Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, the creators of “Kevin (Probably) Saves The World” have been blending genres on their television shows for years. “Reaper,” which ran on The CW for two years mixed comedy with the literal devil, while ABC’s “Agent Carter” was a combination of period drama and action/adventure series. Their new ABC drama “Kevin (Probably) Saves The World” follows the pattern by mixing a family dramedy with the surreal elements of a meteor crash bringing “emissaries for god” to earth.
“It is the conceit of the show that there is a god, and god has emissaries who work on god’s behalf,” Fazekas says. “But even if you don’t believe in god, it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, it’s not about religion; it’s not about god; it’s about being a good person.”
Here, Butters and Fazekas talk with Variety about how classic genre films inspired “Kevin,” the importance of casting the titular character, and how his mission will play out in the premiere and beyond.
What came first when you were conceiving “Kevin”: the idea that you wanted to do a show about a family or the idea that you wanted to do a show about this big event and how it changes someone?
Tara Butters: Conceptually we started just talking about things from our childhood like “E.T.” and “Close Encounters [of the Third Kind]” and those types of movies that had a powerful feeling behind them. They felt like something bigger than yourself. So we started talking about the power of hope, and we were trying to find something in that space. And we wanted it all to be relatable, and I think that’s how we got to this family that was going through a rough period in their lives. No matter what your family situation is, we’ve all experienced ups and downs.
Michele Fazekas: We love things that are about the real world, except there’s one thing that’s magic.
How did you originally imagine the character of Kevin, and how did casting Jason Ritter change or enhance that image?
Fazekas: I remember not figuring out who Kevin was until the scene in the pilot where he just starts ripping on his niece about what she’s reading. He’s needling her, which is like all of my aunts and uncles in my family who show their love by aggravating you. He was a little Bill Murray from “Groundhog Day,” a little Paul Rudd, a little The Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” but we didn’t really have a prototype in our head. And then we saw Jason on the list, and the weird thing is that Tara and I had written an episode of “Law & Order: SVU” that his dad John Ritter was in, and everyone loved him. I had just seen Jason on “Drunk History,” which I love, so clearly he was funny and I also knew he could do drama, and we needed someone who could do both. So he came in to screen test, and we talked a little bit about his dad, and he killed it. But also he actually makes it better because he finds moments that you didn’t even know were there, and he’s so natural at it.
How do you strike the balance between Kevin’s efforts to help his family and the mission emissary Yvette (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) puts him on in the pilot?
Butters: On a weekly basis, what we’re seeing is a guy who’s trying to be a better person and gets caught up in other people’s lives, but he’s still trying to deal with his family, who he just moved in with, and friends from high school who he’s trying to reconnect with, and they get pulled into his life when his behavior becomes weird. His sister is worried about his mental state and thinks there’s more going on. But there is an episodic element: In order to increase his spiritual power to ultimately find one of the righteous, he is helping someone every week. At the end of the pilot, he helps someone, and he gets the first piece of a puzzle to find out where the righteous are.
Fazekas: Every time he does, he gets a vision, and sometimes it’s a really cute vision, like butterflies, and sometimes he’s transported to a different place where it’s weird and disruptive. Sometimes it’s bad timing, like when he’s being chased by the police. But what you’ll figure out is these are all breadcrumbs. What he has to ultimately do is find the other 35 righteous people in the world to anoint, but we didn’t want to anoint one every week, so in the first season we probably do two or three.
Are you concerned the audience might be cynical and assume Yvette is not who she says she is?
Fazekas: There’s a scene in the pilot when she’s standing in the middle of the road, and the pick-up truck flies over Kevin, and the guy gets out and says, “What the hell just happened?” That’s the “OK, this is not just in my head” moment. She is withholding, though, and we get into that very quickly. In the second episode, there’s a scene where he says, “Tell me about yourself,” and she says, “You don’t need to know about me.” She has sort of her own agenda that is separate from Kevin’s, in that he is merely a tool of her agenda.
At what point will other characters start to realize something is going on with Kevin? Are you building a world in which they will believe his mission if and when they learn of it?
Fazekas: His niece is a smart girl and over the first five or six episodes she will start to follow him and write about him in her journal, which becomes important. She’s going to have theories about what’s going on. She knows it’s more than just him being a weirdo.
Butters: I think it’s probably true of most people that they wouldn’t believe it. This idea came from an earlier idea that we had working on where if the messiah showed up today, no one would believe it. It would be like, “Fake news!” I don’t think that’s a commentary on god or spirituality, I think it’s a commentary on society. We want to see magic in the world, but we don’t believe it when we see it.
Kevin’s sister, Amy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), seems like the perfect example of someone who wouldn’t believe what’s going on with her brother. How will that affect their relationship?
Butters: She only believes in things she can prove, but now she’s starting to see things she can’t explain, and it starts to trouble her. She’s always been the reliable one, and she’s really controlling in the way that your mom wants you to be safe and happy and control everything you do. So when it comes to things she can’t control, she is uncomfortable. When you know what he’s doing, it all seems logical, but from an outside perspective, it doesn’t.
Fazekas: Exactly. We have an episode coming up where a guy has a job interview and messes up his suit, so Kevin gives him his, literally the clothes off his back, but then realizes, “Oh my god, my keys are in the pocket of my pants, and now I’m standing on the street in my underwear.” In the world that we live in, being a kind and generous person sometimes makes you look nuts.
“Kevin (Probably) Saves The World” premieres on ABC Oct. 3 at 10 p.m.