How Taffy Brodesser-Akner Created The Ultimate Divorce Therapy With Fleishman Is in Trouble Crew Call Podcast
Taffy Brodesser-Akner knows something about love.
And men and women, and why they fall in and out of love.
It’s no wonder why her debut novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble became an immediate New York Times Bestseller, as well as a notch on the National Book Award longlist, resonating with many. Now, Fleishman Is in Trouble is a 7x Primetime Emmy nominated FX series.
Similar to the 4x Oscar winning movie Annie Hall, Fleishman Is in Trouble is a deconstruction of how a great relationship goes very wrong. Part of the blame goes to those couples who are managing their egos, as they head into the middle ages of middle age.
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Across eight episodes, the FX/ABC Signature limited series is laden with a plethora of wisdom as to why the sacred institution of marriage goes unholy: “People aren’t having affairs because they’re betraying their spouse, rather they’re trying to rejuvenate who they were in the first place.”
Also reminiscent of Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters, Fleishman Is in Trouble delves into the class anxieties and fixations of Manhattan’s uptown society, and what happens when divorce dents that like a meteor.
Fleishman Is in Trouble follows 41-year-old hepatologist, Toby Fleishman (Jesse Eisenberg) whose ex-wife, talent agent Rachel (Claire Danes) leaves him with their young daughter and son. What’s supposed to be a weekend turns into weeks. She drops off the face of the Earth, with all communication cut off. Toby, in the midst of bouncing back with a sexually active single life, expresses his frustration to his longtime friends, Seth (Adam Brody) and Libby (Lizzy Caplan), the latter of whom narrates the series and takes a fascination in the ups and downs of Toby’s affairs and shenanigans. But even though Brodesser-Akner has a keen insight into the underpinnings of men, Fleishman Is in Trouble flips the script and is ultimately about the women, Rachel and Libby, and what vexxes them about their marriages.
Brodesser-Akner, a New York Times Magazine staff writer, tells Deadline’s Crew Call what sparked her to sit down and write a 400-page novel: After she turned 40, many of her friends were getting divorces and turning to dating apps.
“I was mystified by this,” she says.
But there was more: “What would it be like for those of us who are the last generation of people who did not have apps — if we married young, what would it be like for us to suddenly have this new technology?” She initially pitched the piece to her GQ editor who turned it down as the magazine’s core demo was only acquainted with dating apps.
Brodesser-Akner then turned to writing the conceit, and it overtook her as a novel. “I thought this isn’t different from writing profiles,” the only thing was that this was “a profile of someone who doesn’t exist.” Brodesser-Akner finished writing Fleishman Is in Trouble within six months.
Knowing that the novel couldn’t simply rest on her feelings of marriage, divorce and midlife, Brodesser-Akner had to give Fleishman a mystery, an engine that would run the story, and also ride alongside it. The gist of Rachel going MIA was inspired by a friend of Brodesser-Akner’s whose ex-wife dropped the kids off and didn’t return home for two days. While the ex-wife was in touch with her husband, Brodesser-Akner wondered “What if she wasn’t in touch, what if she was dismissive of him?”.
When it comes to the spotlight on divorce in Fleishman Is in Trouble, the happily-married Brodesser-Akner says “I’m obsessed with the amount of divorce in my family,” in addition that those who’ve broken up their marriages were once “as happy as I was on their wedding day.”
Brodesser-Akner tells us about how she came to select the penultimate episode, “Me-Time,” as her Emmy submission, which landed her a Limited/Antholgy Series Writing nom. “Me-Time” is strictly dedicated to Claire Danes’ Rachel character, and the actress’ table read wound up greatly impacting how Fleishman Is in Trouble ultimately played out.
It’s not often that authors are allowed in the writers’ room, particularly for shows based on their work. How did Brodesser-Akner pull off this feat and become an EP and prime scribe on the FX show? She says much of that had to do with the support of the John Landgraf-led network and series EPs Susannah Grant and Sarah Timberman.
With the ongoing WGA strike and networks unable to promote their Emmy nominees directly to the press, Deadline reached out directly to Brodesser-Akner to talk about her work on Fleishman Is in Trouble.
“I’ve been a successful journalist and I’ve been a successful novelist,” she explains, “I was not solvent with a chance for a good future until I wrote for television, and that is the union. That is not anyone volunteering to shower me with anything.”
“I am for whatever my union is for,” says the author-turned-TV scribe about the WGA.
“It seems to me from where I’m sitting that all you’d have to part with profits-wise is a small percentage to make this whole problem go away,” she adds about streaming residuals.
Next up for Brodesser-Akner is her second novel, Long Island Compromise, coming in Summer 2024.
Logline: In 1983, a wealthy businessman named Carl Fletcher is kidnapped from his driveway in the nicest part of Long Island, brutalized and held for ransom. He is returned to his wife and sons less than a week later, only slightly the worse for wear, and the family begins the hard work of trying to move on with their lives and resume their prized places in the saga of the American dream, coming to understand that though their money may have been what put them in danger, it is also what guarantees them their safety in the end.
“It’s about generational wealth. It’s about generational trauma. It’s about all these Marxist ideals of the strike,” says Brodesser-Akner.
In addition, it’s a “good old fashioned kidnapping drama.”
And there’s another mysterious tug in Long Island Compromise: Carl doesn’t know who collected his ransom money. Even though it’s a small part of his fortune, “it’s the part that tortures him the most.”
Fleishman Is in Trouble is up for seven Emmys including Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series, Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Brodesser-Akner, “Me-Time”), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Caplan), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Danes), Outstanding Directing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Valerie Faris, “Me-Time”), Outstanding Casting for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Laura Rosenthal, Jodi Angstreich) and Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Anne Newton-Harding, Leah Katznelson, Angel Peart, Katie Novello and Deirdre Wegner, “Me-Time”).
Listen to our conversation here:
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