Sitcom in session

Emerson talent and location behind new Hulu series Resident Advisors

by Cathleen Cusachs / Beacon Staff • April 23, 2015

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Courtesy of Resident Advisors
Courtesy of Resident Advisors

Runaway dogs, broken condoms, rooming catastrophes, and a ruinous fire are just some of the antics the cast of Hulu’s new Emerson-inspired show, Resident Advisors, must go through.

The seven-episode show was filmed entirely at the college’s Los Angeles campus, which, for the show, became the fictional Thoreau College. The creators, Emerson alumnae Taylor Jenkins Reid and Natalia Anderson, said they based the comedy on their experiences as RAs at Emerson. Since April 9, it’s available only on Hulu, with the first two episodes free without a subscription.

Jamie Chung, 32, known for roles in The Real World, The Hangover Part II and III, and Once Upon a Time, plays the head RA struggling to keep order among her inefficient staff and quirky residents. The pilot episode features two in particular, Daryl Sabara from Spy Kids, and his female roommate, played by Juliette Goglia. With the name “Leslie,” Sabara’s character was mistaken as a girl by the college, causing a rooming problem Chung’s staff has to fix.

“Natalia had the idea to do a show about resident advisors, so she called me,” Reid, 31, said in a phone interview. “I will just say there are some more shocking elements from the pilot that were inspired by things I actually had to deal with, and I did not deal with them as gracefully as the RAs in the show do.” 

Covering topics like sex, drugs, and gender identities, Resident Advisors has received mixed reactions. The duo said Hulu hasn’t restricted them on what they can talk about, but some viewers said they disagreed with the way the issues are handled. One contentious storyline being discussed in Hulu’s online comments is about the RA staff’s reaction to a gender-ambiguous student in the pilot.

Emerson freshmen Evan McCrory and Alexandria Martinez both said they were disappointed in the show’s handling of gender identities. The staff tries to discover the student’s gender by following the student into the unisex bathroom, and also asks Sabara’s character, a straight male, to say he identifies as a female.

McCrory and Martinez said these scenes felt unnatural and forced. McCrory, a marketing communication major, said he was especially confused as to why they didn’t make Leslie transgender. Martinez, a political communication major, said they were going too far with jokes on such a serious issue.

“Part of me is like, ‘Yeah, you’re including transgender people,’ which is totally great,” Martinez said. “But then the other part is like, ‘You’re not doing it well,’ which is not OK.”

Anderson and Reid said they didn’t expect everyone to like all of the series.

“It’s one of those things where obviously you want everyone to like everything that you do, but that’s never going to happen,” Reid said. “Ultimately, all you care about is that it finds an audience and that people enjoy it in the way that you’re hoping they would. We’re just trying to make people laugh—that’s all we’re trying to do, and so hopefully we’ve done that.” 

Anderson, 30, a 2006 visual and media arts graduate, and Reid, a 2005 visual and media arts graduate, said Emerson’s noted alumni network was a major help in the production. Some other crew members, including a writer and a production coordinator, came from this group of graduates nicknamed the Mafia, they said.

Another Emerson alumnus and Emerson LA founding director, Kevin Bright, let the duo film on the Hollywood campus, an idea they said they came up with to add to the naturalness. Bright, a producer of the 1994 show Friends, said he is also a big supporter of the show.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to not only support an alum, it was a great thing for current students at Emerson because a bunch of them got to observe, a bunch of them got to be in it as extras, a bunch of them even got to work on it a little bit,” Bright, 60, said in a phone interview. 

Another notable celebrity involved in the production is Elizabeth Banks, a producer and a guest star in an episode, who has publicly endorsed the project. King Bach, a well-known comedian on the short video app Vine, also plays one of the RAs.

The production company, Paramount Pictures, pitched the show to a few companies before Hulu picked it up. Although Reid and Anderson said they could not name the exact budget, the duo did say it was low. Because of this, many of the actors were found through personal connections—such as Goglia—followed by an auspicious casting call, the girls said. Reid’s husband, Alex Jenkins Reid, is also a supervising producer for the show. They had only three weeks over the summer to film.

Despite the controversial reactions and small budget, Reid and Anderson said they hope Hulu renews the show for another season. They said they enjoy working with the cast, crew, and Hulu, and that they are proud of what they created.

“I think when it comes to producing and just trying to generally create content, it’s really about resilience, because you’re going to get a lot of ‘No’s’ and you’re going to get a lot of people that aren’t as great as Taylor and Alex,” Anderson said. “You have to try hard, you have to have faith in yourself, and you have to surround yourself with other good people who you’re happy to go to work with every single day.”