwis' lives that has been surprisingly untapped by television and film, with the exception of Scarfies and a couple of beer ads.
And the low-budget Hopeless, of course, and now Lovebites, which may be our first feature film TV spin-off (after all, Topless Women went the other way).
"I think what people will take away from the series is the characters," says actor Adam Gardiner. "It's a character-based drama that doesn't try to be anything more than something that's a little bit funny and a little bit different to what most New Zealand comedies have been before.
"It's characters and how they get on with each other and you either enjoy them or you don't. That's part of the joy of it — who's your favourite character, who do you think should go on — maybe it should be a Big Brother kind of thing."
On the line from Wellington, Gardiner sounds thoroughly organised and completely sane (he works as a producer), unlike his character, the brother from another planet, Richard.
Richard is described by Kahukura Productions as an obsessive, manic-depressive egotist with a psychotic streak (see panel). But doesn't that make him mentally ill?
"I totally agree," says Gardiner. "I think he dabbles in alcohol and egomania and revenge and fantasy. I think he is quite sick."
For Hopeless and Lovebites, Stephen Hickey, Sean Molloy and Andrew Brettell have carefully created a set of recognisable characters, but as crazy flatmates go, Richard is pretty special.
"I think life bites for Richard. I think Richard's quest throughout the series is to find his one thing and towards the end he does, but it doesn't turn out exactly as he would have hoped.
"He wants the respect he feels he deserves from the world and every way he goes about achieving it fails miserably. He wants money, he wants power, but he wants to lord himself over the rest of his peers and the universe as the genius he feels he is.
"I think he's there for the other characters to say 'at least life isn't so bad that I'm Richard'."
If the series doesn't exactly kick off with a hiss and a roar, it's because it was a learning process, says Gardiner.
"It evolves as everybody gains a bit more confidence in the new environment — from going from creating interesting theatre for small audiences, to making a low-budget feature film to then going into 26 episodes of TV and everything that goes with that. It's taking on something new and stumbling and then running."
Veteran producer Larry Parr is obviously keen for viewers to love the series rather than see it bite the ratings dust. But he is cautious with his promotion, not wanting to put too high an expectation on the comedy.
"What we did was keep trying to make it as good as we could," says Parr. "You can't keep saying 'what will the public think of this or think of that?' The network gives you some idea of audience sensibilities but all we could do was try to do it as good as we could."
Which meant investing a lot of production time and money in script development and writing. In addition to Hickey, Molloy and Brettell, there were four to five script-writers and a large list of Wellington and Auckland storyliners were called on.
Lovebites took two years of work, six months to film and received $4 million of public funding. That's roughly the same as Mercy Peak and The Strip received for 13 hour-long episodes, although Lovebites has distinctly low production values compared to the others.
Parr would like the chance to make a second series but audience reaction will determine whether New Zealand On Air will write another cheque. He expects the characters will engage viewers from the start, but says the series gets "better and better ... and the last 10 episodes are really going to rock".
Maryann Moore (Mia Taumoepeau)
Beautiful and talented tax lawyer who relies on her friends — especially Ben — to provide relief from the mind-numbing boredom and cruelty of her working life. Went out with Phil for 25 months and enjoys taunting him. She's looking for a man who can also be a best friend (and has big pecs). Other criteria include being good in bed and not Phil.
Phil Hope (Scott Wills)
Charming and good-looking accountant with the moral fibre of a flea. Tries hard to be the shallowest man on the planet, and most of the time succeeds admirably. He does enjoy spending time with his friends, especially best friend Ben, but has a habit of sleeping with women Ben is interested in.
Clare Grainger (Gentiane Lupi)
As a nurse she deals with death and torment. Her compassionate nature is best summed up by the advice she gives to anyone with a broken heart: get over it. A firm believer that while girls can do anything, boys want to do nothing. She says exactly what she means, which does not make her very popular.
Ben Gilmour (Phil Pinner)
A girl's best friend, he is funny, cute and sweet. But he can fall for women easily and his need to declare true love can border on stalking. Takes a while for him to get the message, then rejection leaves him heartbroken.
Richard (Adam Gardiner)
An obsessive, manic-depressive egotist with a psychotic streak, Richard treats his friends with contempt and his enemies with even more. He has a driving desire to make money which will in turn bring him power, which will in turn allow him to rule the world. Until then, he flats with Ben and Phil, and rarely pays the bills. He has no last name.