Writer John Scott Shepherd’s “You Me Her,” which was renewed Thursday for two more seasons by Audience Network, is unique among TV shows. Despite being what he calls a “premium half hour,” a label that could be applied to many other indie-style series like Mark and Jay Duplass’s “Togetherness,” the Portland-set relationship dramedy has tried to make sure it stands out.
Step one: Tackle one of modern society’s most unconventional relationship types — a triad that develops when Jack (Greg Poehler) hires call girl Izzy (Priscilla Faia), who becomes entangled in his marriage with Emma (Rachel Blanchard).
When Shepherd took on the concept of polyamory for the Audience Network/DirecTV original series “You Me Her,” he was surprised to discover that he was tapping into a whole community that was thrilled to see their stories told in an authetic way.
“These real people… it’s so weird, like when you buy a car and you never notice other people driving that car until you bought it,” he told IndieWire. “As soon as you get into this area, you start talking to people who are like, ‘Oh yeah, I know someone,’ or even, ‘I’m in a relationship right now and people constantly tell me it can’t work, but it is working.’ It just opens the door.”
By telling the story of Jack, Emma and Izzy honestly, Shepherd found a whole new way into depicting the subject matter. “I kept thinking of the tone of Working Title movies or ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ or good romantic comedies, the ones that I’ve loved,” he said. “Not only were there stakes, as far as the real world and what it means to do something that different in a community or a society that’s not easily accepted — but could I also create real emotional stakes? Where we actually care about these people and their feelings? If you could accomplish that, if you could take the big idea of polyamorism and then bring it down to the real world and make it relatable, it could be something special.”
The result is a TV series with a real indie film feel — though deliberately different from other shows within the same category. “There were several things we wanted to do when we looked at this format, what some people are calling the prestige half hour,” he said. “There were a number of things that I didn’t want to do, because those are the shows that I watch too.”
Below, Shepherd digs into how and why he wanted to capture a different energy — one, ideally, that wouldn’t be too “Duplass-y.”
An aspect of the show that I really responded to is that, unlike so very many shows, “You Me Her” isn’t set in Los Angeles or New York.
[laughs] That’s true! There were several things we wanted to do when we looked at this format — being what some people are calling the prestige half hour or the indie-film-feeling half hour. There were a number of things that I didn’t want to do, because those are the shows that I watch too.
Besides not wanting to set it in LA or New York, we didn’t want to have that exact same mumblecore feel. We felt that that was being done over and over and over to the point that you couldn’t separate them. I have this problem because I love the form, but which ones are good and which ones aren’t? Do I have to watch them all to find out? Because they do all sort of take on that very, very, very low-concept “Happy Christmas” kind of vibe.
Another thing that I was interested in experimenting with was, what if it was okay to have a bit of rhythmic, aspirational dialogue in a romantic comedy vibe, and not be afraid of “spiking,” as I call it, whether it’s dramatic or comedic? I do believe that that world of the prestige half hour is going to have to expand its boundaries beyond very, very contained relationship dramedies. Having three people [in one relationship] is an example of that, but there are many other ways to do it. I do think that it’s going to have to happen.
You mentioned living in the mountains. Do you live near Portland?
I actually live north of Los Angeles in Westlake Village. A place that nobody goes unless you live here. I live up on a ridge so my whole back yard is just facing the Santa Monica mountains. That’s all I see. So when we go out there, it’s really a place to sort of disappear and feel like you’re nowhere near LA. It’s a nice place to talk and riff.
When you talk about bringing an indie sense to these projects, shows like “Togetherness” are definitely touchstones there. From your perspective, how do you create an indie film vibe for a TV show like this without being full-on “Duplass-y”?
That was exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote it. I think to not be “Duplass-y” like you said — and that’s really funny by the way — is hard because you are working in certain restraints financially. So you have to think about tone and dialogue style and the commitment to bigger moments, as opposed to sort of an allergy to bigger moments because it doesn’t feel indie enough.
If you become too precious about that and too afraid of going bigger or going more classic romantic comedy or genre-bending… Like, shows like “Love” and “Flaked” [on Netflix], that do sort of have the same vibe. You have to commit to a different feel that doesn’t cost money. It can’t really be about anything except tone, style, rhythm and spiking.
In terms of working with DirecTV, how has that experience been?
Really cool. They just are extremely supportive of not just what we’re doing, but also the process. That’s a big part of working outside of broadcast networks. Not everybody thinks TV should be written in a room full of people talking, I come from a background of being a novelist; I think writing happens when you’re alone — that’s where the magic happens, in my pajamas in my cave. I said that that’s how I’d like to do it. I’d like to write the whole series on my own with just the help of the writer’s assistant. I’d like to think of it like a book with 10 chapters. That allowed us all to do it that way. It’s just a whole different way of looking at things.