‘I haven’t been seen as a sexual option’: SBS series Latecomers to ‘rip apart’ sex and disability on screen

Led by and starring people with cerebral palsy, the new comedy doesn’t shy away from desires – and sex scenes – that other shows gloss over

In the first episode of the new SBS series Latecomers, two characters discuss their mutual virginity. They are both single, both have cerebral palsy, and are chatting in a cluttered sharehouse while listening to their carers have sex in the other room.

Sarah (Hannah Diviney), who is studying the intersectionality of disability and sex in literature at university, feels resigned to her exclusion from the dating market: “I’ve read enough about the subject to know that it’s not going to happen for me,” she tells Frank (Angus Thompson). So in an act of chivalry, Frank asks her if she’d like to see a real-life naked man, before making enough commotion that both carers are forced to run out the bedroom stark nude. As meet-cutes go, this is a pretty unique one.

Latecomers, out on 3 December on SBS On Demand, presents a different take on dating and disability. The premise may be simple – two single people are thrust together after meeting on a night out – but where the show takes things feels quietly revolutionary. While it’s frequently funny and not averse to a dildo-related gag, the pulse point is the very real yearning for sex and companionship we all feel, and the way society renders some of us invisible.

The show was the brainchild of Thompson and collaborator Emma Myers, who also has cerebral palsy. But it feels like a particularly personal project for Thompson.

“I wanted to give an accurate depiction of what it’s like to have a disability and try and have a romantic relationship,” he says. “In my experience, I haven’t been seen as a romantic or sexual option. And I wanted to [show] how frustrating it can be to always be seen as a friend but never considered as a partner.”

Latecomers is Thompson’s second foray into television. The first was a half-hour pilot for the ABC’s Fresh Blood initiative called The Angus Project, which he made together with comedy writer Nina Oyama back in 2018. The pair first met at a uni party and hit it off, before Thompson recruited Oyama to work as his carer. Their friendship was the basis of that “colourful and cartoonish” pilot – one forged by big nights on the town and hungover mornings spent watching prestige television on the couch.

A couple of years later, Thompson and Myers brought the idea for Latecomers to Oyama, and the trio wrote the script together. If Thompson wrote for Frank and Myers wrote for Emma, Oyama’s experience helped inform that of the two carers who complete the main cast: the kind-hearted Elliot (Patrick Jhanur) and the headstrong Brandi (Miriama Smith).

The team behind Latecomers are already gunning for a second season.
The team behind Latecomers are already gunning for a second season. Photograph: Renata Dominik

But she views the SBS series as “a little darker” than their previous work together.

“Nobody’s ever seen this type of show before,” Oyama says. “No one’s really seen [Angus’s] point of view represented – we’ve only seen Love on the Spectrum where it’s like, oh, it’s so cute when people with disabilities fall in love or whatever. And Angus was like, that’s not my experience.”

Diviney came to the project later. It was her work as a disability advocate – recently, Diviney made headlines for being among the campaign convincing Beyoncé and Lizzo to change ableist lyrics in their songs – and asked to audition. She had never acted before, and to her “complete surprise” got the part.

“I was blown away that SBS had taken a chance on a show like this,” Diviney says. “From the minute I first got the script and saw that it was written by people with cerebral palsy and was going to be starring people with cerebral palsy – that was already worlds away from anything we’ve had on Australian television in terms of visible representation.”

Diviney loved what Thompson, Myers and Oyama had written. One thing she did fight for was the inclusion of nudity and sex scenes.

“When it came to the more intimate scenes, it was really important to me that we didn’t just insinuate that that was happening – we actually made the viewer watch,” says Diviney. “I think it’s really important that the taboo relationship between sex and disability is examined and questioned.”

Or as Oyama puts things: “We wanted them to fuck.”

Hannah Diviney and Angus Thompson in Latecomers.
Hannah Diviney and Angus Thompson in Latecomers. Photograph: Renata Dominik

Latecomers handles the story of Frank and Sarah with humour, warmth and heart. Without giving too much away, it also ends up in a place quite different from where you think it’s going. Thompson says he wanted to “rip apart” audience expectations. For her part, Oyama thinks avoiding the cliche was simply a consequence of honest storytelling.

“I don’t think we set out to be like, this is going to be so subversive! Emma was just like, I’m so sick of seeing the same story. I want a different story.”

The ending is also left open; the team hope they’ll be coming back.

“We’ve been gunning for season two from pretty much the first day on set,” says Diviney.

“I hope that Latecomers starts a lot of conversations about the fact that disabled people might move through the world differently, they might have a different way of doing things, but we still have the same wants, dreams, hopes, desires – and that does include relationships and romance.”

  • Latecomers premieres on 3 December on SBS

Contributor

Katie Cunningham

The GuardianTramp

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