The essence of comedy is making the balance between heart and sarcasm, reality and fantasy a texture of perception. The different structures and ideas within NBC’s new series point to interesting and conscious form of diversification both in stories and in casting while still playing to its strengths. During the main NBC presentations at TCA Winter Press Tour, the rhythm of the ideas rings true.
Good Girls This crime comedy about 3 women pulling a heist for each of their own personal reasons speaks to the different kinds of chemistry and dynamics between the characters. Creator Jenna Bans explains “It definitely leans into the fun and chemistry of these 3 women. These character need to say what they are doing is for good so they will be able to cross the line. They are definitely breaking rules and laws.” Christina Hendricks, known for her role on “Mad Men”, plays Beth. She explains: “We have carved out our own little space. That blend of desperation and comedy. The tone is tricky and we play every moment as real. Sometimes they are over the top, hysterical and bizarre. [When these characters] experience crazy things, you can be funny. I feel like Beth in this situation is making decisions to protect her family. But unlike Joan [in “Mad Men”], she enjoys it. Beth is selfish. She likes adrenaline. She likes power.” Mae Whitman who plays Christina’s younger sister Annie also explains: “In every episode there comes up an element of moral justification. The fun thing is to see how far into that we go. Is what they are doing right or wrong and who is getting hurt in the process. To me one thing is that Jenna creates a whole world without it being preachy. I felt like I knew the people.” Bans also comments on the style of performance needed: “I am a hug fan of improv in these shows. The best are when [these girls] are shooting the shit.” Retta, best known from “Parks & Recreation, plays Beth’s best friend Ruby, speaks about what interested her: “It is rare I read a pilot and I cry and I get into it.” Hendricks had her own reservations: “I was worried about being on network. It was so edgy and dark. We have many discussions. I said you have to promise you won’t back down from this and it was going to be what it was going to be. I could also feel myself [as a person] in the role.” Whitman’s approach was slightly different: “I feel like I am always the weird girl. One thing I loved about this show is that it is 3 interesting people in the leads and they happen to be bad ass women. And so much of the comedy of it comes from the absurdity of it.” Bans concludes her perception of the show itself: “This show becomes about these characters balancing their personal lives. They are trying to keep going with life as normal…but they are in a buttload of trouble.”
Rise By comparison, the musical/drama examines the texture of a drama department within the high school and the struggles therein. Jason Katim, exec producer who also worked on “Friday Night Lights”, explains: “Having a show like “This Is Us” has cleared the path. Shows that are very character driven, are the shows that appeal to me as a viewer but also those I like to tell. [But] I also wanted it to be a show where you were amazed to see the singing but that you connected into the singers with what was going on in their lives so it would weigh on another level.” Damon J. Gillespie, who plays Robbie Thorne, one of the students who is between the two worlds of football and the theater program in the show, talks about his approach to the role: “I kind of changed my lifestyle. My uncle is a personal trainer so I wanted to get physically fit. However when you are a dancer you already do those things. That aspect felt at home but relearning how to do a blocking rehearsal.” Katim continues about how to balance the perceptions of the different areas within the school in terms of the story but also the challenges of telling certain aspects (like which musical that could be performed): “I really felt that I needed to make it my own story. In terms of the football angle, what I love about the show is that as much it is about high school theater, it is about the football team. I like the idea of striking a balance. When I took on the show, they happened to be doing “Spring Awakening” at Pacific Palisades High School. I talked to the director afterwards and she told me about the challenges like the school wanting to censure certain parts.” Gillespie continues on the parallels in his education but also the differences in showing theater on stage versus shooting it for television: “In theater, you have 2 ½ half hours to get to the aspect of the story while with TV you are doing it sporadically. So it becomes…what makes me cry…what makes me happy. It was very layered. My cousin went to public high school. It was the normal every day high school student. For me at an arts school, it was completely opposite. There was only 40 in my graduating class. So I only know the arts school but it shaped who I am and how I think.”
A.P. Bio This show from Mike O’Brien who wrote for “Saturday Night” would seem to come from a more sardonic point of view especially with its casting of Glenn Howerton (known for “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” as a Harvard philosophy professor turned interim science teacher. Howerton talks about the challenges with having a successful show but also creating a new character: “I did officially leave “Sunny”. The hard thing about people seeing you in the same thing is that they have a hard time seeing you in about everything else. I think there is some real heart [this character which is] key. I don’t think he is as hardened as Dennis [his character in “Philadelphia”. I am compartmentalizing. There is a little more tenderness to this guy although he doesn’t want people to realize it. [But] I am always looking for some sort of truth. This is about a man who is a grieving but doesn’t believe that he is grieving. I like to think that he is a guy who has big feelings who has to play it like he just doesn’t care. Because it stop serving you to feel things so openly. That’s funny right?” O’Brien speaks to the design of the character to match Howerton: “I was very excited about the idea of having a fun silly playful show that has an extremely intelligent lead. Not that it hasn’t been done before. I have many character [integrated] in the size and shape that Jack does. You friends that abandoned you when you were stalling out.” To the idea of philosophy as a construct within the character, Howerton continues: “You can use a philosophy to justify almost any behavior…if I am ever called out on it. What I love is that Mike wrote a character that is intellectually smart but emotionally immature.”
Super Bowl LII The greatest show on earth at times always can have the essence of Al Michael’s voice. Like John Madden, his calls have become synonymous with the NFL. Michaels reflects on the many years he has called the fields his home: “I have always said the NFL is the greatest unscripted show out there. I think back to the first one we did where James Harrison ran back the interception 100 yards [in Super Bowl XLIII]. In a way the Super Bowl is the easiest game to do. [You] just let the game break. I am a production junkie too. We all work hand and glove. [But] at the end of the day, I am a fan like anyone else. I like to watch games myself.” However, he explains the difference when he is with friends and family watching a game: “If you go to a party, there is always a guy who thinks he knows more than you do.” He also speaks of some of the more challenging games he has called: “There was a Skycam game when we had the fog in New England. And, at that point, we couldn’t see the field from our upper field camera. We had to watch from the point of view of the quarterback. It really gives you a different perspective but you couldn’t do the whole game that way. However, that night in Foxboro was cool.”
The Voice In this upcoming season, Kelly Clarkson, famously known as the main breakout from the original “American Idol” show, adds her perception moving to the reverse side as a judge. Clarkson speaks on the irony and competition in this new role: “It is definitely awesome to fight the three other coaches. I still feel like the same kid that entered this industry. [But] I can’t hide excitement. My favorite part [so far is] to be a coach. I hate to be a judge. I feel shitty afterwards. When I started singing I started by singing opera music. But, at the core, people like talent over aesthetics.” She continues about her interaction with the other judges, obviously all music stars in their own right: “It is hilarious how much we grovel. They constantly remind me they all won.” But she then explains her own rise to stardom: “I don’t fit the pop star image that people have had in their mind. [But] it is a different world now. Success is rated differently with streaming. What happened in my life was incredible. People dream for that moment and not everybody gets to achieve it.”
By Tim Wassberg