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Netflix gives local shows a platform to shine

Published Jan 16, 2021


In the past two years Netflix has given South African entertainers global recognition and a platform.

Shows such as Queen Sono and Blood and Water were among the most travelled South African titles of 2020, with both reaching the top 10.

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Other shows which have travelled the globe include Santana, Seriously Single, 8, Bedford Wives, Mrs Right Guy, Hole in the Wall, Baby Mamas, Kandasamys: The Wedding, Momentum, Riding With Sugar, The Groom’s Price and the award-winning documentary, My Octopus Teacher.

With local shows doing incredibly well, the streaming giants are now also giving an opportunity to TV shows which previously aired on local channels.

One such show is Sober Companion, which will debut at the end of the month.

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The show, which aired on SABC3 a few years ago, is a half-hour irreverent, fast-paced dark comedy created by actor-comedian, Trevor Gumbi and acclaimed screen queen, Tiffany Barbuzano.

The series follows the lead character Trevor, played by Gumbi, as he guides a variety of addicts on the path to rehabilitation, while putting his own sobriety in jeopardy.

Sober Companion dives into the infamous world of drug addiction and rehabilitation, as lived by Trevor, as he coaches various addicts while they reintegrate themselves into a world free from addiction.

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Apart from the compelling series plot, Sober Companion also features some of South Africa’s highly acclaimed actors and actresses as part of the cast.

This includes Chris Beasley, who is mostly known for his role as Lenn on Isidingo, actor and musician, Kabomo Vilakazi, renowned comedian Tumi Morake, and The Prince of Theatre, Athandwa Kani.

Programme creator and head writer, Babuzano says she is delighted.

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“We are over the moon,’ says Barbuzano.

“As a formidable on demand channel, Netflix is synonymous with quality content and storytelling – it reaches a bigger audience and as one of 15 South African shows available now on the platform, we are incredibly excited the world will get to see it.”

Barbuzano says when it aired originally, SABC was going through major changes and the show “got a little lost in the big scheme of things”.

“SABC often produces quality drama that seems to go unnoticed. We had a huge cult like following of the first season.

“It’s our trade mark I think, telling stories that have heart, humour and a little darkness.

“People really responded to it. SABC took a chance on the content and style… something we haven’t seen much of on TV and it paid off.”

She is also well aware of the immense impact that Netflix has had on the local entertainment industry.

“Oh it’s a huge impact! Netflix is about telling stories that reflect what we see, it’s about embracing and nurturing talent.

“Netflix has opened the doors to the rest of the world for all of us.

“It’s about making our stories more accessible to the world.

“South Africa has so many stories to tell, we have an incredible TV and film industry making world class quality entertainment, talented cast, world class crew and magical stories and Netflix is a platform to showcase it.

“It’s incredibly exciting.”

Speaking about the show, Barbuzano says Sober Companion is a comedy drama about addiction.

“It’s about four recovering addicts who become Sober Companions in an effort to help other addicts overcome their vices and in the process put their own sobriety at risk.”

Barbuzano teamed up with well known comedian Trevor Gumbi to create the show.

Gumbi, an addict in recovery himself, plays the lead role in the dark local comedy.

“Trevor was amazing.

“Incredibly giving and open. As an addict in recovery himself, I think this was both a cathartic and incredibly telling experience for him.

“We call each other Skrik now because of the awesome bond we established making this show.

“And because we saw each other in various stages of unravelling…

“We were both in a really tough place while filming (my sister had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, my youngest was only six months old and still being breastfed, Johnny and I got swine flu at the end of the show) and Trevor was fighting his own demons.

“I do think it really helped us emotionally though – It was a huge journey.

“It took a lot out of all of the cast – we have no idea how many demons people are facing on a day to day basis.”

Barbuzano believes a show of this nature is important in South Africa, with the country battling with an addiction problem.

“We follow four characters as they deal with various addictions – My character Grace is a doctor addicted to pethadine.

“Kabomo’s character is addicted to helping people to assuage his own guilt over something that happened in the past.

“Meren Reddy’s character is a compulsive liar and Trevor Gumbi’s character finds himself a year sober and the pressure of that sobriety is too much to handle.”

“South Africa has a history deeply rooted in trauma…

“ And one of the greatest influences on addiction is trauma. We have had a culture of silence in SA for too long and not being able to ask for help greatly contributes to people using drugs and alcohol to cope.

“So Sober Companion highlights these issues in a funny sometimes heartbreaking way and shows that help is available.”

Barbuzano adds that the show’s underlying message is to show that addiction can affect anyone.

“No matter who you are, where you come from or what your spiritual or religious beliefs are, addiction can affect you.

“If you’re the addict or a friend or family member is- the effects can be devastating.

“It’s a disease (like diabetes or cancer) – Not a choice and once people understand that we will make huge strides in combating it.”

She says that Gumbi’s real life struggle with addiction was a huge inspiration for the show.

“Trevor’s own story was a huge inspiration – he has been through so much and come out the other side a better man.

“And my sister and father ran a rehab centre for a while…

“The stories we heard, you’d never believe them.

“My sister dealt with a partner addicted to crack amongst other things…

“I really wanted to highlight that addiction is not something you choose.

“It’s all consuming and strongly based in trauma.

“I wanted to tell the stories of good people making terrible decisions and what can happen because of it.

“But getting better is a choice and I wanted people to see that too.”

Barbuzano believes the show can prove to be a huge hit not only among South Africans but the rest of the world too.

“The world has been in lockdown for a year, people are struggling.

“The pressure of job loss, family being ill, losing loved ones is too much.

“People turn to something that makes them feel good… then that thing becomes an emotional crutch, then they can’t function without it because reality is too much to handle.

“And everyone's so focused on a virus, they forget that isolation can be as damaging.

“Or that being alone, addicts don’t have to hide their addictions from anyone and they simply disappear into it.

Sober Companion is real people, real life – ultimately it’s a show about forgiveness and redemption and truth.”

Saturday Star

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