[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers of Reboot, which dropped its season one finale on October 25.]
When the first season of Reboot ends, Rachel Bloom’s Hannah Korman, the co-showrunner of the revived 2000s sitcom Step Right Up, is largely where she started: She has the show she wanted to make, and she’s watching her father Gordon (Paul Reiser) walk out the door. Over the preceding seven episodes, we watched their professional and personal relationship gradually warm—and seeing Hannah left alone again was a gut punch.
At its core, Reboot is about dredging up memories from the past. When Hannah approaches Hulu about rebooting Step Right Up, it nearly immediately wins over the network execs. She proposes bringing new attention to a once-beloved but forgotten sitcom, promises to reunite the original cast—Reed Sterling (Keegan Michael Key), Clay Barber (Johnny Knoxville), Zack Johnson (Calum Worthy), and Bree Marie Jensen (Judy Greer)—and adapt the show for a generation raised on prestige-TV binges. When original series creator Gordon shows up, a wrench is thrown into her plans—and we quickly find out that Gordon is Hannah’s father who left her decades before.
With a stacked cast and sharp humor, Reboot has quickly become one of the hottest shows of the fall season. The A.V. Club sat down with star Rachel Bloom to discuss how the season ended and where we go from here.
The A.V. Club: So the final episode got pretty real, compared to the preceding ones, which were a lot wackier. And I’m speaking specifically about Hannah and her relationship with Gordon. It was kind of this bittersweet note, where he leaves her again at the end, but was doing it in a way to protect her. Do you think she sees it that way?
Rachel Bloom: Look, I won’t know for sure until, knock on wood, we have a season two, but if I had to guess, and especially the way I was playing that last scene … it’s an abandonment. I think if you questioned her, she could see the logic in it. I think if it were someone else, she’d see it as maybe more even-keeled, but because it’s her father basically repeating her central trauma, it’s devastating.
In the scene with Peter Gallagher’s character [new studio head Tyler], off-hand, I called Paul “Dad”—that would be the first time Hannah calls her father “Dad” on the show. We don’t highlight it, but, altogether, her standing up for her father is her turning a kind of therapized corner, and I think her father brings her back to square one by abandoning her.
AVC: Obviously, Hannah resented him for a really long time, and it was mainly her motivation for rebooting Step Right Up. But once he was begrudgingly back in her life, it seemed like she realized that missed him in a different way. It’s one thing to have the hole in her life and another to know so acutely what you’re missing.
RB: Absolutely. And beneath the surface, when you’re talking about parental trauma—what Hannah’s gone through, with her father fully leaving them for another family, which is very traumatic, and Gordon is very much in the wrong, none of this is on Hannah—as much as every kid professes to hate their parents, every kid just deep down wants their parents’ love. From what I’ve read, I’m not a doctor, but it is the most base need we have. To finally be getting her father’s love I imagine superseded her need for revenge.
AVC: When you started out playing this character at the beginning of the season, did you know that this is where the characters were going to end up? On shows with longer seasons, you don’t necessarily know where you’re gonna finish, but with eight episodes, were you playing it with this in mind?
RB: You know, we weren’t really given a heads-up about the arc in this season. And it’s fine, because what you do then, is you just play what’s on the page. Frankly, what I saw was not as much playing the forward arc, as the stakes for my character were so high in the first episode. She’s coming into this hot. She’s coming in angry, she wants to ruin her father’s legacy. How is that taking me, as an actor, through every episode, and how is that being maintained or softened? Every script was kind of this gradual, gradual softening, so by the time we got to the end episode, it was actually nice that I didn’t realize that he’d abandon her, because it was a surprise to her as well.
AVC: Like you said, she comes in hot; she’s very angry. But from a career standpoint, she’s obviously fairly successful. Over the course of the season, she’s softening herself up, not just to Gordon, but she starts this relationship with Mallory, with Gordon’s help. I think there’s a trope where the female protagonist has to choose between her relationships and her career, and there wasn’t a choice here, and in fact opening herself up to those relationships actually helped her career.
RB: That’s such a beautiful point, because I think a lot of artists—and I think Hannah is an example of one of those people—see their misery as being synonymous with them being good at what they do. And it’s why I think some people don’t go into therapy, but it’s also why some people are almost proud of being reluctant to be in relationships. They’re like, “Well, that gives me my edge.” And it’s like, “Bullshit.” This idea that “I’m going to be alone and bitter and miserable, but great art will come from it.” No, great art can also come from you being happy, it’s okay.
AVC: You see the writers’ room and it’s such a collaborative environment; it can really only help you.
RB: Exactly. You open yourself up.
AVC: Speaking of those writers’ room scenes, I was curious, on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, you were the star, but you also wrote a lot of it, and created it, and wrote the songs for it. But here, you were just acting. What was that transition like?
RB: It’s very freeing to just be acting on something. At the end of the day, it’s not my vision. The original vision is great; it’s why I signed on in the first place. I guess because I have been the creator of a show, and when you do that, you’re putting your heart on a plate, you’re putting your soul out. I was very free to be like, “No, I didn’t write the show. I’m acting, to the best of my abilities.”
Steve [Levitan] was very kind, and was like, “Look, you’re a great writer, let me know whenever you have thoughts.” And I’d give the most occasional thought, mostly relating to a question about my character in a given episode. But for the most part, it was just really nice to sit back and do my job as the actor. Because I’ve done the other thing, and I want to do the other thing in the future, but this isn’t the thing where I do that. This isn’t my show. This is from the mind of someone else, and I’m part of this team, and that’s also really wonderful.
AVC: That sounds pretty nice compared to what I’ve heard were some very long days on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
RB: Granted, something I realized, was that CXGF was like 16-hour days, but even though I was just acting [in Reboot], you’d still have 12, 13-hour days. It made me realize even more, Woah, production is brutal. Even when I’m not creating a thing and in the editing room, production is still really, really fucking hard.
AVC: Did you feel like those writers’ room scenes in Reboot were fairly representative of your experience in actual writers’ rooms?
RB: I think [the scenes are] pretty specific. God, all the lunch ordering stuff is so specific—the character Azmina, they call her “two soups.” There was someone in the Crazy Ex room who was on this weird diet, and every day he’d eat like three whole chickens. The whole office smells of chicken all day. So that is very, very true to the writers’ room.
AVC: You’ve also talked about how when you made CXGF, you had pitched it originally to Showtime, and it ended up at the CW, where, at least with the pilot, you had to tone down some of the raunchier humor. Watching the first episode of Reboot, just the language alone, I was gasping a bit—
RB: And you see Judy’s boobs!
AVC: Yeah! I thought, Okay, we’re definitely on Hulu, because they can do that. Do you think there was an effort to push a little more, because it was on Hulu, or do you think it was less self-censoring?
RB: Less self-censoring. I think it was inherent in the writing. When you’re doing a network show, as good of a show as it is, you inherently will never get a full slice of life, because you can’t curse, and people curse. That’s just what life is.
AVC: So, you’re not sure if you’ve been renewed yet, but it seems like audiences have really latched onto this show. What would you like to see out of a second season?
RB: I think just continuing what we have in the first, with the stakes ramped up. With even more tension. Which I think was set up in the season finale. So I’m just excited to see how all of the fallout from the season finale plays out.