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Emily Kapnek Interview

Talking With the 'Suburgatory' Creator and Executive Producer


Emily Kapnek
October 15, 2012

Emily Kapnek got her start as the creator of the Nickelodeon animated series As Told by Ginger and went on to work as a writer and producer on Parks and Recreation and Hung, as well as the creator of the short-lived ABC sitcom Emily's Reasons Why Not, which was famously canceled after just one episode. Last season, she created Suburgatory for ABC, starring Jane Levy as Tessa, a teenager whose father, George (Jeremy Sisto), moves her from New York City to the suburbs. Here Kapnek talks about what to expect from the upcoming second season of Suburgatory, which premieres Wednesday, October 17, 2012, at 9:30 p.m. EST on ABC.

What’s the biggest challenge you face going into the second season of Suburgatory?

We had a lot of pots bubbling on the stove. It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have all these great story areas that are percolating, that you want to write to, and on the other hand, you have all these story areas that you set up that you have to service. Our challenges are always the same, which is that we have an enormous ensemble, and they’re all so super talented and funny, and how do we write to all of them and balance our stories so that we get a little taste of everyone, and at the same time feel like we’ve really told a great story and been on a great journey. So coming into season two, it’s like we knew we wanted to delve into the issues with Tessa’s mom, and we had this storyline with the information out there that Ryan Shay is adopted, and that Lisa [Shay] had a hold of that. Plus we had this romance bubbling with George and Dallas. So it really was just about finding the right way to tell stories that get us into these juicy plots and draw in all our main characters.

Does this season have a particular theme?

You know, it’s funny. I think that one of the things that was really interesting in season one was how little George and Tessa had in common with Chatswin and the people that live in Chatswin. Going into season two, there’s just been a lot of common ground. Because of the stories we’ve told and things that we’ve uncovered, we have a lot of overlap between George and Tessa and -- suddenly -- the residents of Chatswin, who find that they have a lot more in common with these two. For example, Noah has a wife that is off on a book tour, and they have a new baby in the picture, and he suddenly finds himself in a single-dad role, and this is obviously an area that George has a lot of expertise in. Dalia’s dealing with the fallout of her parents being divorced and one of them being absent, and obviously this is something that Tessa has a lot of experience with. And even just the whole idea of one of your parents being out of the picture, and the fact that this is something coming for Ryan Shay as well. I feel like we’ve done a lot of work to kind of level the playing field so that there’s much more common ground between our characters.

And we’ve also changed the look of the show a little bit. It may not be immediately detectable to viewers, but in season one the look of the show was very bright, poppy, bubblegum, and that was sort of a conscious choice, that we felt like those were their urban eyes on this suburban landscape, and how hard it was for them to take in this palette, and how sort of Technicolor and over-the-top everything seemed. Well, as they’re beginning to acclimate, we had a real shift in the visual look of our show, and we’re sort of toning everything down a little bit, and growing up the look of the show, doing stuff, I think, that’s a lot more cinematic. And I’m really excited about the way the show’s looking this season.

With the upcoming Ryan Shay storyline and Chris Parnell [as Fred Shay] added as a regular cast member this season, does that mean we’ll see an increased focus on the Shay family?

Yeah, we have a lot of Shay stuff. We have a lot of Ryan stuff. He obviously has a huge storyline, and we also have a lot of romance kind of budding between him and Tessa. I think now that they know each other a little bit better, and we have a little more complexity to Ryan with this secret and this bigger picture for him, I think that Tessa finds herself drawn to him again, perhaps with a slightly different outlook than their first time around.

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