'Raising Hope' Creator Greg Garcia Doesn't Care What Critics Think
by Joel Keller, posted Sep 18th 2010 11:00AM
Greg Garcia has had a bit of an uncomfortable relationship with TV critics. Of the two shows that he's created, he's had one that was critically lambasted in 'Yes, Dear' and one that got a decent amount of critical respect in 'My Name is Earl,' especially during its early seasons.
The pilot for his new show, 'Raising Hope,' which premieres on FOX on Tuesday, September 21 at 9PM ET, has been getting mixed reviews, but Garcia doesn't care. "I've never given a s--t about what you guys (critics) think," he said during my semi-contentious conversation with him a couple of weeks ago. He's got the right to say that, as 'Yes, Dear' hung in there for six seasons and 'Earl' stayed on for four, giving Garcia a decade-long run that most producers would kill for.
'Raising Hope' is more along the lines of 'Earl,' again taking place in a working-class environment. There, a 20-year-old kid named Jimmy (Lucas Neff) is handed a six-month-old daughter he didn't know he had, and he instills the help of his parents (Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt), who didn't do the best job of raising him. They all live in the house of Jimmy's grandmother Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman), who isn't all there.
I start the conversation by asking Garcia about 'Raising Hope's' surprisingly dark opening moments.
When you guys were setting this whole thing up in the story where Jimmy gets Hope for the first time and the circumstances of how that all happened, were you looking at it like "Hmm this might be a little tough?"
It wasn't us guys, it was me. I came up with this idea and I thought it was an interesting way into getting this guy a baby. It doesn't seem that dark to me, this woman killed some people and now she's going to be executed for killing these people. She happens to have a baby that's going to land in somebody else's lap.
For me, if I was at a park and there were two families, a family that was kind of hanging out and they seem normal and they had a baby and then you pointed to another family and say "Hey, that family over there. That baby's mother got executed and just landed in that guy's lap," I'm definitely going to want to follow that family home and peek into their window and see what's going on over there.
And the ironic part about that is the rest of the show has a positive theme to it. I mean, the name of the baby is Hope. There's hope that people are going to get things right this time around.
They're not criminals. It's not like 'Earl' where you have these kind of lowlife folks who were one of them is trying to make his life better and the rest of them aren't, this is a good hardworking family that happens to not have a lot of money and as luck would have it, this bizarre situation thrown into their laps and now they're going to deal with it. I believe it could happen. Why not?
One night stand turns into a baby of a woman on death row. It could happen. After 'My Name is Earl,' what made you guys decide, I think I asked this at TCA, but...
You keep saying "you guys." Who are the other guys?
You and your writers.
My writers didn't write the pilot. I don't have a team of writers who work with me on pilots, I do this myself and then once the show gets picked up by the network then I hire all the writers.
I stand corrected. I'm used to saying "you guys" because when I talk to show-runners, I want to acknowledge that it's not just them it's a writing team.
It certainly is, and for stuff going forward, look it's not a big deal, I was just half joking.
Why did you, Greg Garcia, decide to go back to that whole atmosphere of the south and hardworking people in the south?
They're not in the south. I find it interesting that, why would you say they're in the south? No one has an accent.
Where does it take place, then?
I don't really say where. I mean it has palm trees in the shots. It could be 30 minutes out of Los Angeles where we actually shoot it.
But I'm curious now, what made you think watching this pilot, what made you think it had anything to do with the south whatsoever?
You know you're right, nobody really had an accent.
It's because they don't have money.
Maybe because it feels the same speed of 'My Name is Earl.' A little laid back, a little easy-going, it had the same kind of vibe. Because it seems like you're getting a lot of people telling you it takes place in the south.
Well not a ton. People want to jump to saying redneck, but no. It intrigues me a little bit.
Is there something about working-class families that you feel is kind of a good area for mining comedy?
It just feels like life to me. I mean I grew up, when I was really young, my father drove a cab, I worked for my uncle's landscaping business as I was growing up, for fifteen years. My other uncle's are a mailman, one works for the gas company. This is life to me, I've never really connected with a show like 'Frasier.' I didn't grow up poor or anything like that, but the people that I like to be around and the people that I like to write about, I just like to write about more normal people, not people who live in nice apartments in New York, that doesn't interest me at all.
So when you conceived 'Raising Hope,' was there anything in your life or the life of someone you know that made you go "Hey, let me write about this guy who's 20 raised by a family that didn't quite get it right but did the best they could and is now raising a kid?"
I think after doing four years of 'My Name is Earl,' and being out on adventures and everything, I was kind of like, I was kind of thinking about doing another domestic comedy. But then I thought what can be interesting about it? What could be a new take on a domestic comedy of raising a kid? I started to think about this situation and how can I get somebody that is completely in over their heads into this situation in what I find an interesting and funny way and surround him with people that aren't really a great support group but whose hearts can be in the right place.
The casting that I noticed the most was Martha Plimpton as Jimmy's mom. it wasn't long ago when she was playing the young snot-nosed kid in movies and TV shows and now she's playing a mother of a 20 year old and a grandmother. Was there a leap of faith on your part to cast her in the role?
No, it didn't really bother me. I know she looks young and stuff but mathematically it all makes sense so it didn't really bother me. She's 39, Lucas is 23. If she had him at 15 or 16-years-old, it makes sense. As long as it makes sense in the context of the characters, I'm fine. We make sure that we mention in the first couple episodes. If you're just turning it on you could be like "These two are brother and sister" or "These two are married." So we definitely had to, people kind of question that, but we make a point to explain it.
You know it's funny, because my aunt, or my great aunt was visiting from Las Vegas and I was telling her about the show and I told her the mom is like a 39-year-old grandmother now. And she was like, "Oh yeah, I was a 32-year-old grandmother." That happens.
I think what it is is is that Martha's been around for a lot of years.
A lot of people know her and they've watched her grow up and stuff. If anything, it's just a little hard for people like me who's seen her in 'The Goonies' to see that she could be a grandmother because that means I could be too.
Right. I think that's what's freaking me out. I'm the exact same age she is. We're both 39.
Well you're old.
The fact that I could be a grandparent is very very scary to me. Luckily I'm not, I'm just an uncle right now.
I'm just a dad. No grandparent yet. Unless my 12 year old has been up to something I don't know about it.
What was the thought behind casting Cloris Leachman? She's listed as a guest, but is she going to be in every episode?
She's going to be in most episodes. I think in the first 12 there are like two she's not in. Sometimes we have a story that feels like we have to force her in. But she has a one-woman show so we fight, well not fight, we work around dates a little bit. But she's going to be in most of the episodes.
We had this role for Maw Maw and she really didn't even speak. She had very few, in the first draft of the script, I was like heck, she's going to be a main part of the show all the time, lets start at the top and see if we can get Cloris Leachman. She read it and I got on the phone with her and she was laughing, she just liked whole script, she wasn't even talking that much about her part she just liked the whole show and she loved it and said she wanted to do it. Once she was on board I went back and wrote this stuff about her being lucid in the show and gave her some more stuff because it's Cloris Leachman.
There's going to be moments where Maw Maw comes to and says "Who are all these people in my house?"
She'll be lucid time to time for sure. She plays an important role in a bunch of stories.
In Maw Maw's adventures, what have you written in the script that Maw Maw would do in her not so lucid states that you thought Cloris might not be game for? What surprised you that she was up for doing?
Nothing surprises me that she was up for doing. She's she's up for anything. I'm never surprised at what she'll do because if it's funny, she's on board. I think that's what makes her amazing. She's down there and we'll do something kooky with her, like she's breast feeding the baby in episode two and she's just cackling and she thinks it's hysterical. And it is. She's just on board for anything. Whatever we need to do to get a good laugh.
Let me talk to you about 'Earl' for a few seconds. Looking back, when you made the concept of the list, do you think you shouldn't have done it that way or did you think it was a good way to delineate the series?
No, I loved that I did it that way. If you watch all the episodes I never really went away from it. The list was always a component in the show. In season one we did every episode was just a list item and season 4 we went back to that. But in season 2, every episode was a list item but there was a B story going on of Jamie Pressly getting arrested and having to deal with it and everything. Season 3 got kooky with him going to jail and landing in a coma but the thing is, even when he was in jail or in a coma, every episode had a list component. It wasn't like he just put that thing down and went away from it.
I enjoyed everything we did on that show. You need to keep things fresh and experiment and do different things with the show. See what works and what doesn't work or otherwise you're doing the same damn thing every week.
Now with 'Raising Hope,' is it really just a matter of Jimmy incrementally growing in trying to be a dad every week or are we going to see other back-stories? Like the back-story of his parents, of Shannon (Woodward)'s character?
We're going to get into all that as we go along. The main focus show is him trying to be a dad, and either doing things differently than his parents did but also realizing that they did some stuff that was OK. Butting heads with his parents a little bit about how to do different things. We've also got this love relationship going on we're going to experiment with that as well.
But I love going back and doing flashback episodes and find out more about different people and how they got together and I think another thing that's going to happen with this baby in the house is that it's going to uncover a lot of things. All of a sudden it's Halloween and in talking to your parents about Halloween with the kid, you uncover some demented stuff they did to you as a kid on Halloween and that causes conflict in the house in present day but ultimately it gets everybody around to a better place. I like using the baby as a catalyst for a story that don't necessarily have anything to do with the baby.
By the way, isn't it weird to do flashbacks from 1995 or something? or 1993?
Yeah, it is weird.
Because that would be when Jimmy would be a little kid. It always throws me that there's a 20-year-old kid with a baby who was born when I was in college and we're doing flashbacks talking about Chumbawumba or something.
We're old, and pretty soon we're going to be dead and that's it.
When you do a flashback to an era that most of us remember pretty vividly, how do you make it so that it's nostalgic but it's not uber-nostalgic. It looks and feels like 1995.
You do it with music and stuff. So far we haven't done a ton of flashbacks that him at that age. When we do Jimmy as three years old, we use different actors for Martha and Garret (Dillahunt) that we don't stay on for too long because it's not our main cast. When he's 8 years old, we can start using Martha and Garrett. But we did a family portrait episode where we did a bunch of flashbacks. So far we haven't stayed too long in those moments. They're kind of more quick pops to show what kind of parents they were. We take the position that the house that they live in, Maw Maw's house, hasn't changed that much in 20 years. The same piles of crap all over the place.
In this show and also 'My Name is Earl,' you guys use pop music quite liberally to tell the story. How will the music selections change here than what you used on 'Earl'?
'Earl' was a lot of classic rock, that was our thing. With this show, we're going to be more contemporary with it. I've got a great music supervisor who's been finding me all this new stuff that we're using. That's the main thing. There's going to be less music than on Earl from a financial standpoint, but it'll be more contemporary stuff.
The one guy that you've had on both of your previous shows who got nominated for an Emmy this year was Mike O'Malley. Seeing him on 'Glee' was quite a revelation. Did you know he had that kind of dramatic actor in him?
Oh yeah, Mike O'Malley is an amazing actor. I knew when we worked together on 'Yes Dear.' He's very talented. He writes, he writes plays, his plays are fantastic. He can do drama, comedy, whatever. He's an amazing actor. It's funny to sit back and watch people finally acknowledging that. After we got beat up with 'Yes, Dear.' He's great, no surprise there.
It's literally something for me, having done this for a little while and working with a certain number of people, you look back and you see O'Malley as a regular on 'Glee,' and you see him get nominated for an Emmy, and you see Billy Gardell has his own show, you kind of sit back and go, "Alright, the good guys are starting to win a little bit this year." Maybe it's not going to be all guys who held a knife to his wife's throat on Christmas night and still get $2 million an episode. Maybe some of the good guys will start winning.
Even though critics drubbed 'Yes, Dear,' they liked 'Earl;' after those experiences, are you just thinking, "I'm going to put my stuff out there, people like it, people like it."
I've never given a s--t about what you guys think. I think 'Yes, Dear' was a fantastic show, I still watch it with my kids. They love it. I've talked to so many people I meet and they ask what I do, some of them love 'Earl,' some of them love 'Yes, Dear,' some of them don't like either, some of them like both.
From day one I've always just done shows that make me laugh and I do the best job I possibly can. I've never really cared too much. At the start it bummed me out a little bit when 'Yes, Dear' got bad reviews because no one wants to hear that. But when the show stays on for 122 episodes, you realize that it doesn't really matter at all.
Yeah, the audience has spoken.
That's who you've got to please, that's it. Look, critics are going to like you and then they'll turn on you and then like you again. Whatever. Everyone's entitled to their opinion.