ATX Television Fest: Fox Comedy Block
The ATX Television Festival’s first full day of programming started early with the 135-minute Fox Comedy Block at the Alamo Ritz, where creative talent from The Mindy Project, Raising Hope, and New Girl popped in to screen episodes and swap stories.
The block started with an episode of The Mindy Project (#106: “Teen Patient”) that was co-written by Ike Barinholtz (with David Stassen) and directed by Rob Schrab, who both took the stage post-screening. Barinholtz discussed his trajectory from the writers’ room to costar – actually, Barinholtz cracked, “I started as a custodian. I cleaned up the office after hours; it was a Good Will Hunting situation. … Is this the Boy Meets World panel?”
Barinholtz plays fan favorite nurse Morgan, a character so beloved Buzzfeed devoted a whole listicle to him – "right before '20 Reasons You're Drinking a Margarita Wrong,'" he joked. In Barinholtz's words, he plays the “big dumb guy on the show ... a very Flowers for Algernon vibe. You guys like Flowers for Algernon, don’t you?” Explaining the book was the basis of the movie Charley – this was more of a visual crowd, after all – he urged everyone to “give it up for Cliff Robertson.” (And we did.)
Raising Hope’s Season 3 curtain raiser “Not Indecent” screened next, followed by a quick chat with costars Lucas Neff and Shannon Woodward, who play single dad Jimmy Chance and his girlfriend Sabrina. After moderator Jarett Wieselman of ETonline praised the toddler actresses who portray the titular Hope as “two of the most talented actors on TV” (to which Neff deadpanned “thanks”), Neff marveled at the “Nat Geo aspect” of watching the girls grow from a “puddle” into now-3-1/2-year-olds. Woodward added, “Everybody wants to be able to cuddle a child that they don’t have to change” and then praised their professionalism: "These kids hit their marks.”
On working with costar and screen legend Cloris Leachman, Neff said, “I kind of think it’s like piloting a helicopter, if the helicopter is drunk.” Both were quick to praise how amazing their costar is, but still, said Woodward, “she’s a handful.”
Neff commented on the range of story and tone on the show (created by Greg Garcia), how it can encompass both “screwball wackadoo” and “relatable life experience,” and the same point was made by New Girl executive producer and writer David Finkel and star Lamorne Morris, who plays Winston, when they screened season two finale “Elaine’s Big Day.”
The pair talked some about improvisation, the chemistry between the five leads (Morris said the audition process involved “so many chemistry reads”) and how often the actors dissolve into laughter on set. “Max [Greenfield, who plays Schmidt] breaks the most – but he breaks for a very long time. If I’m breaking, my skin stays the same color.” But when Greenfield breaks character to laugh, Morris says, he turns “bright red, teary eyes, and his makeup starts running.”
He pointed to recent guest star Rob Riggle (formerly of The Daily Show), who played Schmidt’s super-competitive cousin. “Most of the scenes with him were a nightmare.” Frankel admitted that editing around Greenfield’s laughter wasn’t easy, noting that the rooftop scene was “cut within a hair.”
But back to that mix of absurdity and sincerity. Said Frankel:
“Even if we go into the air ducts with a badger at an Indian wedding” – as in the episode screened – “there’s still the reality of what's happening. … The minute we’re not honest, we smell it before you do.”
And about those air ducts – they shot the finale on the same set as Die Hard – perfect for fulfilling Morris’ admitted secret ambition to be an action hero, at least for a day.