The new 'Amber Brown' show is 'bursting with love' and the authentic representation we need on TV

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Sarah Drew and Carsyn Rose in "Amber Brown."
Sarah Drew and Carsyn Rose in "Amber Brown."Apple TV+
  • Carsyn Rose, 11, stars in a modern version of "Amber Brown," based on the beloved children's book series.

  • Rose and costar Sarah Drew told Insider they had instant chemistry as mother and daughter.

  • The series, developed for TV by Bonnie Hunt, aims to bring joy and empathy into the world.

In her Apple TV+ adaptation of the beloved tweenager book series "Amber Brown," written by Paula Danziger and originally published between 1994 and 2003, creator, director, and executive producer Bonnie Hunt aimed to do more than just update the characters' wardrobes.

The show uses Amber's (Carsyn Rose) video diaries and vibrant drawings, which come to life as animations, to give the audience access to Amber's complicated emotions as she navigates her parents' divorce, starting middle school without her best friend, and the big emotions that come with testing out independence for the first time.

Hunt's show also brings Amber's reality forward into 2022 with subtle but authentic representation: Amber is biracial, and her friends belong to many different communities. But that's not what the show is about.

Carsyn Rose and Liliana Inouye in “Amber Brown."
Carsyn Rose and Liliana Inouye in “Amber Brown."Apple TV+

As star Sarah Drew (who plays Amber's mom, Sarah Brown) pointed out to Insider in a recent interview, there is one main ingredient at the core of "Amber Brown": love.

"There is not a page of the script that is not bursting with love," she told Insider.

In a joint conversation with Insider, Rose and Drew discussed how the show mixes scripts full of love with some TV magic to achieve a lofty goal: Encouraging the children watching to "become good, kind, and brave adults," as Drew put it.

Playing mother and daughter came naturally to Drew and Rose

Sarah Drew and Carsyn Rose in “Amber Brown."
Sarah Drew and Carsyn Rose in “Amber Brown."Apple TV+

Insider: The mother-daughter bond can be so intense, and it's such a central part of "Amber Brown." How did you build that together, and were there scenes that felt particularly emotional to film?

Sarah Drew: Honestly, Carsyn, I just remember that first Zoom, the chemistry read, I felt like we connected right away even just on the computer, right?

Carsyn Rose: Yeah. We have such great chemistry, and I feel like when we're doing those really emotional scenes, we could just talk to each other and feed off of each other's energy.

We were filming the scene where Sarah was supposed to be frustrated at me because I did something wrong and I'm just truly regretting it. And I remember afterward I'm like, "Sorry, Sarah."

Ashley Williams and Sarah Drew in “Amber Brown."
Ashley Williams and Sarah Drew in “Amber Brown."Apple TV+

Drew: Carsyn was like, "I hate being mad at you. I hate it."

And you're so present, Carsyn. Very few child actors know how to be as present as you are in a scene. You really listen and you really connect. It makes finding all of those moments of joy — and humor, sadness, and anger, and all the different range of emotions — so easy when I get to act with you.

Honestly, the trust was just there immediately, and then we just get on set together and know what to do.

Representation that's true to life matters on 'Amber Brown'

Carsyn Rose and Michael Yo in “Amber Brown."
Carsyn Rose and Michael Yo in “Amber Brown."Apple TV+

Carsyn, why do you think that it's important that Amber is biracial in this adaptation and that kids get to see you playing her on-screen? 

Rose: I watch TV and I just don't see a lot of biracial kids reflected on TV. And if they are, the whole story is about them being biracial. That's the point. I love "Amber Brown" because it's just happening. It isn't a big storyline, it isn't something that's a problem. She just is biracial.

I think that could help people who are watching the show and are biracial too, because they can feel like it just is normal. It makes it more normal to see it on TV. And that's really important. I know I didn't have that as much when I was little and even now, so I just want people have that.

Sarah, can you talk about why authentic representation is important for you as a mom when it comes to shows like "Amber Brown" that your kids can watch? 

Drew: I was lucky enough to be on another show that did that for nine years. I think "Grey's Anatomy" was one of those incredible forefront shows that they didn't have to comment on every single aspect [of being a minority]. It just showed people of all different backgrounds living and working together. And we didn't have to spend all of our time on why, or pointing toward it. We were just showing humanity in all of its fullness.

It's important for my kids to watch "Amber Brown" and see families from every different background and not feel like anything is strange or necessarily noteworthy about it. Again, it's living life. And the more colors that we can have in terms of human experience on screen, the more relatable we'll be and the bigger the audience we'll have and the more people will feel seen.

Carsyn Rose and Brianna Helm in "Amber Brown."
Carsyn Rose and Brianna Heim in "Amber Brown."Apple TV+

The character of Paula, a young girl who Amber meets the night she performs in her school play  (played by Brianna Heim), is important to me as a writer who uses a wheelchair. I love that she and Amber just become fast friends at the play and her voice-assist technology isn't an issue. Carsyn, what did you like about telling that part of the story? 

Rose: I love that kids are going to be able to see this interaction, because it shows there isn't a big difference [between abled people and disabled people]. You can be friends with them. It's important to teach kids that from a young age, so that they don't end up being adults and still afraid to talk to someone in a wheelchair.

Drew: That scene is such a beautiful moment of positivity too, of these two characters coming together and finding the joy in the moment. It's such a joyful moment. It's not sentimental, it's not sappy, it's just joyful.

The show also focuses on the parents' perspective, emphasizing empathy

Sarah Drew and Carsyn Rose in “Amber Brown."
Sarah Drew and Carsyn Rose in “Amber Brown."

Sarah Drew and Carsyn Rose in “Amber Brown."Apple TV+

Amber's quest to get her ears pierced is a big deal on the show. Carsyn, why do you think it's so important that Amber expresses how she feels about wanting more control over her body and her life in her art journal and video diary? 

Rose: With everything that's going on in our world right now, I think it's so important that people see that it is normal to feel things — how it's okay to want your ears to be pierced, or to be a little bit sad that your parents are getting divorced. These are normal emotions that people feel. And I love that Amber shows this to kids, so that they don't feel alone if they're experiencing any of this.

And I just love that line so much, when she's talking about getting her ears pierced: "It's my ears. I want to get them pierced."

Drew: But what Sarah says to Amber is, "It's not about the ears. It's not about the ears being pierced. It's never been about that." And for me, that whole story is really about the relationship between Amber and her mom, about trust, and about when trust is broken — how does it feel? How does it rest?

I love the animation where you see the earrings get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and weigh Amber down further, and further, and further. It's such a great image of what it feels like when you are not telling the truth to the person that you've always had good trust with.

Parents are going to relate to the heartbreak that happens as a parent when your kid lies to you, and how do you work through it, and how do you navigate through the broken moments in your relationship and figure out how to repair it? We get to model that in a really beautiful way.

Carsyn Rose in “Amber Brown."
Carsyn Rose in “Amber Brown."Apple TV+

Rose: Kids can see the parents' conversations as well as Amber's thoughts in the show. They can see parents interacting and maybe get to see the background to the decisions, to understand why the parents are doing what they're doing. They're not doing it to control your life.

 Drew: We really get to have empathy for both parents and kids in the show.

Rose and Drew hope 'Amber Brown' inspires kids to become 'better adults'

Liliana Inouye, Carsyn Rose, Sarah Drew, Darin Brooks and Ashley Williams in “Amber Brown."
Liliana Inouye, Carsyn Rose, Sarah Drew, Darin Brooks and Ashley Williams in “Amber Brown."Apple TV+

Carsyn, what's the most important lesson you learned from Sarah? 

Rose: How important authenticity is. I noticed that when we're doing a scene together, she's just so authentic. You can tell that she's pulling from an emotion that she's had. She's using her experience, which makes it that much more realistic. I found that when we were on the last episode versus the first one, I learned how to really pull my emotions that I've had into the scene.

And Sarah, what's the biggest lesson you learned from Carsyn? 

Drew: It's like a shot in the arm of joy, when you're working with someone who's so talented and so excited to be there and so enthusiastic.

You're taking in every aspect and really taking advantage of being on that set to learn as much as you can, which is something that I want to emulate everywhere I go. I don't want to just get stuck scrolling on my phone in between shots. I want to be activated. And so, that's a very joyous and beautiful piece of getting to work with you, Carsyn.

Rose: I just really love being on set. I can't even describe it. I just feel like it's in my blood to be an actress. I love being there.

Drew: It's so joyous when you have the person who's the lead of the show, who's there the most often, coming in with just boisterous, delighted, enthusiastic, positive energy, kindness for everyone, curiosity for everyone. You just can't help but rise into that energy for the crew, and the cast, and the producers, and the director. It's a very important job to be that number one person on the call sheet, because you really do set the tone, and you set it in a really beautiful way, Carsyn.

Carsyn Rose and Liliana Inouye in “Amber Brown."
Carsyn Rose and Liliana Inouye in “Amber Brown."Apple TV+

Rose: Thank you so much. That's so important to me, because I just try to include everyone, show everyone's important no matter what job they have. If you're a makeup artist, if you're a camera person, if you're the actor that's on the screen, every aspect's important.

You couldn't do it without every person. Even the background people, it all adds to the story. And I just make sure that I make everyone feel like they're important on the set, because I feel like that trickles down and then everyone feels welcomed on the set.

Why does the world need a show like "Amber Brown" right now? 

Drew: What I say to Bonnie Hunt every time we read an episode is that there is not a page of the script that is not bursting with love. This show is motivated by love. Every frame of it is motivated by love. You're witnessing a family dynamic shift in a really big way and in an explosive way, but everybody is doing their best to love each other well and trying to navigate it with compassion and kindness for each other.

I just think we need more of that in this world. This is like "Ted Lasso" for families. It's just a big shot of love out into the world.

Carsyn Rose and Sarah Drew in “Amber Brown."
Carsyn Rose and Sarah Drew in “Amber Brown."Apple TV+

Rose: There are so many things going on in the world, so many conflicts. People can get caught up in these bad feelings. And "Amber Brown"  just gives such a positive energy. When I was watching it, I just felt like, "Oh my gosh! I just feel happy when I'm watching this." Although I may be a little bit biased.

It really sends a message of positivity and kindness and love, because it's teaching kids from a young age to connect with the other members of their family and grow empathy. And that's going to make for better adults in the future.

Drew: Yes, we want better adults. We want all these kiddos to become good, kind, and brave adults.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

You can stream all 10 episodes of "Amber Brown" on Apple TV+.

Read the original article on Insider