Daniel Peak on writing and creating Code 404

Code 404 is 6-part comedy series and co-production by Water & Power Productions and Kudos Productions for Sky. Created by Tom Miller, Sam Myer and Daniel Peak and starring Daniel Mays and Stephen Graham as Detective Inspectors Major and Carver. 

After DI Major is shot down in the line of duty (Like Robocop) he is brought back to life using a revolutionalry technology (Like Robocop). When he reawakens a year later, he is reunited with his partner Roy Carver, and the once shining copper has his mettle tested as he battles secrets, lies and basic motor skills to uncover the truth. (Kind of like Robocop except Robocop is a badass. You should definitely watch it actually. It’s on Netflix. Don’t bother with the new one, just watch the original 1987 version. If only for the amazing toxic waste death scene. It’s fantatsic…)

After binge watching the whole series in one day, I did my own detective work and  tracked down one of the show’s writers, Daniel Peak to ask him some questions about the series. It wasnt that hard, I found him on Twitter and he was a really lovely bloke and happy to answer my questions. Here is what he had to say…

Firstly, talk me through where the idea came from and how it went from an idea to blue-lighting up our screens during this lockdown period?

The idea of two cops, one part-AI, came from Sam Myer, one of the producers, about four years ago. I think Sam originally imagined a more dramatic story, properly interrogating questions about the nature of consciousness and personal identity. Then changed his mind and decided to make it stupid, which is when he contacted me. I developed it a bit with Sam and with Tom Miller, we pitched it to Sky and they commissioned a script. That’s the script we sent to Danny Mays. He liked it, he roped in Stephen and Anna, and so Sky let us make a pilot, bits of which still survive in the first broadcast episode.

Both Major and Carver as characters are very endearing. As a pair, their chemistry and interactions lead to fantastic moments. How difficult was it to craft that relationship between them so that it was warm but also funny?

The relationship between Major and Carver is the heart of it. And it’s a familiar serious man / funny man relationship. The important thing was making sure they were emotionally reliant on each other, so that their conflicts don’t cause them to split up. That’s why Carver feels lots of responsibility for Major’s initial death, and guilt for the way he has behaved since. When the dialogue threatened to get too serious, I just had Carver shout bellend.

The show treads the line between what feels like high end drama and slapstick comedy, sometimes from one line to the next. Did you always set out to create a show that scaled two genres in this way and with such eclectic humour?

The straddling-genres thing is probably a result of me (someone who has mostly written more conventional half-hour sitcoms) suddenly realising I had a cast of phenomenally talented and versatile dramatic actors to write for (not that my other shows didn’t mind you). I also had a brilliant script editor called Lina Stroud, who is from a background of proper drama, who made sure all the character arcs worked properly and weren’t just there to set up gags

Again, if the humour is electic that’s probably a result of a good tension between my tendency to go for the puns and slapstick and Lina and the producers’ attempts to stop me.

The show has a lot of fantastic performances from actors like Rosie Cavaliero, Amanda Payton, Tracy Ann Oberman and, of course, Anna Maxwell Martin. Plus, an honourable mention to Michelle Greenidge for a savagely funny performance as “Officer Not Judy” (on IMDB). As a writer are you conscious of making sure there is a balance of representation for men and women in the characters you write?

I know, how amazing is that cast? I couldn’t believe it. Michelle’s character was meant to be one joke in the pilot episode but she was so funny that we had to find a way to put her in all of them. As for balance of men and women, I suppose I was conscious that the central characters are two blokes. But with most of the other characters, in terms of this show I hope that what sex they are is the least interesting thing about them.

The show looks stunning from a visual standpoint. It’s glossy and gritty in equal measure, with brutalist London architecture mixed together with sleek tech labs. Was this always the vision for the show and how integral is the visual landscape to the storytelling?

For the visual landscape, all kudos to director Al Campbell and the art and location departments. None of that came from my head. I wrote the scripts picturing a generic sitcom office space with low ceilings and grey carpet. When I went on set I was astonished.

Have you had any ideas about where else you could go with the story and characters?

Yeah, I’ve got a massive Word file of ideas for series two, most of which contradict each other. I’d love to get back in there.

Having started your career writing for Two Pints and having gone onto a myriad of other comedies, has the genre changed or evolved in the time you have been writing?

I’m not sure the genre has changed very much you know. When I started, people were saying studio audience sitcoms were about to die off. It’s still being said now and one day I suppose it will be true. I’ve been very lucky to have had the chance to write for different style of show, for different audiences, and if my luck holds I will continue to chop and change.

Have you ever been stopped by the police?

Never been stopped by the police, but then I don’t leave the house much, lockdown or not.