They’ve been called “the flyover states,” the ones that helpfully keep New York and California apart.
They’ve given us the humor of Will Rogers and Garrison Keillor, the music of Motown and Garth Brooks, the heroics of Roy Rogers and George Clooney. And now there’s “Welcome to Flatch,” a droll comedy about small-town mid-America, at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays on Fox, starting March 17.
Sam Straley (from Cincinnati) and the mono-named Holmes (from Omaha) star as young adults (shown here), not sure what happens after the school years are over. Paul Feig, from small-town Michigan, is a writer-producer.
Their fictional town will seem semi-familiar to many people. “If you drive 15 minutes outside (Cincinnati), you’ll find yourself in a Flatch …. There’s a real beauty in small towns,” Straley said.
Feig agrees. He grew up in Mount Clemens, a county seat with 16,000 people, 27 miles north of Detroit. “I loved growing up” there, he said, but “I just knew I had to get out of there.”
His dad wanted him to take over his army surplus store, Feig said, but “I just knew I would run it into the ground.” His real interest was show-business, so his dad let him make commercials for the store.
Those roots show up subtly in his work. “I really like to try to show the places and the people that don’t normally get shown in movies and TV,” he said.
That started with the “Freaks and Geeks” series he created (with Judd Apatow), based on his own high school experiences. He went on to direct many Melissa McCarthy movies – “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” “Spy,” “Ghostbusters” – and, more recently, “A Small Favor,” “Last Christmas” and Netflix’s upcoming “The School of Good and Evil.” And now he’s tried to give “Flatch” some small-town fondness.
The root for this was “This Country,” which ran three seasons in England. “I watched all of the British series,” Straley said, “and I think it’s a perfect, perfect series.”
But it also had what Feig calls “very challenging characters.” Like other British transplants – from “All in the Family” to “The Office” – the characters were made more likable in the American version.
That makes sense for a small town, where it’s important to get along, said Jenny Bicks, who wrote the “Flatch” pilot and produces the series. “It’s easy to be in a big city, where you can avoid people.”
She grew up in Manhattan, but hired lots of Midwesterners, including Feig, who directed the pilot, and several relatively unknown actors. Holmes is virtually making her TV debut; Straley had co-starred as brothers of the lead characters in “The Kids Are Alright” and “The Dropout.”
They play cousins, wobbling into adulthood. It’s also a diverse town — something Feig said showed up during research. “Even in the smallest town we’d go through, there was diversity.”
So Big Mandy is played by Krystal Smith, who’s from Cleveland. Mickey is played by Paul Linville, who grew up on military bases … including one near Box Elder, S.D., population 11,600. “There’s not so much to do, but we just tried to make the most out of” it. Which is what those Flatch folks are doing.