Brodesser-Akner on Challenges of Taking ‘Fleishman’ From Book to TV

FX drama Fleishman is in Trouble on Hulu
(Image credit: FX)

Fleishman is in Trouble, the story of a unique divorce in Manhattan, premieres on Hulu November 17. The FX series is the tale of Toby and Rachel, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Claire Danes, the parents of an 11-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy. Toby and Rachel’s partnership is breaking up, and then Rachel falls off the map. She’s off at some yoga retreat, but is not back when she’s supposed to be, and no one can reach her. 

Toby is hard-pressed to explain her absence to the kids. And Rachel’s disappearance causes some serious issues for Toby’s newfound sexual exploits via dating apps.

There are eight episodes in the limited series. Taffy Brodesser-Akner created the show, which is adapted from her novel of the same name, and is showrunner as well. 

Brodesser-Akner wrote seven of the episodes, and said Fleishman is in Trouble did not have a traditional writers’ room. Being showrunner on her first TV project was “a nightmare for me and those around me,” she told B+C. “FX showed a lot of faith in me.”

Brodesser-Akner, who writes for the NY Times Magazine, exec produces the series with Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly and Susannah Grant. Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton also executive produce and direct multiple episodes. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini exec produce the episodes they directed.

Brodesser-Akner is quick to credit her fellow producers for keeping things running and teaching her how TV works. Timberman and Grant “helped me through everything,” she said. She mentioned the Faris & Dayton films Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks as giant influences in her writing, and said the pair coming on board was “an unbelievable triumph of my dreams.”

“Half the battle of having to explain to someone what the tone you envision is was taken care of,” Brodesser-Akner added. “I literally wrote the book to the score from Ruby Sparks because I love their movies so much and I wanted to make things that were like that.”

Meara Mahoney Gross and Maxim Swinton play Toby and Rachel’s kids. Lizzy Caplan and Adam Brody portray Toby’s friends Libby and Seth. 

Fleishman Is In Trouble is produced by ABC Signature.

A review in Hollywood Reporter reads, “I don’t know if Brodesser-Akner has cracked anything unique about the state of modern marriage, but her observations are infused with an undeniable specificity. You don’t need to have found irritation and gratification in a Philip Roth novel or experienced the stifling peer pressure of a Jewish summer camp or lived in a borderline-obscene doorman building near Central Park to understand what these characters are all going through.”

Brodesser-Akner spoke of the challenge of running the show when she’d never managed an employee before. “I’ve never been a part of this big a machine,” she said. “I’m honestly still processing the fact that this is how all the TV and all the movies are made. It’s really quite a moving process.”

She singled out the crew, who “abided my ignorance in a very kind way.”

It being a limited series, no season two is envisioned. “I’m expected back at the New York Times,” said Brodesser-Akner. 

She was all in on the TV project. “I couldn’t figure out a way to do it without doing it every day,” said Brodesser-Akner. “Now when I watch it, it’s exactly what I want it to be.”

She hopes viewers learn about themselves in Toby and Rachel’s falling out. “I hope it makes people feel seen in the crisis we have today, the fact that we don’t really know how to date, we don’t really know how to be married,” Brodesser-Akner said. “We have to find all of these new reasons to walk with an open heart through our lives with partners.” ■

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.