I recently had the opportunity to interview Jane Espenson and Brad Bell about their new web series Husbands. They also shared their insights about Buffy, writing, and what makes a series pop.
FEARnet: How did Husbands get started?
Jane Espenson (JE): It got started because Brad had an idea. He's a young writer I really admire, and I really respect his ideas. He had this idea about doing a new sitcom for the marriage-equality age, and that's worth doing.
FEARnet: I was reading a bit about that and wondered if, as the creators, you faced any of the same controversy that your characters face in some of the episodes?
JE: Not so much, people are really loving it. (To Brad) I think in your life you faced some of that.
Brad Bell (BB): Not specifically about Husbands, but the other day I saw some comment online and it was something like, “I don't have a problem with gays on television, but if they could just be normal. What you do in the privacy of your own bedroom is your business but you don't have to shove it in my face.” And it was in reference to gays on television. Like even seeing gay people on television is too much.
JE: We did have one rough day where someone linked to Husbands from some other site and there were some pretty rough comments on the YouTube video. It just makes you realize all the more that we have to do this.
FEARnet: And it generates more support because people need to fight against that.
BB: And it shows you how ignorant the argument is. Like some of the comments would be, “This is gay.” [laughter] I also have brown eyes. Make more observations, I'll be so hurt! [laughter]
FEARnet: So what are your plans for Season 4?
BB: We have a lot of plans, maybe doing all of the episodes at once or having a full broadcast season.
JE: We've sort of powered up on one or two stories at a time and we'd love to power up and do ten.
BB: We definitely want to do a scary episode every Halloween.
FEARnet: In the comic isn't there a fantasy/horror element as well?
JE: Very much so.
BB: We'd like to do sort of a surreal element in the show at some point as well. A dream sequence, like in the Dick Van Dyke Show.
JE: We're influenced by the Dick Van Dyke Show among others. Husbands is produced by our company, The Ottoman Empire, which is named for the Dick Van Dyke Show opening credits.
FEARnet: Brad, did Buffy influence you as well?
BB: I don't know that I watched it enough to say that it influenced me like that, but I think Joss and I are attracted to the same concepts, taking something familiar and turning it on its ear. Or smart, self-referential dialogue and characters that appear to be one thing and you get so much more from them. I love that about Buffy, it starts in this sort of “high school is hell” familiarity and becomes so much more.
JE: It's funny, because for someone who didn't watch, a lot of my writing… we do write alike, naturally. [laughter]
FEARnet: You talk about being on Buffy, how it was different from being on other shows. When you first started to when it ended, how do you feel the writing room and all of your concepts changed?
JE: I joined the show in Season 3 and that was when the show made a big transition from more stand-alone episodes, from when a particular bad guy or monster stood in for the literal problem in her life and went to being more arc driven. So I happened to join when that transition was going on. From that point to the end of the show, the main change was the end of high school where we had to change the central metaphor. Brad just mentioned the “high school is hell” which was the central theme driving the show. Once she was out of high school, you had to sort of go to “life is hell” and we gave her bigger problems and the show got darker over the years. It wasn't some sort of scheme, it just got darker because you want the characters to be influenced by the experiences they have and she had so many tough experiences that it started to be reflected in the character. And that took us to really interesting places.
FEARnet: What, for you, was the hardest episode to write?
JE: “Doublemeat Palace” was very hard to write because it had a different tone than the rest of the episodes, and because my first pass at it wasn't what Joss was looking for, so I had to start over. So in something like a day I had to rewrite the whole episode to a very different tone. So if you look at that episode, it still stands out as different from the rest of the episodes. It's not a very beloved episode, but it's one I have a lot of affection for because I struggled a lot to bring it to light.
FEARnet: I love that episode! “Are the pies made of people?”
JE: Thank you, that was a tough one!
FEARnet: So how do you think your writing changed, working on Buffy?
JE: It made me more thoughtful about theme. I think a lot of shows have a theme for an episode, but it isn't necessarily something that the creator is driven to say. And the amazing thing about Joss, and Brad does this too, is that he starts with, “What do I really believe?” And then how can I tell a story to bring it home to people who are watching. That's something I definitely learned from Joss, starting from the truth, not just in dialogue or jokes, but when you're coming up with the episode.
FEARnet: One last question. What would you say was your defining moment working on the show?
JE: Oh my goodness, my defining moment. Let me think. I guess the most powerful moment for me was sitting on the stage for the first time when they were shooting “Band Candy”, the first episode I wrote. Because there was a sense of, okay, I'm here, and I'm seeing something I love and being a part of a show that I love and seeing it filmed. That's really amazing. Another moment would be when I got to see them filming “Superstar” and I got to see Danny Strong standing up and being the star of this very special episode, and seeing the lines delivered. That was very powerful.
Nancy O. Greene started writing at the age of nine. Her short story collection, Portraits in the Dark, received a brief mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007. Other works have appeared or will appear in ChiZine; Lovecraft eZine; Cemetery Dance; Tales of Blood and Roses; Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror; Shroud Publishing's The Terror at Miskatonic Falls; Dark Recesses; Flames Rising; Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!; and others. She has a BA in Cinematic Arts (Critical Studies) and a minor in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Southern California, and is a former Fellow of Film Independent's Project: Involve.