In a world where kids are more often than not glued to their screens, Sony Pictures TV’s “The Dangerous Book for Boys” aims to inspire a world of imagination and adventure.
In adapting the book by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, executive producer Bryan Cranston faced a unique challenge — given that the book doesn’t have any characters or plot. “It’s just a how to: how to build a fort, how to play baseball, how to talk to a girl, all of these things,” he tells Variety. “So everything had to start from scratch.”
Cranston credits the sensibility of the book with helping him shape the narrative. “It was the reason that the book was created that got me thinking and helped me to crack this story,” he says. “I wanted to follow along with that sensibility about the embracing of boyhood and allowing boys to be boys.”
While some of the book’s how-tos are lifted directly for the TV show, Cranston admits that the book is “really an inspiring source, rather than an adapted source.” The writers took liberties to reverse-engineer fantasy sequences, as well as to include stories they personally experienced in a “God, you know what my kid did one time?” way. They also expanded the story to include colorful characters of many ages.
“The Dangerous Book for Boys” follows the McKenna family after they have just lost their father. While their mother (Erinn Hayes) struggles to adjust to life as a single mom, getting a little help from her own mother (Swoosie Kurtz) and her husband’s twin brother (Chris Diamantopoulos), the three boys — Wyatt (Gabriel Bateman), Dash (Drew Powell) and Liam (Kyan Zielinski) — stumble upon a book their father was writing for them, which allows them to dive into fantasy sequences as they imagine their father giving them advice on everyday problems.
“The rules are it’s your imagination, so you don’t have to have the book in front of you and you don’t have to be at home,” Cranston says. “The fantasy sequences that are in every episode can be the duration of a few seconds to a few minutes. We wanted to give that flexibility to the creative process and be able to go anywhere with it, but every episode will have a very relatable problem that this family is going through, and the possible solution to these problems will be found in the fantasy. These boys will incrementally be able to apply that and hopefully change their lives for the better and become good human beings.”
The show balances some larger than life moments for the characters, including a fantasy sequence that imagines one of the young boys in space, with the theme of grieving a lost parent. Cranston says he felt it was important not to give that grieving process a “short shift” over the course of the first season’s six episodes, adding that casting was the key factor in being able to tell this story, with its high and low swings, in a way that surprises the audience and still feels relatable to them.
“These are performers who are able to drop in emotionally and be real and honest, and you start to feel for them,” Cranston says.
It was also important to Cranston to create a “family show” where parents and kids could watch together and each get something out of the experience. “I think we’re missing the opportunity to sit down with our kids and all enjoy entertainment without worrying about content or innuendo or language,” he says.
In addition to the stories that will allow the “boys to be boys,” Cranston didn’t want to shy away from some of the more adult stories, such as a suddenly single mother having to not only parent three children on her own but also completely run the household and pay the bills.
Cranston, who calls single mothers “heroes,” says through “The Dangerous Book for Boys” they wanted to show not only that heroism but also “real fears and honest emotion.”
“She gets angry and she has this realization that she’s angry at her husband for leaving her. She’s trying to reconcile between logic and emotion, and it can be a mess,” Cranston says of Hayes’ character. “We take on the oddities of laughing during a hard time or the other way around where you think something is going to be [light] and then oh no, it’s meaningful.”
“The Dangerous Book for Boys” premieres Mar. 30 on Amazon.