EXCLUSIVE: Much like the rest of the world, Rufus Jones watched on in horror as the refugee crisis gripped Europe in 2015. As people fled conflict in Syria and beyond, the Stan & Ollie actor had just fathered twins and became preoccupied with worries about the world his new-born girls were entering.
Not obvious territory for comedy, you might think. But that’s exactly how Jones’ thoughts crystallized as he set to work on a script that would domesticate the epic scale of the horrors being transmitted on rolling news at the time. And so, Home was created, but it would be four years before the comedy found its own home with Channel 4.
The show premiered last year and tells the story of how a family in the small British town of Dorking takes in a Syrian refugee named Sami. It returns for a second season in the UK on Wednesday and Jones told Deadline that he hopes it taps into a great British comedy tradition of bringing levity to grim subject matter.
“I’m not a terribly political writer, I’m not inclined that way. It was just a response to some articles I read and I had the idea and wanted to get it down on paper,” he said. “British comedy has always been an interesting and provocative lens through which to deal with serious subjects. Things like Blackadder Goes Forth and Porridge, we enjoy taking dark and serious subjects and exploring them through unlikely moments of comedy.”
It was a real Syrian refugee, Hassan Akkad, who featured in the BBC’s BAFTA-winning documentary Exodus: Our Journey To Europe, who helped shape Jones’ script and the character of Sami, played by Youssef Kerkour. Jones stars himself, playing the stepfather of the family that puts a roof over the head of their new arrival. Jones said the show has a “big heart” and thinks the reaction to the first season “might be a response to how hectic our cultural identity has become,” especially with the debate around immigration being heightened by Brexit.
One person the show stuck a chord with was Ben Stiller. The Zoolander actor has become known for his work outside of Hollywood as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency and Jones said Stiller contacted his LA manager about a U.S. remake of the Channel X-produced show. Deadline revealed last year that NBC handed a put pilot commitment to the comedy, which is being written by Black-ish executive producer Stacy Traub, with Stiller directing and producing.
“He found our show and was immediately on board in a rather staggering way,” Jones explained. “Ben contacted us and said it was perfect. It all gets shaken around now and if it doesn’t happen there [at NBC] we will do it somewhere else. Ben is very committed to it in a very flattering way.”
The NBC version will be produced by Lionsgate Television and BBC Studios in association with 3 Arts Entertainment and Stiller’s Red Hour Films. Jones said he is in regular contact with Traub, but is keen for the U.S. version to have its own life. There is no update yet on a bigger commitment from NBC, he added.
Jones said: “I live in ignorance of the U.S. system. I’ve never done this before and I don’t really know the schedule. I’ll let the grown-ups on the other side of the pond get on with it. What Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais famously did with The Office was let that show find its own identity and you’d aspire to do something similar.”
As for the second season in the UK, Jones said viewers can expect a busier narrative. Sami is still waiting for the Home Office verdict on his asylum-seeker status, while Jones’ character’s stepson’s real father comes back on the scene in the “redoubtable form” of Douglas Henshall (Shetland). “I was keen to have all the characters pushed into tighter corners and it ends up being Sami who helps us, rather than the other way around,” he said.