Justin Halpern and Patrick Shumaker at Abbott Elementary’s Harley Quinn Valentine’s Day Special [Exclusive Interview]

I’m guessing you probably had a lot of conversations with Quinta and the writers about the “will they, won’t they” idea and were trying to perfect exactly how to walk that line when it comes to the storytelling. How are these conversations in the room? How do you approach this dynamic?

Halpern: Our philosophy is, we work from character arcs first. So before we figure out how they’re going to interact with each other, we try to plan the character’s own arc. “Where is Janine this season? Where do we want to take Janine by the end of the season?” And then once we figure that out, we go, “Okay, so would Janine be in a place where she would be ready for a relationship or not ready for a relationship, or how would she react if someone told her that?” We do. same thing with Gregory and all the characters. We’re like, “Okay, what’s Gregory’s arc this season?” I know they’re fictional characters, but we try to allow them to be human beings on their own path. Then, as writers, we can say, “Okay, these paths are here now [lifts hand] or is here [lifts hand to different height]? Because if it’s here, great, we can play on it. If they’re here, then maybe they’re ready. Or maybe they’ll never get here.”

So when Quinta says, “I don’t know when they’ll get together or if they’re going to get together,” he’s honest. He’s really thinking about it with us and the writing staff. We all sit down and talk—those are probably our biggest, meatiest conversations where people really get fired up and start arguing one way or the other about it’s about character. We never talk about it as, ‘When should they get together?’ We just talk about it as, “Where is this character? Would this character be ready? Would I buy it?” Because I think our nightmare is, you sit at home and you watch something happen on our show and you’re like, “Well, that wasn’t earned. They would never do that.”

It’s like betraying the public’s trust. A good TV show is like someone else driving the car and you can just sit back and relax. You know there are good hands at the wheel. And then once you feel that first bump or turn, then you’re like, “F***, should I be paying attention? Do I trust this person driving the car?” So we never want that to happen. We want you to just sit back and relax and enjoy the ride. That’s why we talk so much about whether or not we’ve won everything we do.

Schumacker: Yes. I think this is the most important. And also realizing that Goldilocks story: You’re never going to please everyone. The public will be — if they come together, it might be too soon. Maybe it’s too late. If they don’t get their act together… you’re never going to please everyone else. So I think we’ve done enough television where we’re satisfied knowing that we’re not going to be able to please one hundred percent of the audience. But whatever feels most real to us is good enough.

I’m going to use this as a bridge into “Harley Quinn” territory, but one of the things you said about that show is that Harley and Ivy will never break up. And I’m curious, Ah, what prompted you to draw that line in the sand? Because you shouldn’t have said that. And then, B, does your position about Harley and Ivy’s power extend to Janine and Gregory, assuming they might meet one day?

Halpern: I think for us, for “Harley,” it was like, these two characters have been through a lot, and they’ve never really had the opportunity to be in a relationship with someone who loved them unconditionally. So we felt like, so much of Harley’s story was this controversial relationship with the Joker. It is toxic. It’s abusive. And a lot of the drama was in how he treated her and how she existed within the context of that relationship. So we just decided it’s more interesting for us to see a relationship that’s healthy, but going through the same struggles that everyone else is going through.

It feels like more fertile untapped ground with Harley than, “they’ll, like, break up, get back together.” We saw this s***. We’ve seen it with Harley. Obviously, it would be different because it would be Ivy, but now let’s see these two people who are really committed to making it work in all the matches to come. It’s hard to make any relationship work, but these are two super villains, so there’s a lot to play with. That’s kind of how I feel.

Schumacker: I echo everything Justin said. Then beyond that, I think for me, I just find them more interesting together. I want them to be happy. And also, it’s very important for everyone working on the show to portray a queer relationship as a happy one. This is so important to us.

Halpern: Yes.

Schumacker: Maybe more than anything else. Yes. So, I can honestly say that as long as we’re in charge of the show, which, knock on wood, will be for the entire duration of the show, we’ll have the final say on things like that. They will never part.

Halpern: We didn’t try to do that, but I feel like now, at this point, we put it in a poison pill that, even if we got kicked off the show, we made that promise to the audience. they should probably keep doing it anyway. [laughs]

Regarding the Janine and Gregory aspect, it sounds like what you’re saying is that this is your approach specifically for Harley and Ivy. But also, I’ve heard little comments throughout this conversation that you don’t necessarily want to repeat the same things that the audience fully expects—those tropes and stories that have been established for so many years, you don’t necessarily want to just do your own thing. version of this. I apologize for speaking in terms of things that may or may not have happened or haven’t happened yet, but the idea of ​​these two characters meeting, does that resonate with you? This idea of, “Okay, they’re together. Let’s see what fertile ground results in them staying together for a long time, instead of breaking up and getting back together that we’ve seen so many times in other comedies”?

Halpern: A lot of what happens in writers’ rooms on TV shows is, what is it that excites the writers? Because as you start making multiple episodes of a show and you start getting into seasons two and three and four, to make those seasons, the writers have to be excited about something. So I think at Abbott, we’re very excited about what we’re writing right now. There is no shortage of stories presented. And I think Quinta is masterful at understanding audiences and pushing and pulling audiences. So I always end up in this place, I trust her. That if he feels that now is the time, then we will build it and it will be the right time. And if he says, “No, it’s not the right time” or “it shouldn’t happen for this reason or it should happen this way.” Then, I believe it is so.

We’ve always said from the first day we were working with her and we were breaking the pilot and doing all these things with her, I was like, ‘Pat and I will always tell you what we think, and we can disagree very passionately. , in at the end of the day, we’re trying to give you the best information you can have to make a decision because we trust you and we want you to have this show to be your voice.” And that worked really well for us. Good thing she’ll hear it. And if she hears an idea that’s better than her idea, she’ll follow that idea. She doesn’t care. The best idea wins. There is no, “It must be mine.”

That’s how we’ve always operated, and that’s how we operate with Janine and Gregory’s stuff. We are in constant contact with her. We talk to her about it. He talks to us. If he has an idea, he’ll fire it up, sometimes in the middle of the night, and send it to one of us. For these two characters, I feel like if they get together, it will be the right time. If they don’t get together, it will be for a reason that I think audiences will find really satisfying. This is what we trust.

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