- "Stranger Things" director and producer Shawn Levy is now one of the creatives behind Netflix's new sci-fi teen series "I Am Not Okay With This."
- In an interview with Insider, Levy addressed the "dying experience" of appointment-viewing TV shows like "Game of Thrones."
- Levy also discussed the "refreshing experience" of short-episode series like "I Am Not Okay With This" (which is just seven episodes, all clocking in around 20 minutes each).
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Shawn Levy, director and producer behind "Stranger Things" and many more series and movies, is also a co-executive producer of Netflix's newest teen sci-fi series "I Am Not Okay With This."
Adding to the slate of dozens of new TV shows premiering this year on Netflix alone, "I Am Not Okay With This" is yet another bingeable series that pushes our current era of TV away from the appointment-viewing style of say, HBO's "Game of Thrones" (where 17.4 million people watched the season eight premiere at the same time).
"I do think that that is a dying experience," Levy told Insider over the phone ahead of the premiere of "I Am Not Okay With This" on Netflix. "But I will say that, again, what I have learned from 'Stranger Things' is that even though the simultaneity of appointment viewing is on the wane, it remains, thank God, very possible to capture the interest of the global culture in a shared experience."
Levy's production company, 21 Laps, is in the midst of a multi-year overall deal with Netflix to produce TV shows. Keep reading for Insider's full interview with Levy on "I Am Not Okay With This" and its new approach to Netflix's catalog of shows.
Kim Renfro: I love that "I Am Not Okay With This" is adding to this trend of shorter episodic TV on a streaming service like Netflix. How did the team land on this shorter structure approach, with just a seven-episode season and all of the episodes coming in around 20-minutes long?
Shawn Levy: The initial impetus for sure was the supremely bingeable length of the episodes in [director and writer] Jonathan Entwhistles's prior series "The End of the Fxxxing World." All of us at 21 Laps just devoured that show. And it was such a refreshing experience to lose ourselves in storytelling that felt concise and hooky and not at all pace indulgent.
So honestly, we just wanted to lean into Jonathan Entwhistle's instincts for shorter episodes and episodic numbers. It was definitely based on what we'd seen Jonathan do before.
But I think it's also fair to say that because I produced "Stranger Things" and [that show] has made me keenly aware of the power of immersive and dense storytelling, there was no reason not to aspire to the same obsession-worthy pacing for a half-hour or shorter comedy or dramedy. So it was a combination.
Netflix via Getty Images
Levy (continued): The short answer is Jonathan Entwhistle already liked that approach, and I've learned firsthand that a bingeable series can end up being a very popular series. So between the two of us, there was no argument, no question.
I would also maybe add that this kind of storytelling only works in streaming, right? It's a real luxury to make shows for a platform that does not mandate episode numbers and episode running time. So I don't take for granted the absolute creative freedom that Netflix gives us as producers in our storytelling.
Renfro: Given that you work with Netflix on all of these various shows, I'm wondering what you think about how we've entered a new era of television that's moved away from appointment viewing. I watched the final season of "Game of Thrones" and kept thinking that it might be the last time that 20 million people sit down to watch TV at the same time.
Levy: Yeah ... everybody watching the same thing, I know. It's something we have definitely talked about and I think with the exception of sporting events and political cataclysms, it is an increasingly rare thing for everybody to share the same viewing at the same time. I do think that that is a dying experience.
But I will say that again, what I have learned from "Stranger Things" is that even though the simultaneity of appointment viewing is on the wane, it remains, thank God, very possible to capture the interest of the global culture in a shared experience. The experience might not be shared at the same time. But it is still possible to connect people with a cultural experience. And when you do that as we've been lucky enough to do with "Stranger Things," it's a deeply satisfying experience.
Renfro: It is always interesting to see which shows manage to break through all the noise since that doesn't always happen.
Levy: And there's no predicting it. There's just no predicting it. Like I don't know that anyone was predicting "Joker" to make $1 billion, right? And if you look at "The Witcher" or "Sex Education" — the things that cut through the noise are so eclectic and there is no one rule. But that's the fun of it.
So in the absence of a rule or any predictive science, my philosophy has always been to just bet on whatever I think is cool and I'd want to watch. And sometimes you get lucky and your own taste ends up in harmony with the culture's taste.
Renfro: In "I Am Not Okay With This," I really love Syd and Stan's relationship because it's this supportive, nice guy who is validating her experiences in a way that I think that we don't see all the time. How did the team approach that friendship?
Levy: I mean we always knew it was Syd's show, but we also knew Stan was going to be the special sauce. Stan is such a critical character not only in terms of the affirmation and intimacy that he gives Syd, both physically and emotionally, but because he gives her sense of self a little more shape and context and affirmation. We also knew that Stan, from a series tone point of view, was going to be an imperative source of weird comedy. So I love Stan for who he is for Syd, and I also love Stan for who he is for us viewers.
Renfro: I'm also very curious about the approach of time and setting with this show. I know it's linked to "The End of the Fxxxing World," so even though it feels very '80s, it's also hinted at throughout that it's taking place in our current day.
Levy: We talked a lot about what Jonathan calls either faux-nostalgia or fauxstalgia, like one catchy word. There are the very subtle reminders that it's a current-day story, but Jonathan [Entwhistle] — just as he did with "End of the Fxxing World" — he somehow uses elements that are very often retro, and yet it combines current day storytelling to feel timeless.
And all I can say is that I'm a director who produces things on the side. So at every juncture, my vote is to back the director. I bet on fellow filmmakers just as I have wanted and needed people to bet on me. So that timeless, nostalgic, retro, it's-of-every-time-it's-of-no-time vibe — that is pure Entwhistle. And I think it's as important to this series as the plot and the amazing performances.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Read the original article on Insider