Loot looks for laughs in the wealth gap
Co- creators Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard's series about a tech billionaire's wife is even more topical during the recent financial crisis
BY RADHEYAN SIMONPILLAI rads@ nowtoronto. com · @ justsayrad
There’s some Ted Lasso and Succession in Loot, the Appletv+ series comedy starring Maya Rudolph as a super- rich woman coming down from her throne to do philanthropic work. Loot has the eager and cute drive for empathy we see in Lasso’s fish- out- ofwater narrative along with the ugly displays of unchecked wealth in Succession. Co- creators Alan Yang ( Master Of None) and Matt Hubbard ( 30 Rock) spoke to spoke to NOW recently via Zoom from the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, a setting not out of place in their show, where Rudolph’s bubbly Molly Novak learns the philanthropy game from Mj Rodriguez’s spicy and headstrong Sofia. Yang and Hubbard discussed the series vibe, influences and the irony of making a show about tech billionaires on the NOW What podcast. Here is an edited and condensed version of that conversation. NOW — Your show stars the incredible Maya Rudolph as the wife of a tech billionaire who becomes the third richest woman after a divorce. This screams Mackenzie Bezos. Are we dancing around that? ALAN YANG — It’s a composite character! We didn’t do any specific character research into who Mackenzie Bezos is or anything like that. It truly is a set up of: what if you got divorced, you were starting your life over and oh, yeah, you happen to be one of the richest people in the world. What does that mean for you? We really built the character around what Maya could do as a performer. It really is in no way a biography. It’s just sort of a commentary on our time and a deep dive into this specific character. NOW — We’re talking about commentary on the times. When you started making this show about the insanely rich and the wealth gap, you probably didn’t realize it’d be coming out in the middle of a tech crash, of us being on the brink of a recession while fuel and grocery prices are making it incredibly hard for anyone who’s not the one per cent. It’s not like your show is losing any relevance [ because of] that. AY — It might be even more relevant. If you make it to the finale episode, the show very obliquely hints at the inequality that we’re experiencing. In the process of doing research on this show – on this premise – not only did we talk to people who worked at these philanthropic foundations, but we were reading authors like Anand Giridharadas and Thomas Piketty and all of these people writing about inequality. The show is not a treatise on the state of the world or how we fix these problems. But we certainly were aware of these things going in. We don’t see the show as “billionaires are great, we love them.” It’s more like, “hey, let’s take a closer look at this, and can we Trojan Horse some ideas about the state of the world into a fun, funny, accessible half- hour comedy.” NOW — This is a huge left turn from what you’ve done in the past. You’ve never dealt with this type world, these types of characters before. AY — No, not really. I think that’s what was interesting to it. I always wonder what these people’s lives are like. So we wanted to explore that. But I think what we have both worked on are shows that are about people trying to change, trying to change for the better. And we also very much wanted this to be grounded in a workplace comedy, [ like] 30 Rock, Parks And Rec. We wanted to take the character of Molly, start her in this place where she’s in this insane rich person’s bubble and be pulled out of it by these other great characters who start questioning her and start pushing her, and start hopefully making her feel like some of her assumptions about her life and about the way she’s living can be interrogated. One thing that’s important to me is to know that people can change, as sort of simple and basic as that is. We both wanted to tell the story of someone trying to do that and making missteps along the way, but getting closer to these other people, which is very much in the DNA of shows I’ve been working on for 20 years now. NOW — Is there anything you’re seeing right now that you wish you could have included in the show – whether it’s the crypto crash or Jeff Bezos going to space and thanking his customers and his employees for paying his way? AY — We write down ideas for season two, for sure. That’s the thing about making a show that has some relevance with what’s going on. Obviously, we shot the show a while ago. We wrote the show even longer ago. But man, these current events are great inspiration because this billionaire class, these dudes keep doing crazy shit. We have the option of having these topics in a theoretical season two. Matt Hubbard — Remember AOC wore that dress that says, “[ tax] the rich” to the Met Ball. I was like, “Oh, Sofia should do something that.” They do have this conflict between the one per cent and the people who are below them. It’s so much in the news and so much in our lives. That’s fun to do a show where you can take some nugget that really happened and write a fictional story. We did that a lot on 30 Rock. NOW — Are you in a really nice suite at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills right now? AY — This is all Apple. Hubbard and I did not pay for this hotel room. I think we both acknowledge the irony. We’re writing a show about billionaires and Apple is this billionaire corporation. But there’s no way for us to not do a TV show and get into bed with some sort of giant corporation. That’s just how it works. But what Apple does that’s really awesome is they let people like us just tell our stories in the way we want to, even if it is in some ways implicitly critical of the world that we all have to live in. That has been like a really great, awesome relationship to make the show work. But yeah, this show has been an education for both of us. We saw what yachts are like. We have this huge house that Molly lives in in the show. It’s in some ways disgusting. In some ways you’re interested in it. I think we all feel that way. NOW — It’s a tricky line when depicting this kind of world. A lot of the exciting moments come when she takes people bowling in her house or when they get to roll up in a Rolls Royce SUV. A lot of those scenes are played to 90s hip- hop, aspirational music, the ultimate “alright, we’re making it.” There’s a certain sexiness to that. How do you draw the line between making it seem like this is fun versus criticizing it? AY — Yeah, I think you are playing both sides. And I don’t think that’s invalid in a show. You’re trying to get people to watch the show. Part of it is it’s fun to watch this world. We’re not denying that. I would hesitate to specifically use the word aspirational. I think it’s a fun world to be in, but I think ultimately the tricky thing – the trickiest part is – you want people to empathize with Molly and understand why she is the way she is. And I think you want people to believe there’s the glimmer of the faintest of hopes that there is a real person underneath. And I think the hope is that she was a real person who kind of changed over the years because she was ensconced in this bubble that made her out of touch. But over the course of seasons – hopefully not just one season, because even by the end of this season, she’s not where she should be – the idea is there’s a slow process of change that’s possible. That’s maybe even a metaphor for people in general saying, “hey, open your eyes, maybe we shouldn’t aspire to this and maybe we should look at it more critically and see what exactly is going on.” I think for a lot of people, it is kind of a blanket aspiration. And hopefully the show is examining that a tiny bit. It’s not really meant to be a 100 per cent critique. If you want to do that, please go read the work of those authors that I mentioned and read someone who actually understands this better than two comedy writers who are sitting in a Four Seasons hotel. But, you know, read those books and get more informed. The show is a way to get a bigger audience in on this and maybe expose some people to this idea that we are in a stage of capitalism that is potentially untenable and deserves a second look. NOW — I also think that you can benefit from shorthand based on what we’ve seen before. There’s a workplace comedy element here that, of course, reminds me of 30 Rock, Parks And Rec. There’s also a Succession meets Ted Lasso vibe. AY — It’s interesting that those shows are in the ether right now. We probably started talking about the idea of this show before Ted Lasso came out and and maybe even before Succession came out. It was almost kind of parallel worlds where there’s this show that’s about empathy in Ted Lasso and then there’s other show that’s a criticism of the world of the ultra elite. And you’re right, our show has elements of both of those shows, but was kind of conceived before those even came out. But it makes sense that writing about stuff that’s relevant in the world right now – and everyone’s kind of taking their own angle at it. I totally agree. The DNA of those workplace shows that we worked on is in there. But we talked about doing an evolutionary version where there is a little bit more relevance, there’s a little bit more commentary on what’s going on. It’s a difficult alchemy. It’s a difficult stew. But we are trying to do our best to write and act our way into that world.