With a title like “Oh Jerome, No,” the series was always building to the point where its title character turned that phrase on himself. When it happens in the opening segment of the two-part finale, Jerome (Mamoudou Athie) laments his inability to follow through on a New Year’s Eve idea.
Over eight episodes of Alex Karpovsky and Teddy Blanks’ series about one man’s emotional highs and lows, that tussle between expectations and reality happens a lot. “It was important for us to have a character that gets into all sorts of wacky and absurd and sometimes full-on ridiculous situations, but ultimately it’s coming from a person that’s always relatable,” Karpovsky told IndieWire. “You don’t want to stretch it too far where we feel like this person exists in a completely sci-fi universe. The fact that the show is so POV-driven and driven, we can really get absurd without breaking the overall plausibility.”
It’s that balance that lets “Oh Jerome, No” fit in right at home in the FXX shorts showcase “Cake.” The best parts of the half hour animated/live-action/music video hybrid episodes of “Cake” take specific viewpoints and styles, however untethered from reality may be. Told in eight parts across the entire “Cake” season, “Oh Jerome, No” lives in a kind of sweet spot, where Jerome’s desire for companionship and self-improvement sometimes take him down some strange rabbit holes.
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Without knowing exactly how “Oh Jerome, No” would fit into the episode-to-episode thematic flow of the shows around them, Karpovsky and Blanks still knew that there were different ideas they wanted to use to center the show. The pair have collaborated on a number of previous projects, including the standalone short that this new series is based on. Aside from having that foundation of having worked together before, “Oh Jerome, No” was something both of them had strong personal connections to.
“It’s a really a caricature of something that one or both of us have been grappling with for most of our twenties and even into our early thirties: oversensitivity, being too vulnerable at times, having feelings that overtake you and make you say ‘I love you’ on the first date. All of those qualities we wanted to make sure are relatable and even if we pushed them to really extreme places, we’d never sort of break the believability,” Karpovsky said.
Feeling ill-equipped to handle the world is something that the show does a great job of tapping into, even outside of just relationships. Jerome’s misadventures take him through office interactions, nights out with friends, and chance encounters on the streets of New York. For Blanks, the combination of all of these goes hand in hand with addressing something that’s far from imaginary.
“In an era where a lot of people are starting to talk about toxic masculinity, we really wanted to talk about the other side of the coin, men that feel like they’re not quite in that masculine mode because they’re born being very sensitive and vulnerable with the world. Even that can cause you to behave badly to other people sometimes,” Blanks said. “This guy’s behavior seems insane, but also the world is too hard and could learn a little bit from him in the way he approaches things. I think that push and pull was something that really kept the show going and there was a friction that we were really interested in.”
Athie picks up on that contradiction is a fascinating way. Even with the confusing swell of emotions that seems to power Jerome through all of his wistfulness and jealousy and yearning, there’s a control to Athie’s performance that lets any significant breakthrough really shine.
“He definitely brought a lot of his own experiences to the part. When we first met him and he had read the script, he said, ‘I’ve never even met you guys. How did you guys know my life?’ I think he really connected to something in the heart of Jerome. We spent several lunches talking through some of his life experiences, and those certainly helped us,” Blanks said.
Another key collaborator helped zero in on how the show builds out from its main character’s perspective. In addition to reprising her role from the original “Oh Jerome, No” short, Natalie Prass also lends her music to the show. Aside from helping bridge both versions of Jerome’s story, Prass and Kyle Ryan’s score is one of the ways that “Oh Jerome, No” builds a consistent atmosphere throughout these episodes.
“She did the music for the original Jerome short and played the love interest. We were really happy to have her come back and we feel like her voice, which is in a lot of the music as the season goes on, is really part of what helps establish the tone,” Blanks said. “One thing we told her when she was doing the score is to use as much as many oohs and aahs, to put her own vocalizing in it. We think it really helps get into Jerome’s sensitive mindset, to have these beautiful female vocals.”
Even while having a firm understanding of where this character is grounded, “Oh Jerome, No” still finds room to have fun with the more absurd parts. Free cookies stress him out. He upends his life to spend more time with his waitress crush. The opening two episodes notably feature a dog named Party Time. “We just wanted Jerome to yell ‘Party Time!’ in a way that was not celebratory,” Karpovsky said.
“The idea of someone breaking down crying while saying, ‘I just really like to party’ was the funniest thing that we could think of,” Blanks added with a chuckle.
Even though these eight episodes exist as their own thing, the pair say that they’d love to keep telling stories with Jerome at the center, in whatever form that might take. “We would love to do more of these. If anyone gives us that opportunity, I think we would love to expand it into a half hour series. The story of Jerome definitely isn’t over and this is subject matter and a character that we continue to have a lot to say about,” Blanks said.
Season 1 of “Oh Jerome, No” (and “Cake”) is now available to stream through the FX app.