The Inverse Interview
'Woman in the House' writers on Season 2: "We haven't figured it out yet"
“Season two should just be a book of poetry”
The parody genre is a double-edged sword. Add too many jokes and the plot gets muddy. Take the story too seriously and the jokes will seem out of place. In-between lies a perfect balance between satire and intrigue, as seen in Netflix sleeper hit The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window.
For creators Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson, and Larry Dorf, this didn’t come easily. As comedy writers, these frequent collaborators had to first create a thrilling mystery, then slowly fold in as many jokes as they could. “It wasn't very fun,” Ramras says. “It was tedious, tiring, and challenging. But it really needed to work on that level before we could even start to inject it with humor.”
The work paid off. Kristen Bell plays Anna, a pitch-perfect exaggeration of the busybody suburban mom that employs both Bell’s Good Place comedy chops and her mystery experience from Veronica Mars. Parodying female-centric mysteries like Netflix’s own The Woman in the Window, Anna must keep her tragic backstory concealed as she witnesses the murder of her new neighbor Neil’s girlfriend, only for no one to believe her.
The series’ creators spoke with Inverse about how this unique show came about and where it’s going next, especially after a cliffhanger featuring a plane-bound disappearance and a Glenn Close cameo.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. There are spoilers.
Inverse: How did a show like this come about?
Rachel Ramras: Well, I love all of those books. Those are my favorite. If there's a book, preferably written by a woman with a woman at the center of the book, and it's a thriller, I'm gonna read it. I started noticing that all these books that I was loving had either “girl” or a “woman” in the title and she usually had a tragic past, drank too much, mixed it with pills, and witnessed something that nobody believed. Then, in the end, she was vindicated.
These stories never got old to me. I still read them. But there is something very funny about how they kind of are all the same. And then the first thing that we thought of was the title and that struck us as funny.
Hugh Davidson: And then for some reason, we wrote the opening monologue without knowing anything, we just wrote it. Rachel is friends with Jessica Elbaum, who works at Gloria Sanchez [Productions] and they were gonna have coffee. We didn't really have any of it figured out, just this monologue, and Rachel did the monologue for Jessica. And she said, “Let's do it.”
If there’s a season two, are we going to see a parody of another genre or will it be a different flavor of mystery? What can we expect?
Hugh Davidson: I think we set ourselves up to do something that would be so unexpected that we might have painted ourselves into an impossible corner. Maybe season two should just be a book of poetry. It'd be hard to duplicate the trick twice. But I'm sure there's something there. We haven't figured it out just yet.
How do you strike the balance between a genuinely intriguing mystery and satire?
Rachel Ramras: I think the first thing that needs to hit is the thriller. You have to be invested in it, and then you can weave in the humor. It was very important, and it wasn't very fun. The three of us are comedy writers. It was tedious, tiring, and challenging. But it really needed to work on that level before we could even start to inject it with humor.
Hugh Davidson: I think absurd humor doesn't seem to fight drama. If someone's performance in a drama is over the top, you can laugh. But then in the next scene, you could get rid of that and deal with what the drama is giving you. We would think of lots of things that made us laugh and then we realized it would feel like you were taking the tension away if you got a certain kind of laugh. So we had to eschew those clever or witty lines, lines that felt like they were at the expense of the proceedings and find humor just in how overwrought everything is.
Larry Dorf: Finding that balance was a moving target the whole way through. Our first draft of this thing was very comedic. Then we overcorrected, and it was too sad.
We found in the writing and then when we were shooting in how we produced it. It couldn’t be lit bright, like a comedy, and the actors have to be fully committed and not playing it for laughs, which I think they all did just wonderfully.
Hugh Davidson: As we were editing, we knew in order to make the ending work we had to get increasingly funnier as it went on. That’s unusual. It had to get funnier in order for the ending to work, you had to feel like it's funny when nine people are apologizing to Anna in a hospital room and we're literally repeating the dialogue largely. You wouldn't find any of that funny if it had not gotten a little bit funnier by the last episodes.
What elements ended up on the cutting room floor?
Larry Dorf: There were so many things that were very, very funny that we had to not be so invested in the edit. We had to say goodbye to a lot of funny things so the tension would keep going and it wouldn't seem like four different shows.
There was a lot of Michael Hitchcock who is amazing. He played the fingerprint guy in the police station. It could’ve been the entire episode, him just improvising.
Rachel Ramras: I wonder if we can somehow release just those outtakes of Michael Hitchcock, because he's so brilliant. Tonally, we couldn't keep it all in, but on its own, it's one of the funniest things in the world.
Were there any satire and parody works you turned to for inspiration?
Hugh Davidson: We watched American Vandal while we were outlining. They do both mystery and comedy too, but their thing seemed inherently sillier. Maybe it's easier to laugh at something where someone paints a penis. This involves a murder and a kid. There are a lot of things in this that seemed very high risk to try and figure out a way to make an audience feel comfortable laughing at some of this stuff, and that there didn't feel like there was a lot of inspiration for that.
We've been working on Mike Tyson Mysteries, but that's like on Adult Swim, that's a different audience. There you could get away with things. This audience, you imagine, is normal people. They're not like the people that watch Adult Swim, so getting them to laugh was very challenging to figure out.
In the last episode, the final twist reveals Neil’s daughter Emma as the real killer. Was she always the culprit from the beginning?
Rachel Ramras: It took us a while to settle on who was gonna do it, but once we settled on Emma that did seem like the most absurd choice.
The kid being the bad guy has been done before, but the fight, the physical fight between Emma and Anna is not something we had seen and we wanted it to be brutal, vicious, hand to hand combat. And that seemed very fun to us. And it seems like other people are enjoying it too.
This series has an all-star cast of comedic actors, but all of the acting is deathly serious. How did you approach casting?
Rachel Ramras: Kristen was the perfect choice because she is comedic. She's funny. She can deliver jokes. But she also would've been very appropriate casting in the straight version of this. If a thriller was coming out starring her, you wouldn't bat an eye. She was perfect for that. We weren't familiar with a lot of the actors that we ended up with and were so lucky to have. We think Tom Riley is just perfect as Neil. The casting of Emma was a fun challenge.
Larry Dorf: Cameron Britton, who plays Buell, a lot of people know him from Mindhunter, where he played a serial killer. Some people have said they thought that was intentional, that because he already played a serial killer he's gonna be the killer in this.
Rachel Ramras: Our director Michael Lehmann made sure there was an understanding from the beginning that everyone does need to approach it without a wink, smile or any kind of twinkle in their eye. It couldn’t be funny-bad acting. It had to be super, super committed. And that would've been the only way it would've worked.
It was nerve-wracking at the time for some of the actors. I remember our first time when we were talking with Michael Ealy [who played Anna’s ex-boyfriend Douglas]. He's in the show throughout, but his days of working were limited. What we were asking him to do involved a lot of trust and probably betrayed what made him a great actor in the first place: lean into not being a great actor and you will give the perfect performance.
Hugh Davidson: Don't be charming! Don’t be charismatic! You have to just be a nervous dad.
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window is now streaming on Netflix.