Four years ago Phil Lloyd and Trent O'Donnell unleashed Review with Myles Barlow on an unsuspecting public. A subversive black satire of contemporary manners - starring Lloyd, directed by O'Donnell and written by both of them - it won four AFI awards and announced the arrival of a prodigiously talented partnership. It also pushed the limits of comedy about as far as they could go, with its surreal flights of fancy, warped sensibility and moments of graphic self-abasement.
This week the pair return with a new ABC comedy, but those expecting another dose of depravity are in for a shock. A Moody Christmas is a much gentler proposition - a naturalistic comedy based around a mildly dysfunctional family as seen through the eyes of its white sheep and youngest son, Dan (played by Ian Meadows), who returns home each Christmas from Britain, where he works as a photographer.
''It's nowhere in the same league as Myles,'' O'Donnell says during a break in filming in a quiet suburban backyard. ''It's a different thing for us. I would hope that it would have a wider audience. I think even my parents might watch it in parts.''
An obvious appeal of the show is that just about everyone can relate to the setting. ''Christmas is sort of a natural crucible,'' Lloyd says. ''People come together whether they like it or not and chaos can often ensue.''
''A lot of people spend Christmas with people they would otherwise not choose to spend the year with - random cousins and uncles and aunties and stuff,'' O'Donnell says. ''Or it might be that you're going to your partner's family Christmas, so it can be a quite tedious day to get through. So, on paper, what is the happiest day of the year can be a bit of a hideous, painful one.''
The ace up the sleeve of the creators, however, was the show's structure. Setting each of the six episodes on Christmas Day a year apart gave Lloyd and O'Donnell one of the great one-line pitches.
''I reckon one of the reasons we got it made from the initial idea stage is that narrative hook, which we hadn't really seen done before in half-hour comedy,'' O'Donnell says. ''That was kind of a blessing at first - it was great to have that one-liner so you could talk to executives at TV stations about it - but it became quite tricky when we actually sat down to write the thing.''
The challenge for the writers was that the storylines in each episode couldn't develop over weeks or months - they had to be contained to one day. As a result, the writers had to cover a lot of back story but not get too bogged down spelling everything out. ''You don't want to make it the exposition show,'' O'Donnell says.
Lloyd says the solution was simply to make it as natural as possible. ''Any exposition we do have to get out, we try to hide in the detail of the scene and what's happening, so you get little tidbits to reveal what might have gone on,'' he says. ''But also we don't explain absolutely everything. There are little mysteries, so you're not sure what happened.''
''The reality is,'' O'Donnell says, ''if something really big happened six months ago the family wouldn't be talking about it. It might come up fleetingly halfway through the day but it's not going to be hot off the press. And so much can happen in a year. The carefree single guy can have a young baby the following year.''
Patrick Brammall, who plays Dan's unreliable older brother Sean, can't speak highly enough about Lloyd and O'Donnell's writing. ''The scripts are really funny,'' he says. ''These guys, they're thoughtful and no-nonsense and practical and funny. They know what they want and they're low-key about it. They're exactly the kind of people you want to work with.''
For their part, Lloyd and O'Donnell say they have a more realistic approach to making television than they did four years ago. ''I remember when we were writing Review the first time, I was thinking, 'Great, this is so easy,''' O'Donnell recalls. ''And then you make it and there's that little series of compromises you make to get it on TV. I think that was a very healthy process. Because we were getting to that age when we couldn't work for free any more and run around with handycams on the weekend. We suddenly had wives and children. We were getting too old to do that.
I think we're more realistic about it.''
They also believe their writing partnership has matured. ''We're very, very familiar with each other now,'' O'Donnell says. ''You develop a bit of a similar sensibility. We've got similar influences. It becomes closer to being a single voice. One of the best things is you can also do away with any of the pleasantries.''
''And he does,'' Lloyd says. ''On a daily basis.''
''You can just be brutal,'' O'Donnell says. ''Phil can stay up all night writing a scene and I'll just tell him how shit it is the next day … I always enjoy the ones where we do disagree on them and have to nut them out 'cause it always ends up better.''
If Review opened doors for the pair, A Moody Christmas could blow them off the hinges. Accessible and relatable but still reflecting the skewed sensibility that made Review so interesting, it may be one of those rare shows loved by viewers and critics alike. The ABC is certainly getting behind the show, giving it the prime slot on ABC1's traditional comedy night.
It's an enthusiasm shared by Brammall. ''If you could string together jobs where you're doing shows that you would watch as a punter, that's a dream,'' he says. ''And this is definitely one of those shows that I would want to watch.''
A Moody Christmas
ABC1, Wednesday, 8.30pm.