There are stories that I can’t tell in movies because they’re just too small. But with TV, going, “Oh gosh, I can really go granular in this” — that’s why I fell in love with “This Country,” which then became “Flatch.” I was like, I want to be personally involved in this. I want to direct these. I want to write a bunch of these. I really want to be in the mix.
“Flatch” spoke to me because of my Midwestern upbringing and because of loving those types of characters so much. I also love the docu-style of comedy, which is the greatest way to do comedy on television because it’s so immediate, so in the moment.
Why was the setting so important to you, beyond your having grown up in the Midwest?
I feel like I’m a protector of the Midwest, and of small towns. It’s a very coastal thing to make fun of the flyover states, as they call them — and I’m from a flyover state, you know? So when Jenny Bicks and I took this out to try to sell it, that was the first question from everybody: They’re like, “We just have to make sure you don’t make fun of small towns.” And it was like, that is not what we want to do. Jenny’s from a small town. I’m from a small town. We want to protect them. But by doing that, we want to have fun with them. And I want you laughing with them.
How did you go about figuring out how to adapt “This Country”?
With adapting “The Office,” what we all learned is that American audiences have a real hard time rooting for a quote-unquote unlikable character or an unredeemable character. After “The 40 Year Old Virgin” came out, you go “people love Steve Carell,” so it was like, OK, he’s got to have victories. He’s got to be well-meaning. Even though he can be totally terrible, he means well. That was the big epiphany, and “Flatch” is in the same mold.
Why do you think American audiences have a hard time with an unlikable character?
I think we Americans just love lead characters we can root for. We’re generally optimistic and empathetic. We’re too young as a country to be overly cynical yet. We like happy endings and characters learning lessons. We love Scrooge because he turns into a nice guy after being a jerk the whole story. But if he didn’t, and we were just asked to enjoy Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim humiliating him, and the story ended with Scrooge saying, “Bah humbug,” and slamming his door on them as the whole town laughs and pelts his house with rotten fruit — we would be mad that we had been put through that. We like redemption in our stories.
I feel like British audiences can enjoy a boor being taken down a notch because it’s sort of what their press is famous for doing, poking holes in powerful people. I love British humor because it’s usually about the fun of seeing inflated people taken down a notch. Americans enjoy that, too, but usually when it’s happening to the villain, not the protagonist.