It’s really fucking windy. One gust snaps a branch off a large tree. The branch crashes to the ground about two or so feet away from a crewmember near ‘video village’ (set jargon: for where the crew can watch the scene-at-hand being filmed). Needless-to-say, soon thereafter, a couple crewmembers move the monitors and director’s chairs far away out of tree line. This actually doesn’t help much – as the wind is a capricious dick determined to inflict physical damage onto some poor shmuck. That moment comes later on when one of the publicists for my set-visit (also coincidentally named Tom) is hit in the head by a wayward branch. The man is fine (thankfully) and shrugs the whole ordeal off like it was no big deal – but this does little to alleviate my naturally worried state. When the question is posed whether or not I would like to continue watching the shoot or go inside a small portable home to conduct interviews, there really isn’t much deliberation: I go inside. Hit the jump, to continue reading.
Married, the upcoming FX show, is in the midst of shooting its season finale at the time of my visit. They’re filming in Calimagos Ranch – a very nice little retreat an hours drive out from Los Angeles. Inside the posh resort, there’s pretty much every fancy accommodation you can think of: a stone fireplace, comfy leather couches, a grand ballroom & a meditation center (complete with actual goddamn butterflies milling about). I inquire as to what the resort is typically used for and receive a bevy of different answers. One person tells me it’s a retreat for businessmen, someone else tells me it’s a rehab center, another tells me it’s a destination wedding spot and yet another tells me that it can be anything you want it to be – which seems like the best of the answers.
Nearby the resort, I see a cabin with the plague “The Biggest Loser Lodge” – which it turns out is the actual filming location for that show. I look to see if by chance they’re filming today, but to my chagrin there’s not a soul in there. I’m not really sure why I’m disappointed not to see some overweight people competing to lose a couple pounds as a) I’ve never actually watched that show and b) have absolutely no interest in ever doing so; but such is my inexplicable state of mind. I cannot explain myself.
Up a gravel pathway from the lodge (in front of the entrance to the resort), the Married crew has set up shop. It’s a fairly small crew for a television production – I would venture to say twelve or fourteen people in total – but everyone seems incredibly busy. The crew is in the last week of their two-month shoot, filming episode ten out of ten. One of my fellow journalists remarks how quick a turn around that seemingly is. Our host/guide (and FX publicist) Kristy explains this show just shoots incredibly fast and efficiently. That’s apparent immediately, the crew quickly setting up the next shot/angle while stars Nat Faxon and Judy Greer run lines back and forth. Typically on sets there’s a ton of down time for actors – but this shoot is so fast, it’s hard to get any time in edgewise to interview them between takes.
And, well, then the wind kicks in.
Every time a gust of wind surges through, filming is put on hold as the branches creak and sway and all the crew members look up, making sure there isn’t another chunk of wood about to fall onto them. This prompts one of the grips to remark to me how he was in a shopping mall during the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. When the quake hit, he looked up at the ceiling, determining whether or not it would crumble and fall onto him. When he looked back down, sure now that the ceiling was OK, he realized everybody else in the mall had left. He was the only dummy who had stayed and waited to see if the ceiling would crush him. He then points to the rest of his fellow crew, staring up to the tree lines and shakes his head knowingly.
The wind proves to be problematic – not just in terms of crew safety but also in terms of getting any usable footage. Every time the wind acts up, it’s impossible to make out what the actors are saying. Filming is put on hold briefly as the director huddles with the on-set sound department, discussing any possible solutions to thwart Mother Nature…
I’ll admit I didn’t know much about Married when I arrived on set. I knew of its cast – an assortment of well-known alternative comedy stars. Of course, Judy Greer & Nat Faxon have already established themselves as versatile comedic presences: Faxon – an Academy Award winner for his work writing The Descendants and Greer for seemingly appearing in every comedy since 1995. Co-stars Brett Gelman and Jenny Slate have begun to carve out a niche audience for themselves as well, Slate recently starring in the well regarded Obvious Child and Gelman stealing scenes from right under poor Mathew Perry on the short-lived Go On.
If I’m being honest though it wasn’t any of those names that drew me to Married on this fateful day. No – it was only one man’s name on the call sheet that truly perked my interest: series creator and showrunner Andrew Gurland.
It was around 2001, when I began to see a poster at my local multiplex for a film called Cheaters. I didn’t pay the poster or film much mind at first; but every time I would step forth into the theater lobby, there it would be even after the supposed release date had passed and the film still hadn’t come out. It was like a cruel running joke – the “Godot” of films, a poster for a movie that seemingly would never be. Late one night, whilst scouring through the subsidiary HBO channels, low and behold — there it was, now retitled simply as Cheats. My natural curiosity got the better of me and at 2AM, half-awake, I watched the film that seemingly would never be. And shocker — it was pretty good, much better than the similarly plotted Jason Schwartzman vehicle Slackers or the Jeff Daniels starring Cheaters (the reason Cheats shortened its name was to avoid confusion with the HBO original film).
This, as it turns out, would be my first introduction to the work of Andrew Gurland. The filmmaker has a way of taking what on paper would seem like tired material – a bunch of teenagers cheating their way through high-school, a man ordering a Russian bride, a bunch of teenagers (again) trying to lose their virginity – and somehow finding a much darker, askew entry-point into these ‘high-concept’ comedies. Mail Order Wife, Gurland’s second film, could be a sitcom-level riff on the crazy hijinks of a man ordering a wife off the internet; but in Gurland’s hands, it becomes a sad meditation on loneliness and the lengths a person will go to feel anything.
Based on the footage I saw shot on my set-visit (and a later viewing of the pilot episode), Gurland’s brought the same pitch-black anarchic spirit of his feature work to the well-worn sitcom formula. Married, on paper, could seem like familiar terrain – a couple (Faxon & Greer) struggles through the various ups and downs of married life, a template that partially-funded CBS primetime up until mid 00s. But Gurland doesn’t seem interested in the wacky but lovable schlub of a husband nor the demanding but ultimately understanding shrew of a wife. These tropes have no place on this show.
There’s something corrosive at the bleak heart of Married – and the relationships depicted within. There’s the sense that no matter what any of these characters do, no matter what they get or don’t, no matter if things work out or fall apart, that they will always be miserable — not because marriage is miserable but because life itself is misery. There’s a deep endless pit of despair at the heart of Gurland’s comedy – and it’s this duality that gives the show weight above the rest of the half-hour comedies currently cluttering your TV.
Back on set, eventually a decision is made regarding the wind. Despite whatever sound issues there may be, the shoot must go on. If there are any audio troubles or missed dialogue, it’ll just have to be picked up in ADR later.
Later on, after finishing a couple interviews, I venture out once more to observe filming. The wind has since died down – which has little effect on the shoot, the crew now moved onto a set-up indoors. I sit down by one of the monitors – and observe a scene with all the principle characters (Gelman, Greer, Faxon, Slate & recurring guest star Paul Reiser) as they rip into one another, saying the nastiest, most hurtful things imaginable. To my left, by another monitor, I note a man smiling to himself. Andrew Gurland jots notes down into a script, giggling as he watches the emotional carnage on a screen before him.
I can’t help but smile myself.
Married premieres tonight at 10PM on FX.
Click below for the series of interviews conducted during my time on-set: