×

‘You’re the Worst’ to ‘Transparent’: Finding Dark Comedy in the City of Angels

Although fear of production flight is at a fever pitch in Hollywood and shows are clamoring for California filming tax incentives, several new comedies are not only proudly set in L.A., but also embrace everything the city has to offer — stereotypes and all.

Jay Duplass is in a unique position to talk about the topic. One of the stars of L.A.-set “Transparent” (Amazon) he is also, along with his brother Mark and friend Steve Zissis, a co-creator of HBO’s “Togetherness.”

The relationship dramedy, which stars the latter Duplass and Zissis, as well as Melanie Lynskey and Amanda Peet, explores life in the L.A. neighborhood of Eagle Rock and covers charter schools, family trips to the beach and other things those in that community hold dear.

Jay Duplass, who has lived in Eagle Rock for seven years, says the location made for an ideal backdrop for his series because, “In a weird way, it’s kind of like a way station. It’s kind of known as the place where hipsters go to die or where hipsters go to have children, which is often considered to be the same thing by certain people.”

“In our experience, the more specific that we’ve gotten about real life as we know it, weirdly the more enjoyable and relatable it seems to be to other people,” he says. “We have just constantly challenged ourselves to get very specific and very real, particularly with this show. There is literally not anything that has happened in the show that hasn’t happened to someone we know.”

Another comedy heading into its second season, FX’s “You’re the Worst,” might be the most L.A.-philic series currently on TV. Creator Stephen Falk’s dark relationship comedy covers everything from hidden taco trucks (this one was in a cemetery!) to certain restaurants’ obsessions with community dining tables.

The show even features a bookstore with an orange tabby similar to the late, great Lucy, who lived in Los Feliz’s Skylight Books. (Though it might be more of a coincidence: Falk follows Bodega Cats of Instagram and thinks it makes good business sense for stores to have cats.)

“Worst” also covers serious issues like a veteran suffering from PTSD and the city’s segregation problem. But, like “Togetherness,” its Los Angeles is often made up of middle- and upper-middle-class white people.

“I don’t know if we’re necessarily trying to target an upper-class white audience,” Falk says. “I am an upper-middle class white guy and the show is very personal.”

He also rejects the idea that any Angeleno specificity is a turnoff for audiences in other cities.

“Romance among people who have been scarred by it or who don’t believe in it is a very universal thing,” says Falk. “In the recipe for the show, I used the specific flavor of Los Angeles as specifically as possible — as I would have if there were amazing tax credits in some hidden part of Seattle. I think you’ll find the reluctance to fall in love in any major city.”

The idea of including in jokes and references is not a new phenomenon. “Entourage’s” Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) famously professed that he would “only go the Valley November to March and even then, only to sushi row.” “The OC’s” Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke) once rebuffed a romantic gesture of flowers because they came from Ralphs grocery store.

Nor is it ending. While AMC’s Los Angeles-set zombie thriller “Fear the Walking Dead” is only partially filmed here, NBC’s Charles Manson drama “Aquarius” was shot entirely in and around the city and makes use of still-standing architecture from the ’60s and earlier.

The CW’s upcoming comedy “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” hinges on the absurdity that a successful Manhattan lawyer would drop everything to hunt down a former paramour in “glamorous” West Covina. It includes jokes like a “lie” that the San Gabriel Valley city is only two hours from the beach.

“Girlfriend” co-creator and star Rachel Bloom is a Southern California native and says the goal of her show was to have a “fish- out-of-water story of someone coming from the big city to the small town,” but to not use a “nebulous town where the joke is that everyone is some sort of Protestant yokel.”

“The cool thing about Southern California suburbs is that it’s really racially diverse and multicultural and you don’t see that a lot on TV,” she says. “It’s kind of the symbol of what America is now; it’s all different races and cultures coming together now to go to the same Applebee’s.”

Transparent” creator Jill Soloway’s Amazon breakout is peppered with inside Angeleno jokes, including one in which Josh (Duplass) barely pauses a heated fight with his girlfriend to tell her definitively what street divides Echo Park and Silver Lake. “Rampart,” he says smugly.

While there is some debate online as to whether Josh is actually correct, his determination in defining the borders of hipster ground zero is not a one-off. Witness Judith Light’s Shelley, more shocked that her ex-husband (Jeffrey Tambor) went to brunch at the Beverly Center than the news that he’s come out as transgender. Or their eldest daughter, Sarah (Amy Landecker), rallying her siblings to head west by lamenting, “I am not going to the Marina triangle by myself, OK?”

“It’s not about choosing or not choosing to include geographic jokes, it’s about writing these people’s voices honestly,” Soloway says. “In doing so, including references to this city naturally became a part of that process.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • first wives club BET

    TV Review: 'The First Wives Club' on BET Plus

    Launching a series based on a beloved property is harder than it seems. On the one hand, you get the immediate boost of name recognition to lure in preexisting fans. On the other, straying too far from the plot and/or spirit of the original risks sparking their righteous wrath. It’s a tricky balance to strike, [...]

  • Thomas Golubic8th Annual Guild of Music

    Guild of Music Supervisors President: 'The Economics of the Job Don't Work Anymore'

    The Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) hosted its 5th annual “State of Music in Media” conference on Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Los Angeles Film School. Featuring a wide array of panel discussions on all manner of issues related to music in film, television and advertising, the confab drew top composers, music supervisors, licensing and [...]

  • Christopher Eccleston Anorexia

    Christopher Eccleston Reveals He Was 'Very Ill' With Anorexia While Filming 'Doctor Who'

    “Doctor Who” actor Christopher Eccleston has opened up about his anorexia, body dysmorphia and suicidal thoughts. Eccleston, who played the ninth incarnation of the Doctor, made the revelations in his forthcoming autobiography “I Love the Bones of You: My Father and the Making of Me.” “Many times I’ve wanted to reveal that I’m a lifelong [...]

  • Justin Theroux Mute

    'Mosquito Coast' Series Starring Justin Theroux Set at Apple

    Apple has ordered an adaptation of “The Mosquito Coast” to series, Variety has learned. Justin Theroux will star in the series, which is based on the novel by his uncle Paul Theroux. The story follows an idealist who uproots his family and moves them to Latin America. Neil Cross is adapting the book for television [...]

  • 'Big Mouth' presentation, Paleyfest, Panel

    TV News Roundup: Jenny Slate's Netflix Comedy Special Sets October Premiere

    In today’s TV news roundup, Jenny Slate’s first Netflix comedy special “Stage Fright” premieres Oct. 22, and Netflix also releases the first trailer for its upcoming comedy “Living with Yourself,” out Oct. 18.  DATES Jenny Slate‘s first full-length comedy special “Stage Fright” will launch on Netflix Oct. 22. In it, the comedian and actress shares [...]

  • Shane Gillis SNL

    Shane Gillis Out From 'Saturday Night Live'

    “Saturday Night Live” is officially cutting ties with Shane Gillis. “After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining ‘SNL,'” an “SNL” spokesperson on behalf of Lorne Michaels said in a statement. “We want SNL to have a variety of voices and points of view within the show, and we [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content