Big things just keep happening for Diablo Cody. The screenwriter of many a quirky, oft-relatable female character has built a laudable reputation as a TV creator and producer over the years. More recently, she put her name on Tig Notaro’s concise semi-autobiographical comedy-drama One Mississippi, but we can definitely expect even more from Cody’s small-screen slate in the months to come. At the moment, she is working on a modern reboot of the 1970s sitcom Alice and a family comedy with Sabrina Jalees (Powerless, The Comedy Lineup). And probably the most exciting project of all, Cody is specifically collaborating with a director who proves to truly understand her acerbic scripts best of all.
Deadline reports that Cody and filmmaker Jason Reitman are joining forces for a new TV vehicle after having worked together as an impressive writer-director duo on Juno, Young Adult, and Tully. Their new half-hour comedy series will feature David Spade in his first series regular role since Rules of Engagement ended in 2013. The currently-untitled project, which will be helmed by Reitman and penned by Cody, is developing to air on HBO.
The series will follow Calvin Wash (Spade), an erstwhile “semi-famous” grunge musician whose 1990s tenure was marked as much by the spotlight as it was by heroin addiction. Now clean and sober in the present day, Calvin lives a quiet life waiting tables in the Valley. However, his routine is evidently shaken up when he meets Bailey, an actress in her twenties with a dark past of her own. They go on an “electrifying” course of self-discovery together.
That sounds like your run-of-the-mill indie self-discovery picture, but with Cody and Reitman on board, we can expect some genre rule-breaking to occur. To best describe the duo’s working relationship thus far, I’ll turn to one of FSR’s own Filmmaking Tips pieces centered on the latter himself. As we collect various truth bombs about industry success, the very first point we have highlighted — the one about “finding truth” — is noteworthy. “If the screenplay’s funny, that’s really all that needs to be funny. At that point, it’s the actors and the director’s job to find truth,” says Reitman. This is such an apt representation of how he translates Cody’s scripts for the big screen.
Starting with Juno — definitely the most feel-good film of the Reitman-Cody big-screen trifecta — it would have been so easy for the movie’s wisecracking title character to simply revel in her acumen to remain as likable as she is. Instead, what keeps Juno MacGuff so relatable at the same time is her imperfect, wide-eyed naivete that exemplifies the very youthfulness that her surprise pregnancy totally disrupts. Juno seems wise beyond her years to herself, her community, and even to us viewers. However, when faced with the ugly truths of distrustful adults, fractured relationships, and the inevitability of never-totally-happy endings, she finds out she still has a lot of growth to do. What is ultimately a fairly glossy story that lets her succeed in this revelation.
To then be able to level the same easy kind of appreciation towards Mavis in Young Adult and Marlo in Tully may be tougher for some. These characters fill stories that are very dissimilar to the one in Juno, operating within topics that are distinctly matured and a lot weightier in comparison. Nevertheless, the trick to seeing eye-to-eye with them is to not only find the humor — however cringe-worthy it may be — in Mavis and Marlo’s more preposterous, embarrassing, and biting moments. Rather, these women are made all the more fearless and lovable due to the harrowing slivers of unabashed truth that are soulfully woven throughout their caustic lives and personalities.
Young Adult and Tully disregard the rulebook of female characters so astutely. With the former, its incessant attempts to make its leading lady stubbornly abject to virtually everyone around her is a testy but fulfilling experiment. For Young Adult to ultimately land on an ending so cynical plays like a kick in the teeth for audiences, although it demonstrates a commendable level of storytelling confidence from its creative team. In contrast, Tully is less vitriolic as it chronicles a mother’s assured breakdown in a world of parental responsibilities and expectations. But it still doesn’t sugarcoat such anxieties about motherhood. The film creates an unfaltering portrait of a character so heartbreakingly commonplace in the 21st century — so believably, woundingly harried — and demands our empathy without treading a single step towards the saccharine.
The untitled HBO project undoubtedly brings with it some new ground for Cody and Reitman to tread as creative partners. The male protagonist notably signals a huge change for Cody as a writer. Still, I’m on the lookout for Bailey casting news because that character is clearly primed to be just as vital to the show as Spade’s Calvin is. Cody and Reitman have been known to take seemingly subdued dramatic premises and train a brutally honest spotlight on them in their films, and we’re ready for their small-screen takeover.