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Hulu's 'Reboot' Team Talks Meta Nature of Making a Sitcom About Making a Sitcom

Creator and showrunner Steven Levitan says 'Reboot' was inspired, in part, by 'Roseanne.'

Danielle Turchiano
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Keegan-Michael Key in 'Reboot'

Hulu

Hulu's forthcoming comedy Reboot has been a long time coming in creator and showrunner Steven Levitan's mind.

"The idea for this came a few years before Modern Family ended and the whole Roseanne debacle happened when their reboot blew up. I just remember thinking to myself, 'Well, that's the show I want to see: what's going on on that set,'" Levitan said during a Television Critics Association press tour panel for the show.

But Levitan still had a few years on Modern Family before he could turn his attention to something new, so he didn't know if he'd get to tell that story.

"I figured it was such a ripe area that somebody's going to do this before I have time to do this, but they never did," he admitted. 

The premise of Reboot is that Hannah (Rachel Bloom) pitches rebooting an old sitcom titled Step Right Up to Hulu, but she wants to do it with the original cast and in a much more grounded way than the original was presented. Naturally, that makes for a lot meta commentary on the entertainment industry — from the real streamer being consistently referenced, to specifics of lunch orders in writers' rooms and the episode titles, which are all named for previous sitcoms — but it also should be noted that technically what she wants to do is a continuation or a revival. No one points that out to her, perhaps because the VP of comedy, Elaine (Krista Marie Yu) admits she is new to humor.

(For the record, series star Paul Reiser acknowledges the need to call such a project a "continuation" instead of a reboot.)

The original Step Right Up was a sitcom from the '90s, and by including both clips of that original show-with-the-show and footage from the set of the new version, Levitan effectively had to make two television shows. He joked that he hopefully made one bad one (Step Right Up) and one good one (Reboot), but the key to all of it was being as "authentic" to experiences as possible.

"It felt like making a documentary at times," added series star Keegan-Michael Key.

To that end, the character of Elaine is based on Modern Family writer-producer Elaine Ko, who Levitan worked with for years on that ABC sitcom. Meanwhile, Calum Worthy plays Zack, who was a child actor on the original show-within-the-show and now returns for the new version after having done a slew of teen-focused films.

"It was very therapeutic to play this role because I started acting when I was a kid. I was on Disney Channel, and I know the experience of being a child actor and trying to be an adult. You often miss out on the normal childhood opportunities that lead you into being an adult, and Zack is frozen in time," Worthy said.

Similarly, Bloom, who previously co-created, wrote, executive produced, and starred in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on The CW, shared that she felt like she was playing a version of herself (but one who didn't have to worry about also being on camera).

"I also liked that set dec made the table of the writers' room a little bit disgusting," Bloom said. "The table in the writers' room, that's where COVID started, so I liked that there was always a stray tissue."

As much as Reboot will focus on the re-creation of a modern classic series in a very different television landscape, including commenting on the need for diversity and inclusion both on-screen and behind-the-scenes, it is also a show focused on relationships. Key's Reed and Judy Greer's Bree, for example, not only play on-screen husband and wife in the show-within-the-show, but they also dated in their past. Johnny Knoxville's Clay was deep into his substance abuse on the first run of the show and now returns sober, having to make amends with those he worked with years before. And Hannah is actually the daughter of the original Step Right Up creator Gordon (Reiser), but he left her for another family when she was very young and never talked about her in the industry and she doesn't have his last name. So when they end up having to work together on this new version of the show, there is ample professional and personal tension.

"I prefer the [reboots and revivals] where people are reinventing it in some way — that there's some reason for that reboot to happen and not just, 'Hey, let's make more money.' But for me the reboot is also metaphorical — that these people are getting a second chance to reboot their lives. And I think one of the themes of the show is that when life hands you one of those rare second chances, try your best not to blow it," Levitan said.

Reboot premieres with its first two episodes Sept. 20 on Hulu.