“The casual sex of TV”; “the Russian roulette of TV”; “the opposite of ‘Game of Thrones.'”
These are the descriptors Mark and Jay Duplass threw out for “Room 104” during the new HBO series’ Television Critics Association press tour panel Wednesday afternoon. The episodic anthology series, set in the same dingy motel room with new characters and stories every episode, is a bit of an odd show, and the creators are embracing the weirdness.
“I was an actor in one of the episodes,” Jay Duplass said. “There were some surrealist, somewhat magical things happening, and it felt like anything was possible. Maybe that’s what’s special about hotel rooms. It’s almost like a floating pod where almost anything is possible.”
“You’re a slightly different version of yourself,” Mark Duplass said.
Right from the start, the Duplass brothers knew “Room 104” would be a “wilder, very different show” from their first HBO original series, “Togetherness.”
“That show got cancelled, and we got very sad and upset,” Mark Duplass said, noting how they picked themselves up and pitched this passion project to HBO. “To their credit, Steve Baker and Casey Bloys said, ‘You know what? We got to figure out what our next ‘Game of Thrones’ is going to be. You go ahead and make your little show, as long as it’s cheap.'”
That attitude, as opposed to making a higher-priced comedy airing Sunday nights, gave the brothers a lot of leeway in how “Room 104” was made and who made it.
“We wrote seven of the episodes, but we hired people like [directors] Marta [Cunningham] and Sarah [Adina Smith] so we could have that collaborative energy,” Mark Duplas said. “I think the episodes are not only different than if we directed them, but they got better in the long run. […] If we directed all the episodes, they would look the same. You’d get bored pretty quickly.”
“We were inviting a certain level of diversity in storytelling we could not have done on our own,” Jay Duplass said. “We were looking for as much diversification as possible [because] it’s all set in the same room.”
Cunningham and Smith, who were also part of the panel discussion, said they were excited by the limitations of the premise.
“The premise of this show allows this to be an actor’s and a director’s playground,” Smith said. “For me, these felt like one-act plays. The scripts we were given were already so character-driven, the actors would anchor you to that even more.”
“I got to work with Philip Baker Hall,” Cunningham said. “His performance is gut-wrenching. That he turned in that performance is an absolute dream come true for me.”
The Duplass brothers noted how the demands for these directors were much higher than your standard TV gig.
“This show was very, very different,” Mark Duplass said. “They went with it and ran and did their own little short films; much more than your average television directing gig.”
With 12 episodes in the can and Season 1 about to premiere, the co-creators said they’re already eager to make more.
“The more we talk about it and the more we crack ideas, it expands and bubbles over,” Mark Duplass said, noting they have an idea for a musical episode next season. “HBO enabling us to do this stuff and be this weird Friday night show, it doesn’t have a ceiling on it; at least, not yet.”
“Room 104” premieres Friday, July 28 at 11:30 p.m. ET on HBO, HBO NOW, and HBO Go.