BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Debbie O’Malley is incredibly appreciative for having had the opportunity to write for such critically acclaimed series as “All Creatures Great & Small,” “Call the Midwife” and “Humans.” There is nothing that gives her as much satisfaction as creating and writing her own TV series as with the new BritBox offering “Payback.”
The series O’Malley has produced features Morven Christie as Lexie Noble, a mother of two, who after her husband’s murder learns he has secretly been living a double-life laundering money for a crime lord. Now both the cops and crime lord want her help.
“Payback” is the latest example of the wide diversity of series on which O’Malley has worked. She’s able to deal with so many different worlds because of the different “rooms” in her head she can go to as a way of being specifically creative.
“I started out as an actor, but my acting career was not hugely successful hence I became a writer quite quickly,” O’Malley says. “As an actor I did a huge variety of genres, mainly theater.
“I think I get bored very quickly and I love the challenge of coming to a show – particularly like ‘Call the Midwife’ where there are these incredible characters. To put words in their mouth was an absolute joy. But there is nothing like starting from scratch which is extremely satisfying.”
O’Malley was not bored with “Payback” because she didn’t take on an easy task in writing this series as it blends both a strong emotional family story with complicated financial intrigue. Dealing with a lot of bank and money issues can become so complicated the audience can get lost. The key for O’Malley was to do a massive amount of research before she wrote the first word.
“I talked a lot to financial journalists and police investigators who specialize in economic crime. So, we had a real schooling in how they go about their business,” O’Malley says. “What we did was almost retrofit. We created a story for our characters to unpick.”
The big rule when it came to dealing with the financial aspects of the story was if anyone working on the project began to glaze over during discussions of money matters it was time to turn their attention to the family story. This allowed O’Malley and her team the opportunity to create a balanced tale.
O’Malley’s other big task was creating the character of Lexi. She had to be a woman strong enough to be able to deal with both a tragedy and its aftermath while also coming across as vulnerable enough to solicit sympathy from the viewers.
“It was very important to take her grief seriously, to take her loss seriously. But, she also had to be a very active character,” O’Malley says. “We certainly didn’t want her to be a damsel in distress who gets hit by a lot of bad news and then crumbles. That’s not particularly entertaining to watch.
“You also want everyone to be rooting for this woman who has to find reserves of strength and resourcefulness that she didn’t know she had.”
O’Malley praises Christie for taking the script to a higher level. The star of “Payback” is a Scottish actress who is best known for such projects as the BBC drama “The A Word” and the ITV crime drama “The Bay.”
The writing journey by O’Malley through some of television’s best programming can be traced back to when she was 5 years old. That’s when she wrote a story about the mysteries of a penny.
“It has quite a crime element to it because there was a theft that was the centerpiece. So clearly the roots were there,” O’Malley says with a laugh.
Her latest work is now on BritBox, an online digital video subscription service founded by BBC Studios and ITV that focuses on British television series and films. There’s never been a shortage of such material, especially in the crime/mystery genre.
O’Malley doesn’t know exactly why the United Kingdom is such a massive exporter of such programming. She does point out that the creation of mystery/crime series has become a major industry.
“It certainly has its roots in the Golden Age of the detective story,” O’Malley says. “There is now such a wide range. There seems to be just something about that puzzle married with safe danger and violence that the British seem to really like.”
The fact that Americans have embraced all of those tales is why writers like O’Malley are getting to create new mystery series like “Payback” for streaming services such as BritBox. There is no information on whether or not her penny mystery tale will be a future offering.