The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Today’s episode of Scriptnotes has some strong language, so if you’re in the car with your kids this is your warning.
Hey, so this is John. Today’s episode of Scriptnotes was originally going to be a Best Of episode because Craig is traveling back from Europe and we could not find a time to record a new episode. But also this past week I sat down with Aline Brosh McKenna, Rachel Bloom, and John Gatins to talk about the third season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This was an event that I had promoted on the show earlier. People wrote lyrics to win tickets to come to see this. And I met those guys. They were fantastic. But more importantly I had a great discussion with Aline and Rachel and John about making a TV show. Making a third season of a TV show and figuring out what you want to do going into it and what changes along the way.
So, we showed some clips. We took some audience questions. What you’re hearing is a little bit condensed because it doesn’t really make sense to play full clips because you’re not seeing stuff. This is all recorded at UTA, so thank you for letting us use the audio from the event. I think you’ll really dig it. It’s a really good discussion between some really smart folks.
If you want to see another smart discussion between smart folks – Segue Man – you can come to our live show, May 22 at the ArcLight, 8pm. We’re sitting down with Lisa Joy and Jonah Nolan from Westworld and also Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely from The Avengers movie and Captain America. It should be great.
So, as I’m recording this I know all the VIP tickets are sold out, but I think there are still some general tickets left. So, if you want to come, you should come. It’s going to be great.
There will be another normal Scriptnotes that same day. So Craig will be back and we’ll record a normal episode. But today it’s a special live one. Next week is normal. And the week after that we’ll have some audio from the special live show. So a whole mix up of things.
But today enjoy. This is Aline Brosh McKenna, Rachel Bloom, and John Gatins.
We’re here to talk about the third season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And so I remember about this time last year, I follow you on Instagram, and you had taped over the windows because you were getting started to figure out this season. So my question now is what were you guys talking about in that room with the papered-over windows? What was the plan?
Aline Brosh McKenna: What were the things that really stuck through?
Rachel Bloom: The thinking was how quickly do we get to the full revenge episode. We knew very quickly we wanted to do – in the pitch five years ago at this point it was always inherent that she was – we were going to play the promise of the premise somehow. She was going to become full fatal attraction crazy ex-girlfriend. The question was how long did that last and how long did we take before we got to that point. And I think that was the thing that we were talking about.
Aline: That was the main. And then balancing – you know, the thing about revenge, and I don’t know if you guys have ever tried to write a revenge movie, or if anyone has tried to write, revenge makes no sense. It just doesn’t make any sense. And then what?
John Gatins: It felt so good though.
Aline: But then it’s like Wah-Wah. So we were building towards that but we knew that there needed to be something else going on in the season beyond that. And also we knew we had owed for a long time figuring out what was really her issue and the diagnosis. So that was something that we were also talking about then and starting to do research. And our writer’s assistant at the time, who is now going to be a writer on the show, Alana is here, she was with us – and there’s usually a few songs that are like born in that first breaking room and there’s some that change a lot from there. But there’s usually a few things that are like “Oh that’s done. We’re going to do that.”
But I would say every year we’ve had like a midseason thing where some of the things were set and then some of the things needed to be re-broken. And we usually do a little bit of re-break, like a little bit of a retreat halfway through to kind of calibrate, recalibrate.
Rachel: Yeah, and the big thing, and usually there’s a point in every season, midseason, where Aline and I will go to her house and get naked and get in her hot tub together. This is 100% true. And we’re usually drunk or—
Rachel: On something. And we’ll come up with like, “Oh no, this is the kind of shot in the arm the season needed.” And so in season two that was she and Josh full on – spoiler alert – I may not, if you’re here, sorry, but the shot in the arm was, “OK, Josh is going to leave her at the altar.” Because there was a world in which – the way we always pitched season two—
Aline: Was that Josh was about to marry Valencia.
Rachel: And she was going to then – oh god, was this two or three? The original pitch was that he was about to marry Valencia. She didn’t stop him from proposing and then she was going to do some big grand gesture, like Say Anything gesture to win him back, but it was going to backfire and it was going to hurt – at the time we didn’t know his girlfriend’s name was Valencia. It was just his girlfriend and she’d break her uterus. That was in the pitch. It was like season three Rebecca breaks Josh’s girlfriend’s uterus.
John G: I’m trying to picture that in the hot tub naked.
Rachel: So we re-broke it. And then last season I remember being in the hot tub with you, naked—
John G: We’ve got to do this.
John A: Our writing process has been wrong this whole time.
Rachel: It’s great. Our bodies are so different, so we’re also both very fascinated.
Aline: I need parts that I waited for and never got.
Rachel: Oh yeah, but what I was going to say – sorry, I was thinking about Aline’s nakedness – the thing that we re-broke in your hot tub after – usually it’s hot tub after pasta, so we’re really not judging each other. It was last year was – we knew something was going to happen with – we had to get her – she was going to get in trouble with—
Aline: She was going to get in trouble and get in prison. She was going to be obsessed with Josh and Josh’s new girlfriend and that somehow was going to lead to her being in prison. But then in the middle of the season once the Josh thing had sort of burned brightly it seemed like it was over and we switched to Nathaniel. And then this idea of Trent as her id coming back and that that was the thing that really symbolized that she had, you know, burned through her revenge scheme, she was on her road to redemption, and then her mistakes come back to haunt her even though she’s actually doing the right thing. And there was an irony in that.
And one of the things that you guys as feature writers will relate to is we pitched it in four parts, the series. The first season really is act one. The second season really is the first half of the second half. And last year as you guys know, we’ve talked about this on Scriptnotes, the second half of the second act is the rocky shoals. It is the hardest thing to right. It’s the cumulative thing to write. It has the most plot in it. So that gives you a sense of what season three is going to be, or season four is going to be which is the third act. So we have a lot of plot in last year, like more than we ever had.
And there were times where Rachel came into the room and looked at the board and was like, “What’s happening?”
Rachel: Well because there’s always a point—
John G: The lowest point.
Aline: Yes. Bringing your character to its lowest point.
Rachel: But it wasn’t in those as much, I mean, that’s also a separate issue with me, the work schedule, which is I am in the writer’s room for the first two months and then we start filming and Aline is still running the writer’s room. And so then I’m reading outlines but also it’s on me to – I’m one of the three songwriters and it’s one me to – I’m the main person who supervises the edit of the music videos. I script out the music videos. So, around episodes let’s say six through 10 are when stuff is changing in the room rapidly. And so I’ll walk in and be like, “Whoa, Josh is a DJ? Oh, cool. Good for him. That sounds really cool.”
Aline: And it was hard because there was so much plot stuff that was happening as you said to bring her to her lowest point and how do you construct that. But there’s a very hectic part in the middle of the season around seven, eight, nine where we’re really tired and confused. And then it starts to – as the last few scripts are written we start to come up for air a little bit and there’s a song in the very last episode that Rachel and I wrote very calmly that first draft of, I mean, when I say wrote she wrote and I said half sentences, that ended up being one of the last songs in the last episode.
So, that was a very long answer.
John A: So really broad strokes, and these are sort of like the fat marker on the whiteboard, the overall map. Now, you knew you were going to get to a revenge plot and eventually she was going to go full Glenn Close in it. But her first instinct after the wedding gets broken off she’s at a very low place, then she decides like, “Oh, I’m going to use my super power. I’m going to sue him.” And so there’s this idea at the start of the season like, “Oh, there’s going to be a lawsuit.”
Rachel: That was the hardest thing actually. I remember, I mean, I think what’s interesting in looking back at what we were doing exactly a year ago was the lawsuit was a great idea that we knew we were going to do that you had early on but the question was right after the wedding what is she doing.
Rachel: And can we share what originally happened?
Aline: They went to a diner?
Rachel: No, but then.
Aline: Oh yeah.
Rachel: So originally she goes to this diner with her friends and she’s like mad and they’re like, “Oh my god, what is she thinking?” And she’s like, “Will you just excuse me for one second?” And then she knocks on Nathaniel’s door and they fuck. Like literally the first second of the season. And then that’s part of the reason he’s been on the hook is like she came and fucked him and then left. And then there was this whole runner of like she got really freaky and she comes back to his apartment. She’s like “Take a shower. I need a clean work space.” And it was really dirty.
Aline: So that was in there for a long time and that was behind that newspaper. And I got to say the writers really hated that because they felt like it cut off all the opportunity for like the first time they slept together building to that. And there was a lot of resistance to that in the writer’s room. And I clung to it for a while. But there were so many other things going on in the beginning of that episode that we let go of that.
She does a lot of awful things in the first third of the season. And then when they start to come out, she also has this giant dip so that the characters later will forgive her for that.
John G: So you guys create a show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. When do you have this idea to explore BPD as a thing that’s going to arc itself out? And what was that conversation like?
Rachel: BPD didn’t come – BPD started to come kind of organically. I remember we started talking about it really in the second season. I definitely – I remember thinking it a lot in it was the third episode of the second season where she thinks she’s pregnant for a scene and goes in between these extremes. And BPD is very difficult to diagnose and it’s a very interesting disorder. And so we kind of knew that that’s where it was going. I mean, a lot of the things that we had the character do were kind of emotionally heightened versions of things that both Aline and I had gone through in our lives but very, very, very heightened and just kind of yes-anded.
And the interesting thing about BPD is that’s what it is. It’s emotions that we all feel, it’s thoughts that we all have, just multiplied by a million. I mean, they say that if you have BPD it feels like you have emotional third degree burns all over your body. You literally have no emotional skin because your sense of self is not present, so you rely on the outside world to define who you are which is inherent in the premise of the show of someone who imagines themselves in different musical numbers to define who she is.
Aline: So what’s interesting though is we didn’t know that that’s what she had. We wrote it by feel. And the same thing happened with figuring out that Greg was an alcoholic. We just were writing that character, it was a thing that we had a pattern that seemed like it adhered to that character. And then we realized, oh, when we go back and do the checklist for alcoholic, Greg’s him. And when we went to do the BPD checklist it was stunning how much we had done that, but we hadn’t done that intentionally.
And I didn’t know anything about BPD until – Rachel knew stuff about it and had been talking to me about it sort of lightly for a while, but we didn’t really—
Rachel: I know people who have it.
Aline: And then we kind of delved into it and that’s what we had written. And I actually think it’s interesting because I think if we had written it knowing that that’s what we were going to do it might have been more forced and programmatic. But BPD people are the people who like – you know the friend that you have that does “crazy shit” and you call your other friends and you’re like, “You are not going to believe what this person has done.”
If you – the people that you know who tend to be – people call them crazy because they’re always stirring up stuff and they end up in weird – that’s her thing. She ends up in very weird situations because she’s lying and she’s freaking out and she’s over-dramatizing things, but not realizing these are all connected to one place.
John G: Was it scary or kind of exciting to be able to kind of push the tone really hard? You know, because it’s a show that like when you see the first season it’s so funny and so full of life and the music is amazing, the performances. It’s like you’re constantly laughing. And then as she devolves into this spiral it’s intense. Some of those–
Aline: Season three is—
Rachel: The show was always really dark to us, though. I mean, and I have spent a little bit of time rewatching some episodes of the first season, which is very weird to rewatch a show that you worked on but it seems like a new show because it’s been a couple years since I’ve seen it. And she’s quite ill. I mean, in that first season, in ways that I think at the time I didn’t even realize, but she’s really, really, really sick. And then the fact that Greg wants to fuck her and that’s like the only thing he can think about is like fucking this sick person. It’s really dark and disturbing.
And so I never thought of – the darkness of the show has always been inherent for both of us.
Aline: Yeah. I mean, I think because it’s a deconstruction of romantic comedies and you look at how people behave in romantic comedies, it’s psychotic. No, that’s a thing that we connected on which is the guy is outside in your yard and he’s got the boom box on. Like this is not OK. Stop fucking running to the airport. If you love somebody, you know, don’t lie about – and I had written obviously a lot of stuff where people are lying and scheming and it’s supposed to all be OK if you end up kissing. And in our very, very first conversations about the show that’s what we talked about which is like – and for me it’s rom-coms and for Rachel it’s also Disney princess stuff where what we sell to girls and women as appropriate behavior if it ends up with Prince Charming or in a kiss is like we excuse very crazy behavior.
So what’s interesting is because the first season is the first act it’s that rom-com cute stuff. And we always – you know how you guys when you write something they’re always like, “Make her likeable.” We always had it be someone else’s fault. And basically what happened over the course of the three seasons it’s like, “No, no, it’s her. She’s driving it.”
And I will say when we wrote episode four of this year which is the full-on revenge episode we laughed and laughed. It was such a release.
Aline: It was such a relief. We wrote that.
Rachel: It was the episode we wanted to write.
Aline: Yeah. We wrote that over the weekend at my house and it was such a release to actually have her be stalking him and really go for it, because we had sort of been putting kid gloves on it, you know. And there is something – but a lot of the stuff people do, you know, if you go to people’s weddings now and you hear the toasts of how they met it’s like, “Well that’s not OK. He slept outside her house for – I think that might not be legal.“
Rachel: If you didn’t think he was hot you would have called the police. Because you were attracted you’re like, “That’s fine. That’s cute.”
John A: Talking about premise of the show, so it’s a woman who wants something so desperately she’s willing to uproot her life and move across the country. And the first two seasons we see her pursuing her wants. What’s so interesting about this season is she’s kind of stopped wanting and she just goes on defense. She’s so terrified, and so what we just saw with Paula is she’s lashing out at Paula and she’s using her special skills kind of for evil and for vengeance.
Rachel: She’s very smart. Yeah.
Aline: But she’s bouncing off the mound. It is late act two stuff. She’s grabbing at vines.
Rachel: Even in moments of being a villain she doesn’t know how to be a villain. She’s just trying to get her pain out. And I think that that’s been something very interesting to write for all these characters that even at their worst Aline and I we come at it from a place of empathy and compassion. And so it’s the reason people calling the show My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend really bothers us because it other-izes her. And unlike in Fatal Attraction where you know “the bitch must be killed,” that’s an example of someone with borderline, you know, the original ending of Fatal Attraction was her killing herself. And the audience felt unfulfilled because it made you feel sorry for her and you want the world to be black and white. But when people are acting villainous they’re terrified. They’re insecure and they’re upset.
John A: So reaching all the way back to, I think it was season one, I’m the villain of my own story, which was sort of the fairy tale version. And she imagines herself as that sort of dark villain. So she has some insight. She’s able at times to realize that this is a thing that I’m doing that is the wrong thing. How much does that factor into your decisions on a scene like this, her to understand what’s really happening in the world and this is her own feelings?
Aline: You know, I think it’s the special pain of her character, but it’s also the thing that makes you like her is that she knows she’s messing up. She always knows. No one is harder on herself that she is. And so when she’s doing awful things she is aware always. And if you know anyone who has a disorder, not even just BPD or something like this, when they are aware that they’re acting out and they can’t help it there’s just a special pain and empathy that you feel for that character because she does know that she – and that’s why I think in some ways one of the signature songs of the whole series is You Stupid Bitch, where she sings this very lacerating song about herself because she knows what she’s capable of.
John G: How many episodes? 44.
John G: And how many writers from the beginning?
Aline: All from the beginning. We’ve had the same writers since day one. We promoted two people. We have a very cohesive group. And one of the things that’s amazing about it is we have such institutional memory on our show. It’s incredible. It’s like this is a room that remembers every – they know and remember things that I don’t, that we don’t. They just know it so well. And when you have shows where people come and go you can’t create that as coherent a story. And they’ve just been steeped in it from day one. And everyone there will bring in bits and pieces of stuff or point out, “Hey, we can’t do that because we’ve done this already.”
And we work alone. You know, screenwriters work alone. We’re hermits. And John and I are friends because we hated being hermits and we created our own little writer’s room on the telephone when people used to talk on the telephone. We still do. But having that community of writers that understands this show and is helping us to guide us and give us feedback and say that’s crazy. And this suicide episode that Jack wrote, I mean, Jack brought such tremendous humanity and depth to the draft that he wrote. And we wept in the room, many of us, very frequently. You know, for me – Rachel is like a daughter to me, but Rebecca is, too. And the thing that always gets me about her is that she has hope. She’s a very hopeful character. It’s like, you know, she has a spirit of wanting to live and wanting to survive that like really, really moves me. So we wept a lot in the writer’s room.
John G: I’ve been to see you both in your room a few times. And I’m only now remembering that, yeah, it was exactly the same people every time I went. And I’m just thinking like that’s a really long season. No, it’s been many seasons. I just keep thinking like, “Oh, it’s Wednesday,” but you’re on another season. It’s this continuous thing. And the feeling in the room was very open. Like I didn’t know who was the boss. I didn’t know anything.
Aline: Well, it’s funny, I didn’t know. I think because I never ran a room before, so there are things that I learn. Like I don’t care who has the idea. And I didn’t obey any hierarchy. I didn’t think like, “Oh, if you had this title you should speak more or less.” That doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would you – so there were a lot of things about the way shows are run I didn’t know because I’ve never been on staff. And the staff taught us how – Rachel actually had more experience than I did. And the staff taught us really how to run the room. And some of the senior writers really helped inform that. But it’s just a glorious lucky thing to have a group of people that is so – you know, just to be in a room with ten intelligent, hilarious people while you’re creating something is – it’s so hard to go back to writing solo. It’s crazy.
John G: But I think it’s really unique that you have this writer’s room, as a guy who has been there, and you guys are there, and then you’re shooting the show on the other side of a wall. And you’re the star of the show. You’re in the writer’s room. You’re there. The writers go there. You’ve directed three episodes, right? It’s a pretty rare–
Aline: Also we really give the writers custody of their episode, like during the breaking and the writing of the draft obviously, the rewrite, the going onset, it always goes back to them. It’s their episode. And they guide it and they’re responsible for really keeping track of it. I mean, I’m thinking of the writers that are in the room, like Alana did episode six for us. It was her first episode. She was our writer’s assistant. The one right after this which deals with her diagnosis. And, I mean, she is like a Ph.D. level expert in Borderline because she read absolutely everything.
And so when a writer is entrusted with an episode we take that very seriously. That is their episode to curate and they’re there for every second of it.
John A: You know, I think that merlot joke was so crucial because it’s a reminder that like the rest of the universe is still functioning, even though she’s pulled herself out of it the rest of the universe is still functioning. And in the next episode or the episode after we sort of see what the office is like without her there and how they’re all sort of desperate to reinsert her. But they’re just being crazy madcap the way they always would be and the universe is cycling on, which is also a factor for someone considering suicide is like either they want the universe to stop because they’re not going to be there or “No one is going to miss me if I’m gone.” And you’re able to sort of answer that question by seeing what the office is like without her there.
Rachel: Yeah, and I have to say in talking about the writing of this I – there are certain things that if I – if we’re talking about a certain idea and I don’t know about it, Aline will get a conviction in her eye and I know that her gut is right on a certain thing. And I have to say like it was her idea, the idea of that help sign turning into hope, and I couldn’t – on its face I was like I hope this isn’t schmaltzy. And then she was fucking right. It’s what you needed in that moment. And so things like that, things like tone, yeah, you can talk about them intellectually but I feel like the tone of the show in many ways is an emotional thing for us and is an instinctual thing for us.
And we wrote the pilot, we set the tone. The way we wrote that was basically kind of just line by line together in a room. I mean, we had an outline and we had songs. And so I think that it’s the reason we try to maintain the idea of humanely going beneath stereotypes is because this show is, yes, it’s intellectual but it’s very emotional. Sometimes it comes from our gut. And I want to point out a moment where Aline’s gut was just spot on and it really was a wonderful tonal thing for that episode.
Aline: And one thing I would say if you’re going to write with somebody, it’s great to have somebody who has – we have a lot of overlap in many things, but the skills we bring to the table are different. You know, I’ve been doing long form storytelling of a certain type for a very long time and Rachel’s background is different. The funny things is we both have – like I have an allergy to expected things on a story level because that’s what I’ve been practicing for a long time. And Rachel has an allergy to expected things because she’s a comedian and a sketch comedian and a songwriter and comes from animation. And she doesn’t like any stale or expected thing. And I would say if there’s one thing that we overlap on that is our most shared thing is the zigging.
You know, we really try to – and sometimes it’s hard to either get other people onboard or even to get each other onboard, but we both have a very strong – and in here the zig I felt strongly about taking was towards some celestial feeling of like this can be OK and that’s why we have the clouds and that’s why we have the blurry hope. But, you know, being partners and having a writer’s room is like listening to the conviction and sort of hearing like well that’s important but we’re going to continue to zig there.
Rachel: I also think it’s a testament to what technique is and what understanding – you have to understand structure and tropes and technique before you can break them. I mean, Aline comes from oftentimes writing these romantic comedies and she knows the structure so well. I come from musical theater knowing all of those tropes. And sketch comedy, when you learn sketch comedy, the way I learned it it was almost mathematical where it’s like, OK, well then there’s this beat and there’s this beat. There’s a weird – [cell phone rings] you should get that. I’m joking but I’m not. There’s a weird like rigidness sometimes, especially when you first start to learn sketch comedy. And so I think that knowing those structures and what’s expected and what’s trite and what you’ve seen and what’s stock has given us a real allergy to anything that feels like stock.
But even then that’s a – because that’s why I thought maybe the help turning into hope might have been and it 100% wasn’t. And so it’s always this back and forth and this debate.
John A: So coming out of this suicide attempt she’s trying to sort of reconstruct her life and she’s trying to figure out who she is and deal with stuff and she’s running away from the work for a while but she’s trying to get stuff back together. Can you talk about the Nathaniel relationship because that’s going to be the next stuff we see? What was the charting on Nathaniel through the season? What was in your head as you were going into the season and what you wanted to see from him?
Aline: It kind of connects to what Rachel was saying which is a lot of what we do is sort of take tropes and try to take the piss out of them, but also to try and understand why someone is that way. So like Paula is the sidekicky Rosie O’Donnell best friend. But that’s a person. That’s not just a plot function, that’s a person. And Greg was this trope of the friend-zoney loser who can’t get his life together but thinks he’s entitled to the pretty girl because he’s better than the handsome guy. And then Nathaniel was really the rich preppy asshole. And we show him as broken right from the beginning — that he’s got huge daddy issues and he is enormously fun to write because he’s very Darwinian and kind of disconnected.
And it’s interesting. There’s certain people in the writer’s room who will really connect with him in certain moments. We’ve always said like he’s really screwed up. So it’s like that Less Than Zero. And you have to be able to boil it down actually to something kind of reductive to make it work in a way. You know, in story terms there is an element of taking that trope and kind of doing it and not doing it. So he gives us that. And it really works very well with her character because she’s very good at seeing what’s wrong with that guy.
Rachel: His background was somewhat inspired by some of the people in the industry we know and especially some of the agents we know. And that office is very high powered agency and sometimes I’ll walk in and Scott will fuck with me and be like, “Bloom, we’ve got some great projects coming down the pike for you,” and I have to leave. I have to leave the room. I don’t like this at all. I don’t like this bit. It’s too fucking real. “Oh, we’ve got some great – we got a call.” They’re also both very narcissistic, so I think that they see – I mean, it’s been very interesting to write who brings what out in Rebecca because which part of her – because each of the three guys, the main love interests, Josh, Greg, Nathaniel, they bring out a slightly different part of her because there’s a part of her that’s very – she loves the part of them that is a different part of her.
So with Josh they’re very kind of childlike. They’re like kids playing in the sand. And with Nathaniel it’s this kind of very – it’s very raw and judgmental but also then the flip side very sweet. It’s almost very schizophrenic. And then Greg is like the sarcastic kind of above all of this.
Aline: It’s also something that I was familiar with which is sort of the Jew melting the heart of the stony goy.
John G: Oh, that old trope.
Aline: Talking about emotions and being free about her emotions and sort of like frank about who she is and sort of not afraid to – there’s a scene where she rubs her boobs on a glass in anger. She’s just very free with her emotions and he’s not able to do that. And so that’s another—
Rachel: We had a line that we had taken out where he – in an earlier episode he confronts his parents about something because she’s opening him up. And we had written like his dad I think saying like, “What are you doing airing your true feelings like some sort of Jew.”
Aline: So many jokes about being a Jew.
Rachel: We were like that’s a lot. It’s a lot. But that’s the subtext of everything his father says all the time.
Sometimes, I mean, I think for a lot of comedians going into comedy was also my way of – you know, I’m laughing at myself before you can laugh at me. I’m being ridiculous and knowing that I’m ridiculous. So when you call me ridiculous I can, “Ha-ha, I meant to be ridiculous.” And so the moments like that or the song, A Diagnosis, earlier in the season which were emotionally raw, those are scary when you come from doing musical comedy songs because you can in some ways excuse the emotion under a structure or under a genre. And when you don’t have the pastiche or the satire to rely upon. You’re like this is just me. It’s very scary. And they end up being some of our favorite moments of the show but it still feels kind of like stepping off a cliff a little bit.
John A: Absolutely. Most of the songs you end up seeing are sort of projecting out your inner feeling. And you’re actually singing to yourself, which A Diagnosis is another situation where you’re trying to sing the song to encourage yourself to really get yourself to push forward. And it’s a very different feel from the other kinds of songs they did.
Aline: Yeah. And obviously season three has more dramatic moments and it has more earnest moments. And we all had to like hold hands and jump into that pool because that was the last pool for us to get into was like, you know, Diagnosis is really not a joke song. It’s a sincere song that could be in a musical comedy. And that felt a little like new territory.
But I think we had to go there. And as we were saying second half of the second act, like you have to delve in and get under there. And, again, is it harder to watch someone try to deal with their shit or is it harder to watch season one where you’re going, “Oh wow, you’re a mess?” You know? But what’s interesting is there is this protagonist bias where you forgive people a lot in the first act. You know, you forgive Tootsie a lot in the first act. And then the accumulation of this is wrong and you’re hurting people, we had to go there.
So that’s why it’s interesting that the series really is structured with a big overarching story because that was the thing we wanted to do most at the beginning was to really have it have progression, which is something that obviously TV is doing now but it didn’t always.
I mean, I love The Love Boat but–
John A: Yeah.
Aline: It doesn’t really go anywhere.
John G: Who doesn’t love The Love Boat?
John A: So coming through towards the end, you know, Nathaniel shows up with one last like we can get out of this. The song I love is Nothing is Ever Anyone’s Fault. Like a rip cord.
Rachel: Well, and just to say, so the inspiration, every love interest on the show is picking at a different trope of a rom-com and then poking a hole in it, right? So there’s the best friend who you should settle for. Well, he’s actually a fuck up. And there’s the guy who is perfect, well he’s actually a fuck up. You see the running pattern.
And then Nathaniel is the trope of the reformed asshole, because you have this asshole and then eventually he says love has reformed me. And what we loved when we were writing the final episode and getting into the lyrics for Nothing is Ever Anyone’s Fault is that he almost learns a lesson. It’s almost the reformed asshole going love has set me free. But love has actually only kind of reinforced his Darwinian nature. He’s just used love as another excuse for being a piece of shit. So it’s kind of everything we had wanted to do with the character of Nathaniel.
Aline: Right. One of the hot tub notions was the idea that he would actually say to her “You are crazy. A doctor has said you’re crazy. Use crazy as your get out of jail card.” And it was like he could actually ask her to plead insanity and for her to actually be confronted with am I crazy, what does it mean to be crazy. All her life people have said that about her. How is she going to own that? But she has a diagnosis. It’s not a medically significant word, but insanity is a legally applicable concept. So it all kind of dovetailed into that. And somebody who is saying “catch the nearest way,” which is what he is, versus somebody who is trying to wake up to taking responsibility in the world. And that’s what the second half of the season is.
That’s a terrible decision. She’s not legally responsible for what happened.
John A: Yeah, I want to ask about that.
Aline: She’s not legally responsible for what happened. And on some level she knows that, but she’s trying to take responsibility. She’s reaching for whatever she can. That’s the bill that came due. And that’s the one she’s going to try to pay. And, you know, also it’s funny because sometimes people will point out that she and Paula do – or all the characters on the show do things that are irrational, don’t make any sense, or dysfunctional, whatever. Like welcome to humans, you know. They’re not avatars of anything. And they make mistakes and they do the wrong thing. And Paula’s looking at her saying I love that you take responsibility and we’ll move on from here. And I love that you did that.
But I think it’s wonderful that she takes responsibility for the wrong thing because that’s the kind of thing that she does. And so I – and I love that we know that Paula is going to try and get her out of that mess, but that Paula has seen her for the first time try to own up.
John A: So, a similar crowd there, we forgot to mention the jump forward in time, which came as such as shock. So for people who don’t remember like literally we’re just following a character as she walks behind a wall, when she comes back she’s now fully pregnant. And so we jumped ahead eight months at least. When did that come into play?
Aline: Well, when we were doing the pregnancy, obviously that was one of the reasons we wanted to fast forward, but also we wanted to sort of really – to go back to the hot tub – that idea came from the idea that she and Nathaniel are having an affair basically.
Rachel: Yeah. We had to kind of reverse engineer the math, because the math of it was like, “OK, so she’s going to try to do the healthy thing.”
Rachel: But – and so he’ll get another girlfriend. But that’s like shock bait. Everyone knows – there is no amount of putting him with another person that’s going to convince the viewer that they shouldn’t be together. We know what story we’re telling. You’re going to see it coming, and so how can you acknowledge that, but still make it not the right decision? Oh, he’s just cheating on a girl with her for eight months.
Aline: And one of the things we thought was funny is I’m a – Rachel and I have seen a lot of marriages implode with affairs, etC. And how people can have – that affair goes on – it’s not a week. It’s not a month. It’s just months. So she makes the mistake and eight months later they’re still sleeping together. Not a thing you’ve seen a lot in these stories, but like that’s what happens. So the idea was, the joke of that jump ahead is that everyone has moved forward over those eight months. Everyone has had huge things happen to them. Valencia has started a new relationship, you know, while Josh has been to Mexico. And everybody has had huge things happen to them. And she’s just still like racing off to the closet.
Because I do think there’s something about infidelity that feels to people like something is happening. Like they’re in some great drama. I think that’s part of the huge appeal of it. So we loved that idea that she was in stasis there.
Rachel: Well, and for both of them really what it is is two people having their cake and eating it, too. Is that he would – if she said I want to be with you and I love he would at any second drop that girl. Even though he also knows that she’s the sensible, healthy choice. And likewise Rebecca is too scared. She equates love with death at this point. We say it as part of the episode.
Aline: Well I remember when Rachel came in, we were breaking the sort of like why this. We were talking about why this would be such a good refuge for her infidelity. And I remember where Rachel was sitting. She came into the writer’s room and sat down and we were talking about it. And she said if she loves somebody she could die. Like love for her is her – like I had a friend who was, my neighbor who lived downstairs was an alcoholic. And he said if I take a drink on Friday I’ll be dead by Monday. And that was one of the things that made me understand the pull of an addiction. And for her it’s like she’s afraid that if she falls in love with somebody that that will lead her to spiral down a drain.
Rachel: It’s PTSD also by association. That now she associates kind of – and I’ve had not thoughts exactly like this, but she associates the trauma of being in the place of wanting to kill herself with obsessive love. And so when she thinks about obsessive love again it’s not a happy thing anymore. It’s this feeling of I cannot be in that place.
Aline: Right. And she can’t separate love from obsessive love. She can’t eat one cupcake. She’s going to eat, you know, she doesn’t trust herself not to eat 20 cupcakes.
Rachel: Well, and Aline and I talk about this all the time. I mean, we both for a long time have known about this term “limerence,” which is a term coined by not scientists but–
Aline: Social scientists.
Rachel: Social scientists. Which is the term for obsessive love. And it’s different than other types of love. And limerence is that really when you’re so in love it’s painful.
Aline: You’re sick.
Rachel: You’re sick. And they’ve done brain scans on people who are in the state of limerence and it’s akin to being on cocaine or having obsessive compulsive disorder. Basically your dopamine, which is that pleasure chemical, spikes, but your serotonin which is what regulates your overall emotional well-being dips. And so you need those dopamine spikes in order to compensate for the fact that you’re actually at a lower point emotionally. And for some–
Aline: Watch Helen Fisher’s Ted Talk.
Rachel: Yeah. It’s very good.
Aline: And she has a book. And there’s a book about limerence. And you know obsessive romantic love is an incredible drug that forces you to take your genitals, which in the caveman days were not in great shape, and mush them together.
Rachel: Sex is a gross, horrible thing. No matter who you’re doing it with. It’s gross and terrible.
Aline: Love gets you to do that.
Rachel: There’s a reason why our dog leaves the room. She’s like this is terrible what’s happening. And only the strong emotions of love will get you over someone else’s stanky ass junk.
John G: What if you have limerence and you do cocaine?
Aline: It keeps you in that state.
John G: But speaking of genitals, and before we make my genitals famous.
John G: We have a clip.
John A: A clip about genitals.
John G: Hi Rachel.
Aline: Do we have one more clip?
John G: We have one more clip. I kind of want to give my 20-second creation myth of – no, not this, of you guys. Because I feel like you and I, we’re screenwriters, and you were killing it. Devil Wears Prada. 27 Dresses. All these. And you called me one day and said, “I’ve found this incredible young woman on the Internet. You’ve got to see.” I’m like, yeah, that’s amazing. Crazy. “I’m going to meet with her.” OK. “I’m going to do a TV show with her.” I was like OK. “We’re going to do it on Showtime.” I was like OK.
And then you made this thing and I was like, OK. And then they didn’t make it again. That was it. You’re like, “We’re going to go sell it to this other place.” I was like, oh, OK. That always works out.
Aline: I think I called you and I said this poor young woman thinks we’re going to sell it somewhere else and she doesn’t know how Hollywood works. How am I going to let her down? This is awful.
John G: Oh my god. Does she not know that never works? And then you did. And then it’s this. And the incredible thing about what you guys have done is that television – I mean, a lot of television I should say, is, look, it’s a tool of business. It’s this thing that gets smashed together. It’s the network creation kind of thing. This is so not that. This is like an undeniable talent and brainchild of the two of you smashing into each other and being like I’m this person and I’m that person and together we’re going to – I didn’t know there was a hot tub, but now I know this. There’s a hot tub. You’re in a hot bowl of soup. And then you do this. It’s like you can’t do that.
It’s like think about it this way–
Aline: It’s funny because it’s so much work. It’s so much more work than being a screenwriter. And something that Gatins says all the time, which makes me laugh, is he’ll call me and be like, “Oh, I’m thinking about doing this project, but I don’t know man, it’s a lot of phone calls. Sounds like a lot of phone calls.” And it’s basically like is this worth the phone calls? And this is so many phone calls to make this show.
John G: It’s amazing.
Aline: And it’s worth it.
John G: It’s incredible. Because think about this. Imagine if this was a network kind of creation thing and you had to cast that. Can you imagine trying to find that? You can’t find that. There’s nobody that can do that.
Rachel: Also, I mean, there was a world in which because we originally we’re going to develop it for network that I would have had to audition for this part. You can’t, no.
John G: That’s what I’m saying. Can you imagine trying to hold auditions and be like, “OK, this woman has to come in – she has to be able to act, sing like that though, sing like that.”
Aline: Be world class funny.
John G: Be world class funny. And write. And help create and write the show.
Aline: And write 100 and some songs with two other people. It doesn’t make sense.
John A: I want to talk a moment about the song and getting into the reality of it’s the first penis she’s ever seen and the rubbing across the pants. It’s so specific and you’ve got to be – like were you noted a lot of this? There’s no bad words in it, but–
Aline: I just saw that Patty is right there.
Rachel: Oh my god. Please, for those of you who read articles about our show or heard interviews with me you’ve heard me talk about the great Patricia Dennis from CW Standards and practices.
Aline: We sent her a video of the dance, which was really way more suggestive–
Rachel: Which we got to do on tour. Because I was one of those backup dancers when we just did our live tour and it was basically, you know, giving him a hand job..
Aline: Patricia gave us very specific guidelines and we sent her back videos. And she reads all the lyrics and clears it. But Rachel and I and Jack have become the masters of the double entendre.
John A: We should answer two questions from the audience. Questions for our writers and our guests. We’d love to hear them, if anyone has a question.
Rachel: A lot of whom are writers.
Female Audience Member: I have a question. First of all, love both of you. Love, love, love the show. So songs and Nathaniel, I guess maybe I am one of those people that does like to look at him. And his hair never moves. That’s one thing that I have noticed.
OK, so two of my favorite songs are Thin Hot Guys Have Problems, Too, which was amazing. And I Go To the Zoo. Like I love I Go To the Zoo. And I would love to hear how you guys got on that one, because that was great.
Rachel: Well that idea actually was – the original idea for that was thought of when we were in that paper room. And it’s like we need a hip hop song. What does Nathaniel do when he’s feeling bad? Something that’s unexpected. And Aline–
Aline: And I said I go to the zoo. And it’s the only time, because I mean I contribute lyrics to the songs occasionally, but it’s the only time I actually said [sings] I Go To the Zoo. That’s the extent of my contribution.
Rachel: And it stuck. And then I sat with Adam and Jack and I have a video of us writing the song. And for me I would say hip hop lyrics are not my strength. So if I’m kind of pitching hip hop jokes it’s just like, “Tomorrow night I’m in a car with a girl.” And I remember Jack was like, no, “I got this bitch up in my ‘rari.” Jack really gets to a very deep place. Same thing with [unintelligible] with Nipsey Russell rap lyrics. It was originally like – it was my impression of what how a rapper looks at women. And it was just like, “Girl, you know I like it when you wear that dress.”
And Jack was like, “Hey, I have some thoughts.” And then Jack just busted out, “Hop on my dick…” and it was great. It was so funny. But I Go To the Zoo, aside from the hip hop lyrics, the bent of that song is just about his – a lot of the problem I have with a lot of musical theater comedy is it’s rhymes and it’s clever but you know what’s coming and you know what the specifics are and so you don’t laugh. And especially with a song like that you want to have consistent jokes. And the only way to have consistent laugh-out-loud jokes is to surprise the audience. And so like, you know, when – I mean, I remember the moment when one of us went like, “I go to the San Diego Zoo.” And it was just like, “Oh, what a great way to like keep the chorus but surprise the audience.” And so that song, a lot of the funniest songs on the show are Jack, Adam, and I just try to make each other laugh. And when we do that we know we’ve hit on a good specific for a turn in the song that will then surprise the audience and make them laugh.
And I love – yeah, yeah, so that song has a tiny bridge. “When’s it gonna stop? When’s it gonna end?” And unlike a lot of songs we write that’s actually kind of a dramatic song – that’s a dramatic bridge because it sets up I Go To the Aquarium. But a lot of times the bridges in songs we write are the funniest parts because you can – the sky is the limit with the bridge because the bridge in a song is a departure, not a departure from the premise, but you can go to another lens, like another angle of the premise you haven’t explored.
And so coming up with ways to surprise each other when we’re thinking of those bridges is also really, really fun.
Aline: I mean, one of the great, great joys of the show is we’re in the writer’s room and hacking away at something and the door bursts open and Rachel, Adam, and Jack, some combination of the three, one, two or three of them comes in and sings us a song, it’s amazing. And also like I just am such a controlling writer. I’ve never in my life copied and pasted anything that anyone has ever sent me and just put in the script. On the pilot Rachel wrote Sexy Getting Ready and West Covina and I read them and I was like select all, copy, paste. And that’s it. And she scripts them all.
But just the joy of them bursting into the room and singing a song to us is just indescribable. Jack wrote a song called The Buzzing from the Bathroom. And, I mean, they all work on all the songs, but that one was mainly Jack. And I laughed so hard, like physically my stomach hurt. I understand what that is now because I laughed so hard my stomach hurt.
John A: All right, time for one more question. Right here.
Male Audience Member: I feel like there’s such an infinite amount of inspiration that you guys can pull from for songs and for each episode. Is there a process that you guys go through eliminating inspiration? Or do you just…
Rachel: Nailing the song premise and genre and hook line, whether or not it’s the chorus, the tag line is the hardest part. Like once we have that it’s a downhill slope. Am I right Jack?
Jack: Yeah. I mean, hi everyone.
John A: Hi Jack.
Rachel: That’s the hardest part. I mean, I think that it’s whatever genre we haven’t done and then whatever genre in a way is juxtaposed best with the idea, because especially when we’re writing songs that have – we’re coming at it from a comedic standpoint. You want those contrasts.
Aline: And then in terms of writing the show, we have an embarrassment of riches now because we have so many characters that we love and we only have 13 episodes. And so we have limited amounts of real estate. So it is actually there’s stuff that ends up, storylines we wanted to do or things we wanted to explore. And the door is closing because we only have 13 left. So there’s stuff that will never see the light of day that we thought we were going to do.
There’s never a shortage of ideas, but finding the right idea is always a challenge.
John A: So bringing this back around to the taped up window, so you’ve been in your taped up window process already. How much of what’s going to come in this fourth and final season is figuring out how much is going to be figured out as the game is played?
Rachel: We’ve done like three days of work, plus a hot tub session. And we have – look, everything is open to changing, but we have almost every episode we have what the episode is going to be about on the board right now.
Aline: Yeah. And it’s actually just for, you know, the first season was very thematic. Every episode was like I’m a good person. It was very thematic. And then it got increasingly plotty. And by last season those are more plot-driven, especially towards the end. And this season moves back to towards being more thematic. More thematic pieces. Because it is that–
John G: It is the rise.
Aline: It is the rise. It is the rise. It is the third act rise. So it’s more thoughtful stuff. And we’ve really had a great time. I mean, it’s like, as you said, it’s so weird. We have a lot of weird metaphysical moments that we just can’t believe that we’re here. You know, when I met Rachel she was 26 and I really look forward to her – I feel like 30 and 50 is better than 26 and 46. I feel like we seem like we’re closer in age now. You know?
But, you know, it’s just been incredible.
Rachel: We also know each other better.
Aline: Yeah. We know each other better and we know our habits better. And it’s funny, when I was watching that Paula and Rebecca thing I’m thinking they’re both right and they’re both wrong. That scene in the courtroom. You know, they’re both right about what she’s doing and they’re both wrong. And often in their interactions they’re both right and they’re both wrong. And that’s a lesson that we learn and relearn all the time is how to listen to each other and how to work together and how to get the best out of each other.
I had really gotten to a point in my movie career where it felt stuck and it felt like the stories that were being told were just not the stories that I had grown up on or wanted to hear. And this young lady came along and gave me an opportunity to do this and that’s why sometimes when someone says, “Oh, you discovered Rachel,” I feel like it’s the line in Pretty Woman. She discovered me right back.
John A: Aw.
Rachel: And I will say that as of now we are working out the season, it is still looking like it’s going to end the way that we always pitched it five years ago. I’m going to leave that vague, but we’ve stuck to the broad plan in a really, really cool way.
Aline: Although I will say Rachel came up with a – it’s generally the same, but Rachel came up with a joke on the end that was, I thought, sublime. And so I hope it ends up working out.
Rachel: And Aline is being very vague. You came up with a story the other day that was a great example, I’m really excited to talk about when they see it, of zagging. And we have another thing coming up for another character that I’m so excited about.
Aline: Don’t ask for – she might tell you.
Rachel: There are like five main things right now that I’m itching to tell people and I can’t.
Aline: Well, before we – I want to thank John and John for this.
Rachel: Yes, thanks Johns.
Aline: And I want to thank the assistants who helped put this together, especially Alden and Alana. There was a lot of work that went into this so thank you guys.
Rachel: Thank you.
John A: Aline and Rachel, thank you very much for a very fun season. Good luck on season four. I’m so excited to see it.
Aline: Thank you.
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