The nationwide lockdowns that have taken place over the last year have made rarely leaving the house and only seeing friends over the computer near-universal experiences – but for the characters of Dead Pixels, this is simply business as usual.
Jon Brown’s sitcom follows a group of anti-socialites who play together on an online fantasy game called Kingdom Scrolls, which is similar in concept to the global phenomenon that is World of Warcraft.
Skins star Will Merrick plays Nicky, a 20-something slacker for whom the game offers a thrilling escape from reality as well as an excellent way to get closer to his flatmate, Meg (Alexa Davies), who is arguably even more obsessed.
The world has changed massively since the first episode of Dead Pixels premiered back in March 2019, but Merrick believes it’s a perfect lockdown show in more ways than one.
“The idea of content drying out on television and not having much to watch other than repeats feels quite odd and apocalyptic, but the idea that there’s new TV on feels like normal life, right? So I think it’s a great time for it to be on,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot of similarities I would draw between the way Nicky and Meg like to live their lives and the lockdown scenario.”
But while the lifestyle of its main characters may echo the restrictions of the last nine months, Dead Pixels is actually a pre-COVID show which filmed its second series in the distant bygone era known as November 2019.
Just as the first series faced an extended post-production cycle as the creative team ironed out what their fictional video game would look like, the second has also had a long path to screens amid the chaos of the pandemic.
“I get so antsy especially because when you’ve just released the first series of something and it goes down well, you’re building some fans of the show and some interest and it’s always nice to carry on that rhythm,” Merrick said.
“So I’ve definitely felt a little impatient in letting people know it’s coming, it’s on the way and this is when you’re going to be able to see it. I wish we could fire them out and some shows do really fire them out. Hopefully next time.”
Series two of Dead Pixels sees Nicky, Meg, Russell (David Mumeni) and their long-distance guild member, Usman (Sargon Yelda), tackle their beloved game’s latest expansion pack, which has opened the door to hoards of so-called “casual” players.
The new episodes will continue the show’s playful dual narrative which splits the action between the real-world lives of the Kingdom Scrolls gang and their adventures within the game.
For the latter, there’s a certain amount of solo performance required as the characters scream down headsets while glued to their screens, but the on-set approach to filming is more collaborative than you might expect.
Scenes shared between housemates Nicky and Meg can be filmed roughly in real-time, as their on-set bedrooms are next door and divided by only a very thin wall, allowing a camera on a short track to whip quickly between them.
The cast do everything they can to support one another during shooting, turning up to set even on days when they aren’t on camera to deliver lines for their co-stars to bounce off.
“They don’t have to do that but we all made a pact that we would do that for each other because it just wouldn’t be the same,” Merrick said.
Dead Pixels actor Sargon Yelda is yet to actually share an in-person scene with his co-stars as the writers have held off from putting his American airline pilot Usman on a flight to the UK.
Fans will have to wait a while longer for that big meeting: “Maybe series three,” Merrick teased.
Speaking of which, Dead Pixels has yet to be renewed for a third outing although there’s certainly scope for the show to go further – just don’t expect coronavirus to play a big role.
“I can totally see it continuing. I have no idea because I am probably the last to know out of anyone because actors, we’re just told very late that it’s happening,” Merrick said.
“I don’t think that, if there was a third series, that it would be set during COVID, but I think that Jon [Brown] would probably reference [it]… I think it would come into the fabric of the show a little bit.
He added: “I would be quite interested to hear snippets of what [Meg and Nicky’s] lockdown was like, if they even noticed.”
Dead Pixels series two premieres on Tuesday 26th January on E4. Catch up on All 4. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.