Why Ben Law Wants To 'Rip Your Guts Out Then Make You Cry'
Ahead of the third and final season of 'The Family Law' we spoke to series creator Benjamin Law about writing, coming out, representation and his terrifying calendar.
"If I have something like a doctors appointment, that's so relaxing," Benjamin Law told 10 daily, "Somebody else can know what to do for once. They can be chopping something off me and... that's like a holiday!"
Law is ridiculously busy, something he says is motivated by a general "fear of starving" but some days he doesn't even know where he is.
"I also grew up in an Asian family where I saw my parents work so hard so when you're like, 'Guys I'm going to be a writer,' you better f**king smash it or you're going to disappoint everyone around you," he said.
Law's family isn't just a source for his motivation to tackle his terrifying schedule, they're also the inspiration for The Family Law, the SBS series heading into its third and final season.
Loosely adapted from his memoir of the same name, the series follows a 14-year-old Ben who -- in the first season -- had to put his big dreams of stardom aside as his parents contemplated divorce.
When the series launched it was celebrated as the first TV series in the country to focus on an Asian-Australian family. Now the series hopes to grab another first, the first series to focus on teen sexuality.
"We [in the writer's room] knew from day one that if we got a third season it would be about Ben's sexuality," Law said. And it should come as no surprise to fans of The Family Law, Ben's sexuality was hinted at in the very first episode.
"The audience is one step ahead of Ben, but his sexuality wasn't going to be the plot [from the first episode]. We seeded it way, way early so when Season three came up we already hit the ground running."
Teen sexuality has been a hot-button issue in Australia for a while, and as they sat down to write a season of TV comedy about teenage sexuality the nation engaged in debates around the Safe Schools Coalition, discussions on queer students and endured the marriage equality postal survey.
"I had a nightmare situation where I was writing the third season of the show, which is about gay teenagers, and the Quarterly Essay which is also about gay teenagers," Law said.
Calling it "the most gratifying but intense" writing year of his life, Law's world revolved around the queer teenage experience, penning the script for the series and his Quarterly Essay Moral Panic 101.
"It turned out to be a weirdly obviously stressful thing to write two big things, but a really helpful one," Law said. "Those conversations totally fed each other. We were essentially writing about the same thing -- the Quarterly Essay from a political, journalistic lens and with Family Law it was a really intimate look at those issues."
Family Law has always navigated serious topics -- divorce, family structure and now sexuality -- with an even hand of hilarity and earnestness. "From Season one we always joked our contract with the audience was we'll make you laugh but only after we've ripped your guts out and made you cry," Law said.
And with something like sexuality and the massive difficulties around coming out, it's not difficult to put yourself back into that position. Many queer people find themselves having to come out in microtransactions almost daily.
"It's taken me this long to be bolshy about it," Law said, "I think the postal survey helped. The Yes result was strong enough that now if I'm in a taxi and they're having a really friendly conversation and mention a wife or girlfriend I'm like 'I'M GAY! I'm gaaaaay.' It just comes out."
Even in his mid-30s Law says it didn't take much effort to jump right back into the mindset and feelings of what it was like as a teenager, and the crushing emotional weight of coming out so young.
"When it comes to race, if you're one of the very few ethnic people in your community, at least you can share that experience with your family," Law said adding, "if you're queer, most of the time you're probably the only person like that in your own family. That's really intense."
"Ben -- the character and also me in real life -- always knows that he has his mum's support, but when it comes to [his sexuality] it's a really real question. That's something I don't think has really changed."
The big word "REPRESENTATION" hangs over our conversation, but Law says he never set out to earn the "first" accolades of the show's core focuses.
"I am writing the show -- or the book -- that I wish I had when I was growing up," he said noting that when he was growing up there was no representation of Asian-Australian families, children of divorce or LGBTQ teens.
Calling the series "a resource (as dry as that sounds)" Law said he wanted to provide teens, parents and even teachers an example of the coming out experience, rooted in his own life and painted with a comedic brush.
"We’re going to portray the -- in retrospect -- very lucky situation in which I came out, and hopefully that makes the conversation a little less scary and a little less mysterious for families who might be going through the same thing."
While LGBTQ characters and story arcs have been around for ages, and several shows recently have focused on young queer characters like One Day At A Time or the short-lived Roseanne reboot, in Australia it's much less common.
"With [The Family Law] it's the kind of show [teens] can use, it's less about the emotional and more about the practical. Show all this stuff you can laugh to -- that makes it a little less scary to parents, teachers and young people too."
"With something like coming out, we’re not going to shirk away from the realities of being a closeted teenager," Law said, "It’s really terrifying and scary... if we can convey that while still making it not too scary to watch, I think we've done the job we set out to do."
The Family Law will drop on SBS On Demand on Saturday, 12 January at 8.30pm.
Featured Image: SBS / Supplied.