Rufus Jones reveals why he had to tackle the "terrifying" challenge of writing Channel 4's refugee sitcom Home
"Writing never feels easy, so you may as well write about something that matters," says writer/star of the acclaimed comedy
Channel 4 is returning (to) Home – less than a year after the first series premiered, a second run of Rufus Jones's politically-charged sitcom kicks off this week.
For Jones, the turnaround has been "two series in 18 months", with the writer/actor joking that, while speaking to RadioTimes.com, he's "lying down in a darkened room".
"Channel 4, bless them, were incredibly quick," he says. "We went out in March/April [of 2019] and we had an answer [on series two] by mid-May, which is really speedy. I think they recognised that you can't leave a show like this on the shelf for too long, because it's quite timely and it's dealing with stuff in a shifting, contemporary landscape."
Tackling the show's hot-topic premise - Home follows a Syrian refugee, Sami (Youssef Kerkour) living with a British family - was not a task that Jones took on without trepidation. "It was slightly terrifying," he admits. "But then you sort of have a word with yourself and you realise that as a writer everything's terrifying.
"To be perfectly honest, and I don't want to diminish the subject matter, but I could be writing about a fold-up bicycle specialist in Chiswick and it would still feel like an incredibly daunting prospect to write six half-hours...
"I suppose what I'm saying is, writing never feels easy, so you may as well write about something that matters. And the alternative to not taking it on was to walk away... and I would rather tackle a subject and fail than wimp out at the first hurdle."
On both series of Home, Jones consulted with a special advisor – Hassan Akkad, a former English teacher from Damascus and prisoner of the Assad regime who filmed his own odyssey across Europe for the BAFTA-winning documentary series Exodus. There was still, Jones says, a lot he had to learn about the refugee experience when it came to writing series two.
"We left Sami at the end of series one waiting to hear from the home office whether he's got refugee status... and we pick up six months later and he's still waiting, because this is the way of these things. You don't get an immediate answer – and what Hassan talked to me at length about was that waiting process, when you are sort of stateless.
"You're living in this kind of limbo and psychologically that's a really tough place to be and that's where we find Sami, and so it's exploring the kind of pressure cooker of what it is to wait to be allowed to join a country.
"I'm aware this is a hopelessly white, middle-class comparison, but it's like waiting for your A level results, except you have no idea what day they're going to arrive and instead of English, French and History, it's freedom, your family and the rest of your life. Hassan talked about that period very movingly and that's the period we explore..."
Recalling an anecdote that Akkad told him about meeting other refugees online while playing the video game Fortnite, Jones explains how they were all "marking time, waiting to be accepted in their respective countries, and what they would do is enter a virtual landscape where they were accepted".
"There are little moments like that, little shards of truth that really hit you and which I incorporated into the series," he says. "You never stop learning and it's often the tiniest details that make the biggest impact."
The extended waiting period will present new challenges for both Sami and Jones's character Peter, who he calls "a lukewarm xenophobe" and "a sort of gentler Alf Garnett".
"In series one, there was a nobility to Sami that hopefully was funny and affecting, but I think in series two, we needed to challenge that a bit more," Jones says. "Youssef as an actor is just enormously sympathetic and it means you can push that character into greyer areas and still retain the audience. So in series two we're challenging that character in the writing – allowing him to make mistakes and allowing him to do and say the wrong thing."
Meanwhile, having reached "a point of empathy" for Sami's plight in the first six episodes, Peter gets knocked back "by events in his own life" in the new series. "It was good to take him on a little journey, but I think that little journey becomes rockier in series two," Jones explains.
The first series of Home won plaudits for its deft balance of humour and heart and while the show does have "some upsetting moments", with Sami facing down bureaucracy, prejudice and other hardships, Jones says he doesn't see it as a pessimistic portrayal of modern Britain.
"It's a bit of a mixed brew, but I do think it's optimistic. I think beneath whatever we think Britain is becoming, it remains a kind place capable of acts of charity and generosity – on a local level, on a community level, we still see acts of kindness. So I think the optimism of the show is more through those individual acts than any great state of the nation proclamations."
Home returns to Channel 4 at 10pm on Wednesday 5th February