The new comedy “Mary + Jane,” debuting tonight on MTV, has been compared quite a bit to Comedy Central’s “Broad City.” But the real comparison point, if you’re familiar with the previous work of its creators, is “Josie and the Pussycats.”
The 2001 cult film, written and directed by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, was a surprisingly tough yet hilarious teardown of superficial teen culture – one that still has a rabid fanbase.
That following even includes Jessica Rothe, who (along with Scout Durwood) plays one of the “ganjapreneurs” on “Mary + Jane,” delivering weed to an eclectic range of Angelenos. “It was not until halfway through shooting that she admitted how much a ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ fan she was,” Elfont said.
“Mary + Jane” is Kaplan and Elfont’s first TV series. Like many filmmakers (this is “the answer that everyone gives,” Elfont admits), the duo eventually realized that TV is now the place to share the kind of stories they want to tell. “We used to be able to tell these stories in movies but it is just harder to get those kinds of stories made,” he said.
They haven’t given up on making films, but according to Kaplan, “it has been a really fun experience to play in this space.”
At the Television Critics Association summer press tour, Kaplan and Elfont told IndieWire how they chose a very specific region of Los Angeles to satirize, what being a “pot comedy” means to them and what it was like working with MTV – given that “Josie and the Pussycats” took more than a few shots at that network.
What is your relationship with MTV, based on the fact that “Josie and the Pussycats” is out there?
Elfont: It feels like a totally different MTV now. That movie was so long ago that it was really all about music videos, and “TRL.” Now they have all their own original series, and people are talking about going back to music now? It’s all original programming.
Kaplan: To be fair, that MTV was very cooperative with the film, and this MTV has been very cooperative. I actually didn’t even think about it until you said it. I was like, “Oh yeah we kind of took some shots at MTV,” but I think everyone had a good sense of humor about it. People either got that movie completely, or completely missed it and dumped all over it. I was trying to think of a word that was not offensive. Yeah, Harry is right — it is kind of a different MTV for sure.
Elfont: We also had an “in” with MTV those days. Tara Reid was engaged to Carson Daly. She just called him and was like, “Do you want to be in the movie?” So they kind of had to make it work.
To segue to “Mary and Jane” — it’s similar to “Josie,” in that it feels like a similar kind of portrait of youth culture, one that also exaggerates it and also has some fun with it. What about looking at culture through that lens interests you?
Harry: I don’t want to call the show a satire because it is not, but there are satirical elements. It is just fun to play with. I think our sense of humor tends to go that way. We like to make sure there is a plot at the center of it and that you care about the people but to poke fun of little things, like the toast restaurant in the pilot.
Kaplan: We both had those sort of misfit childhoods. I don’t know if it is a do-over or wanting someone to have made certain entertainment for us that did not exist when we were that age, [but[ we keep going back and doing it again. I have a 12-year-old girl now and I want to make things that will speak to her. Things that will that have lessons for her to take away.
Why the East Side? Why was it always centered there?
Harry: It is interesting. We wrote it two years ago, which seems like ages ago. Two years ago it felt novel to do the East Side and then tons of other stuff have come up set in that world, but we still liked it. It felt like people are using East Side in other shows because it is cool. We feel like we are using the East Side to kind of spoof what everybody thinks is cool. Hopefully we have a slightly different vibe, but also it is where a lot young people live. It is a really fun, trendy, funky neighborhood, and it is ripe for satire, that area specifically.
The one thing that we wanted to make sure in the pilot is that we could go everywhere. Part of the fun of them being a delivery service is that they go to different areas episode to episode. We do have an episode in the beach and there is an episode in the luxury rehab. It’s all different kinds of things we are making fun of in LA.
Do you feel like you found the tone right away?
Kaplan: It is not an easy thing to do.
Harry: I don’t think we had a hard time with it. It is just, it was the constant management of it. The original pilot script, we literally just wrote for fun. It was, let’s just do this. Totally whatever we want to put in there. Then it was really “Now we are going to make it. We really need to find a consistent tone.”
I think the pilot actually got it. It was more about the other episodes making sure everything else. The pilot is easy. It is 30 minutes, 20 minutes. It is not that much to juggle. Then you talk about 10 episodes. How do we match that? There were a lot of conversations about that. It is why were on set all the time. We knew we were going to be the ones who could manage it better than anybody else.
In terms of thinking about future seasons — how much do you have planned out? How much brainstorming have you done?
Kaplan: I have the Google alert for marijuana articles come on my phone everyday. There are some interesting ones that have come up that I file away.
Elfont: We are still editing this season, so there has not been a lot of time. I don’t really like to jinx stuff. When we were done and not picked up to series yet, they wanted us to read lots of writers. I was like, “No.” Then we finally were picked up. It is hard not to start thinking of story lines. It is like doodling.
Kaplan: There are a couple of things that we did not get to do last season. There was one that we had written and then we had to excise it and still have not gone back to it.
Elfont: Somebody said, there is no show if it goes legal. But actually, there is…
Kaplan: There is definitely more conflict. There are more stakes, which is always good.
Does being what is very simply put a “pot comedy” feel at all like a burden, or is it a benefit?
Elfont: I don’t think it feels like a burden. We did not really think of it that way. I think it is certainly how we branded. The thing it does is enables us to be a little bit surreal. We did not want to be a weed show, like it is a bunch of people sitting around smoking. But we did want it to feel a little different and have some surreal weird touches, which we try to do every episode. That is what we took advantage of.
Kaplan: I think at a certain point we a little bit forgot that it was a pot show. I think I said something to Harry, around Episode 7, I was like, “We have a pot show. Nobody is smoking any weed.” There is literally a shot in the season finale where everybody lights up at the same time. I was like, “I feel like we are not honoring our concept.” It just became a show. It became a show about these two girls doing this crazy thing and getting into all these adventures and it was really not about the weed.
Elfont: That said, there is an episode where there is not a lot of pot smoking, but there is a giant wall of weed in their apartment.
Kaplan: That they have to sell.
Elfont: Because Jordan bought it wholesale. She bought in bulk. We are saying this is really not a pot show, but there is a giant wall of weed hanging over everything in this episode.
Kaplan: It is not like every episode people are sitting around getting high.
Elfont: They have to run a business. But they will also sometimes get high.
“Mary + Jane” premieres Monday, Sept. 5 at 10pm on MTV.