Books become movies and TV shows all the time, but I honestly never expected The Family Law to be adapted for the screen. This isn’t coming from a place of crippling low self-esteem by the way; it’s more to do with the fact the book I wrote has no structure whatsoever. Really, The Family Law (book version) is a bunch of short essays I just sneakily smooshed into book form.
TV, on the other hand, is all about structure. So what would a TV based on The Family Law even look like? It’s a question a few production companies asked early on. One saw The Family Law as an on-screen road-trip across Australia, like Little Miss Sunshine but with more arguing and rice. Another company saw it as an ethnic comedy about an out-of-place family finding their place in the world, similar to Eddie Huang’s awesome US comedy Fresh Off the Boat. Which would’ve been great, but cut to 2016, and Fresh Off the Boat is doing its own thing.
Early on, Matchbox Pictures and I saw the show differently. At the heart of the book was a coming-of-age story about going through intense family upheaval, and still being able to love your folks at the other end. Essentially, it was a comedy about a marital breakdown – a subject matter I think we can all agree is always a hoot. Chinese identity would be important to the show, but it wouldn’t be the subject of The Family Law. It’d be one element of many.
We also decided we’d be... well, loose with the truth. In writing a comedy, we were aiming for emotional truths, not making a documentary. (Also note: I have never dressed myself in a giant watermelon costume, though I am very interested in pursuing this opportunity this Halloween.) Then, occasionally, we found ourselves writing scenes taken directly from real life. That scene where Jenny kicks Danny out in Episode 1? It’s actually similar to what went down in my family’s home in the mid ‘90s. Later, when I flicked through the book again, I was startled to realise I’d never written about that moment before. It’s funny: sometimes, when you’re loose with the truth, you end up hitting home truths you realise you’d almost forgotten altogether.