For four seasons between 2015 and 2019, Rachel Bloom served as the co-creator, executive producer, writer, and star of musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. So, she knows a little something — oh, OK, a lot — about juggling a lot of big personalities, both in her story and around her on set, in the writers' room at in meetings with network executives. Now, while starring in Steve Levitan's Hulu sitcom Reboot, Bloom is able to funnel some of her past experiences and feelings into her new role of Hannah, a writer and producer tasked with bringing back a loved sitcom.
"I think it's also the question of what part of myself am I accessing: Am I accessing the confident writer, or am I accessing the young writer who doesn't know what she's doing? Because those are all aspects of myself," Bloom tells Metacritic. "I just found the character very relatable."
Hannah is an independent filmmaker whose success thus far in that world gets her the attention of Hulu within the world of the show. She takes a meeting to pitch what appears to be her dream show: a new version of Step Right Up, a sitcom about a blended family that she grew up watching in the '90s. Keegan-Michael Key and Judy Greer play actors Reed and Bree, who play the married couple on the show-within-the-show, while Johnny Knoxville portrays Clay, the actor who plays the ex still living with the new couple; Calum Worthy plays Zack, who was a child star when the series was originally on and is now an adult; and Paul Reiser is Gordon, the creator of the original show who is brought back to work on the new version. And when he is, it creates conflict because it turns out that he is Hannah's father, he left Hannah and her mother when she was a child to go have this other family, and he created the show based on that other family, conveniently leaving Hannah out of the narrative.
"It's my theory that she wrote this script as an exercise for therapy to work out her own issues about her father, and then she's like, 'Wait, is this actually a really good script?'" Bloom says. "I think that a lot of people are rebooting things as a therapy exercise to connect with a part of themselves from the past to, I don't know, write a part of themselves [that is] who they were when they originally watched this show."
"And then I think from a primal level, it's playing with these elements of, how much is she doing this for a love of the show?" she continues. "Because there's a line in the pilot where she says, 'I have watched the show for literally as long as I can remember' because this show is part of her personal narrative. But also, how much is she doing this as revenge? How much is she doing this to say, 'You think this is your perfect world? F--- you, I'm going to show them that you're a f---ing asshole.'"
Bloom is an actor-for-hire on Reboot; she is not working in the writers' room or serving as a producer, but because of her background, Levitan told her from the beginning that he wanted to know what she thought about certain scenes and dialogue. That kind of collaboration and openness to find something that feels natural in the moment is very important to Bloom, and it's something she recalls doing even on set at Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, even after finessing scripts in the writers' room.
"We'd rehearse the scenes, we'd run through the scenes, and I'd be like, 'Something doesn't feel motivated,'" Bloom says. Then, she often had to look at scenes from multiple angles, wearing the hat of each of her individual roles on the production. With Reboot, she is finding a freedom in being able to focus on just performing.
"When you're just an actor on a thing and you're not editing it or writing it is, you can do a different thing every time, and then it's up to them in the editing room [what to use]. So there were takes where I did things angrier, there were things where I did things lighter, and then when you see the episodes, that's the canon for the character and it informs your acting as well. But I like to give them choices because it makes it fun for me," she says.
A prime example of this came in the very first scene of the show, Bloom recalls, when Hannah is in the pitch meeting and is asked why she wants to bring the shot back at all. While she did a straightforward take, she also did versions where she played with Hannah's level of emotion a bit. On the one hand, she didn't want people to know she's Gordon's daughter, but on the other, she's seething over how he treated her and "I'm someone who happens to have a lot of anger that I can bring out when needed," Bloom says with a smile. Additionally, because Hannah has "maybe staffed on a TV show or two, but [has] never run a TV show," Bloom also wanted to play with Hannah's confidence level in the meeting.
Hannah and Gordon's secret connection comes out almost immediately, and by the end of the premiere episode, she agrees to do the show alongside him because otherwise it means no show and the actors are all actually excited to work on it — even if they don't necessarily look back on the original fondly.
Although she has the actors in her corner, working alongside a man she could only ever see as a villain will not be easy. On the one hand, there is the clashing of writers' room styles in who they want to bring in to work on the show with them, as well as the language and jokes they share in the room and write into the scripts, but on the other hand, there is a lot of emotional baggage to unpack. Or at least step around.
"She wanted to keep him as a villain in her head so she could make this thing to essentially tarnish his legacy. And now that she has to be with him and see him, he's not a villain: He's a flawed, complicated person, but he's not evil. It brings up a lot of emotions in her and it brings up a lot of vulnerability because deep down everybody wants their parents to love them," Bloom says.
On the show-within-the-show, Hannah found a way to show herself easily: by introducing a fictional version of herself (played by Alyah Chanelle Scott) who she forces Reed's character to contend with when she shows up on his doorstep, shares how hurt she has been to not have him in her life, and he has to come clean to his new family about her. But even that gets tweaked, if not softened, by having Gordon's involvement in the story. He apologizes and acknowledges that he kept her hidden from his new life, which might be a step in the right direction for them personally (even if it does change the show she thought she was making), but it will still be a long process for Hannah to forgive her father, let alone begin to trust him — even if they will prove to have a lot in common.
"We all want love and respect and validation from our parents, and when we don't get that, bad sh-- happens. And so, validation is teased to her throughout the season and then taken away, and teased and taken away, and so, the thing that I felt as an actor is, how much of myself am I going to show him? Because all she's ever done is be hurt by him," Bloom says. "I think that that's very cool to play as an actor: how guarded you can play a thing — even when you're expressing an emotion, even when you're saying, 'I'm not ready for that father daughter talk from you.' And the thing that I think I fed off of with Paul is, Paul's character is very avoidant, he's very defensive, and he uses comedy as a shield — and Hannah does the exact same thing."
Reboot streams new episodes Tuesdays
Get to know Rachel Bloom:
As the co-creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Metascore: 80), Bloom became a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award winner in 2016 and won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics in 2019. As a performer, she has also appeared in Into The Dark: Pooka Lives!, guest-starred on iZombie (74) and Portlandia (76) and voiced animated characters on BoJack Horseman (82), The Simpsons (87), Robot Chicken, and in Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (66). Up next she is joining Season 2 of Julia (76) and The School for Good and Evil.