‘The Premise’ creator B.J. Novak: ‘These are stories about our time’

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 14 (UPI) — B.J. Novak said he created the FX anthology series, The Premise, premiering Thursday, as a reflection of modern issues. Each episode stars a new cast in a new story.

“These are stories about our time the way I see them,” Novak said on a Television Critics Association Zoom panel.

The subjects of The Premise episodes are varied, tackling police violence, social media, bullying and mass shootings.

Novak compared The Premise to science-fiction series that told timely parables. However, he said, The Premise stories take place in the real world.

“It was The Twilight Zone without the sci-fi, Black Mirror without the dystopian technology,” Novak said. “What is a timeless dilemma that could only happen today?”

The Premise premieres with “Social Justice Sex Tape.” Ben Platt stars as a man who must come forward with an embarrassing sex tape to help another man on trial.

Darren Williams (Jermaine Fowler) is on trial for assaulting police officers during a stop. Ethan Streiber (Platt) finds he has recorded the incident in question outside the window of his apartment.

At first, Ethan is excited that his evidence could help clear Darren. However, he becomes reluctant to let the court see his sexual escapades.

“How do you convince someone who thinks they are an ally to do something that isn’t easy, that is really mortifying?” Novak said. “Ben Platt couldn’t have been more of a trouper just standing there with his bare ass out all day.”

The second episode takes a more serious turn. In “Moment of Silence,” Chase Milbrandt (Jon Bernthal) is grieving the death of his daughter in a mass shooting.

Chase takes a job as public relations director for a gun lobbyist. His co-worker, Aaron (Boyd Holbrook), grows worried that Chase is plotting revenge from inside.

“That idea to me was so riveting both from the perspective of the father and the perspective of the person at work who tries to befriend him,” Novak said.

“Social Justice Sex Tape” and “Moment of Silence” also illustrate how different episodes of The Premise can be. Novak said he considers them all comedies, though there are fewer overt laughs in “Moment.”

“‘Moment of Silence’ feels quite serious,” Novak said. “In this case, it’s not a joke, but it’s still an outrageous premise.”

In “The Ballad of Jesse Wheeler,” Jesse (Lucas Hedges) is a pop star who promises to sleep with the valedictorian of his alma mater high school. This leads former slackers to study hard to win the intimate date with Wheeler.

“It starts with a premise, but then I try to fill it with as much drama and realism,” Novak said. “How can I do justice to an outrageous idea [and] challenge myself to bring depth to it?”

The Premise episode about social media is called “The Commenter.” Lola Kirke plays a successful woman who becomes obsessed with a negative comment from an anonymous person on the Internet.

“On the one hand, it is about social media, but it’s also about finding your inner voice,” Novak said.

Novak, 42, was a writer, producer and actor on the NBC iteration of The Office. During the run of the show, he played a role in Quentin Tarantino’s WWII drama Inglourious Basterds.

Since The Office ended in 2012, Novak published a book of short stories, One More Thing, in 2015. Novak said The Office informed his handling of volatile topics in The Premise.

“I always felt, from The Office on, the more dangerous the topic, the funnier or better you have to be,” Novak said.

He said he had more ideas than could fit in the first season, and that the subjects helped him determine which episodes would make the cut.

“I found that the issues that came to the forefront were the ones that were most visceral to people,” Novak said.

Although the topics of the episodes can be fraught, Novak said he hopes the half-hour format makes them palatable to viewers. He said he hopes each episode is as satisfying as a movie or ongoing series, but in 30 minutes or less.

“I just thought they were really compelling dilemmas about life today, and I just wanted to tell them simply,” Novak said. “So I hope that my love for exploring an idea thoroughly and moving the hell on is really fun for viewers, too.”

New episodes of The Premise premiere Thursdays on FX on Hulu.