With his new FX anthology series The Premise, creator B.J. Novak looked “to say something simple and sincere” about some of the most compelling issues of our time, “exploring an idea thoroughly and moving the hell on.”
“I wrote these scripts and said, ‘These are stories about our time, the way I see them,'” Novak shared during the show’s TCA panel on Friday. “It was really about, how do we tell the stories of our time by looking them in the eye and having fun with them?”
The Premise is a generally comedic collection of “one-of-a-kind stories,” which Novak pitched to FX as “The Twilight Zone without the sci-fi,” or “Black Mirror without the dystopian technology.”
In its first season, the show will tackle such topics as gun violence, allyship, social justice, social media, bullying, revenge, racial and immigration issues, celebrity, sex, incentives, and religion, putting its own unique twist on each. (The question examined in one episode, “The Commenter,” starring Lola Kirke, is, “What if you found honesty from an internet troll?”)
Novak noted during the panel, also featuring actors Ayo Edebiri and Lucas Hedges, that he didn’t intend to promote further division, in his exploration of polarizing topics, or for the episodes to “be about arguments.” Instead, he hoped to evoke something honest and human by looking at issues through the lens of artfully drawn characters.
Novak said the notion of jumping swiftly from “story to story, world to world” was compelling to him, after working for much longer periods within the context of one series, such as The Office. He also believes this kind of storytelling resonates with today’s audiences, who have “short attention spans but also a real desire for intensity and depth.”
Later on, Novak discussed his casting process, noting that while he was able to assemble a stellar ensemble, there was one bucket list star he wasn’t able to bring into the fold. “Jack Nicholson was one dream that did not come true,” he said. “That was for an episode we didn’t end up doing.”
Hedges touched on drawing inspiration from Grammy winner Billie Eilish in his portrayal of a pop star for an episode titled “The Ballad of Jesse Wheeler.” Novak then noted that Eilish was the first person invited to watch the episode.
Other topics examined at TCA included the appeal of the project to its actors (“Great writing, great character,” said Hedges) and the logistical complexities of producing a collection of standalone pieces with different tones, cast and crew, with only six days to shoot each one.
“It was a nightmare, producing-wise,” admitted Novak, “but on a writing level, it was a dream come true.”
The Premise premieres on September 16, exclusively on FX on Hulu.
FX Productions produces the series, with Novak writing, directibg, and exec producing, alongside Oscar winner John Lesher (Birdman). The show’s all-star cast also includes Jon Bernthal, Ben Platt, Tracee Ellis Ross, Daniel Dae Kim, Soko, Jermaine Fowler, Eric Lange, Kaitlyn Dever, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ed Asner, George Wallace, Boyd Holbrook and Beau Bridges, among others.
Check out the first trailer for the series, which FX debuted at TCA, above.