Entertainment

How Foreign Environments Enhance Fish-Out-of-Water TV Comedies

When Emily arrives in Paris, she thinks she has her whole life sorted out.

But the titular character in Netflix’s aptly titled comedy “Emily in Paris” being in a foreign environment filled with some (at least to begin with) not so friendly faces makes her realize she doesn’t have it all figured out just yet.

Her journey, like that of so many TV characters in 2020, from Devi on the same streamer’s “Never Have I Ever” to Catherine (Elle Fanning) on Hulu’s “The Great” and Apple TV Plus’ titular Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), is to find herself while out of her comfort zone. This allows these comedy series to play with the emotional and introspective to allow for incremental evolution within each episode, while also mining much humor from the characters’ steep learning curves.

Emily (Lily Collins) is “an overconfident millennial,” creator and showrunner Darren Star points out, when she seizes what she thinks will be the opportunity of a lifetime (aka to move to Paris for a new job at a prestigious marketing firm). Once there she realizes “she’s a little out of her depth.

“I wanted the show to be about her realizing that there’s a big world beyond the world she came from,” Star says. “Being in Paris really expands her horizons and her assumptions and her thoughts about what her what her life is going to be.”

Part of the growth for Emily throughout the season, Star explains, is to become happy with who she is, to stop pretending that “she isn’t an American girl in Paris.”

“I still think she’s a character whose Americanism is pretty strongly baked in. The needle isn’t moving so quickly in terms of who Emily is. With the amount of time she’s spent there, she can only change so much, but I think she’s a lot more open than she was when she arrived,” he continues.

Like Emily’s colleagues, who give her the nickname of “la ringarde” — or “basic,” as Americans would say, the owner and fans of the Premier League team AFC Richmond immediately dismiss their new coach when he first arrives in Britain to take over the team in “Ted Lasso.”

Some of the audience may have initially written the character off as well, considering he originated in a series of promotional videos for NBCSports’ coverage of the real-life Premier League, and in those short bursts, “he was just dumb and ignorant for the joke,” showrunner Bill Lawrence recalls.

However, for the series it was “important that he’s a lot cleverer and craftier so people underestimate him,” Lawrence continues. “One of the things we wrote on the board is, ‘He’s dumb like a fox.’”

This allows Ted, over the course of the 10-episode first season of incessant good-heartedness and sneaky wiles, to win over and prove himself to his players, his colleagues and even his boss.
Although he has to adapt a little of his coaching technique for a new sport and come to terms with the often-rigid way of doing things across the pond, one of the most endearing aspects of Ted Lasso is that he never compromises who is. Lawrence says that his unflappability and charm speaks to the kind of inspiring figure they wanted to create: a coach who teaches his players and everyone around them just as much as he learns himself.

“We wanted Ted to be less of a blowhard and more of a kind and supportive coach because Jason and I really wanted to do a show about mentorship and what it means to have a great coach or teacher in life,” Lawrence says. “It’s been so heartwarming to see how positively people are responding to him and the show both in the U.K. and over here.”

Catherine also needs to prove herself to a rowdy bunch in “The Great” — her husband Peter’s (Nicholas Hoult) “frat house court,” as showrunner Tony McNamara puts it. Even though she eventually becomes one of Russia’s greatest rulers (as the show’s title suggests), her early days in the palace as depicted in the series are sink or swim.

“She’s coming into a world she doesn’t know, doesn’t understand. In that first episode she thinks, ‘I’m not going to fall in love with this guy and now I’m stuck here’; she doesn’t have a purpose,” McNamara says. “By the end of the pilot she finds that purpose and once she does, she’s off and running.”

Meanwhile, to create the central character’s journey through the potentially perilous environment of high school in “Never Have I Ever,” showrunner Lang Fisher says she and the writers leaned on their own experiences.

“Never Have I Ever” centers on 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) whose father dies before the series’ events begin. Fisher says both she and fellow creator Mindy Kaling have lost parents and wanted to create a series about grief that retained “all the trapping of a high school comedy.”

“When my father died, my youngest sister was only 17 and I watched her struggle to come to terms with his death. Teenagers have a hard time opening up and a lot of their emotional turmoil is under the surface. We thought it would play out in a really interesting way if she’s struggling with something, but decided to distract herself with these silly high school things,” Fisher says.

While Devi begins to discover healthier ways to process her grief in Season 1, Fisher says almost every central character is going through a period of major growth in the series.
The melting pot of high school provides an environment for her friend Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) to explore her sexuality, while studying for a doctorate at Caltech proves to be a key time in the life of Devi’s cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani).

“As teenagers and young adults, most of your journey is trying to figure out who you are, and what it is you actually want. Everyone has expectations for themselves, and then family members have expectations for you, and those muddy your journey and the clarity of what it is that you think you need,” Fisher says. “For all of these characters, trying get to know themselves is such a big part of the first season of our show and will continue to play a big part going forward.”




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