With ‘Roar,’ the Creators of ‘GLOW’ Got Extra Personal. And Weird.

ALTADENA, Calif. — The first episode Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch wrote for their new Apple TV+ series, “Roar,” was also the most intimate. In the episode, a woman played by Cynthia Erivo returns to her demanding job after the birth of her second child. Soon after, she discovers strange bite marks on her body. In one unnerving, surreal moment, she pulls a human tooth out of the back of her hand.

“That might be the most personal thing we’ve ever written,” Flahive said during a conversation at her home here earlier this month. Balanced above Pasadena, Flahive’s neighborhood was quiet and breezy, and as we sat in her living room, the light shifted to a soft, late-afternoon glow.

Flahive looked at Mensch, who nodded, adding: “We both really related to that story, with its combination of maternal guilt and maternal ambivalence. So it was something we could easily access, but within a genre that would be a challenge for us.”

Based very loosely on a book of short stories by the Irish author Cecelia Ahern, the show’s eight episodes each focus on a different woman (familiar faces besides Erivo include Issa Rae and Nicole Kidman, who is also an executive producer), while its anthology format allowed its creators to play with genres ranging from horror to Western. As the creators and showrunners, Flahive and Mensch had final say about nearly every aspect of the series, which debuted earlier this month.

Flahive and Mensch met as young playwrights at the Ars Nova theater in New York City back in 2006, and years later, they worked together in the writers’ room on “Nurse Jackie.” But they are best known as the creators of the Netflix comedic drama “GLOW,” which fictionalized the production of a real television show from the 1980s called “The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.” In “GLOW,” the characters demolish each other in choreographed matches while wearing vibrant leotards with their hair teased high.

Although “GLOW” garnered a slew of Emmy nominations and wins over the course of its run, Netflix abruptly canceled its fourth and final season in October 2020, citing additional costs and safety concerns related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

When asked about that decision, Flahive and Mensch didn’t mince words. “It’s like we built a house we didn’t get to live in,” Flahive said. They had already written the entire season, including the series finale, and shot an episode and a half before production shut down. Mensch cut in: “Though, I take some weird solace in the fact that the original ‘GLOW,’ back in the ’80s, was also unceremoniously canceled.”

Luckily, the two had “Roar” waiting in the wings. Sitting cross-legged on a plush green carpet in Flahive’s living room, the women snacked on zucchini bread as they spoke about their long friendship, their prolific working relationship and the women of “Roar.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

What appealed to you about the source material of “Roar”?

LIZ FLAHIVE When we read the book, it felt like there was a lot of room for us to get in there and do our own thing, because the stories are three to twelve pages; they’re pretty spare.

CARLY MENSCH I think what started it was thinking, “These are some really sticky premises, and I’m still thinking about them three weeks later, and I don’t know how we would pull this off on television.” Like, how would we make an episode of television where a woman sits on a shelf for an entire episode? I don’t know! It almost felt like a dare.

There are 30 stories in Ahern’s book. How did you pick which to include?

FLAHIVE After we brought in the other writers, we sent them the book and asked them to pick a bunch of stories that they responded to.

MENSCH It was surprising to see what people picked because they were almost never ones that we had come in with.

I read somewhere that you didn’t initially plan to adapt the episode in which a woman is in a relationship with a duck.

MENSCH It was one of the first things Halley [Feiffer, a writer] said to us. She was like, “I actually kind of feel that the duck was mansplaining and being kind of aggressive.” Every step of the way, we kept being like: “Just to be clear, this is a story where it’s just her and a duck? And we’re talking about a real duck, right? Not a CGI duck?”

FLAHIVE A lot of people were questioning it.

MENSCH I have to say that this is where superproducer Nicole Kidman really made it happen.

FLAHIVE On a phone call, when people were questioning that episode, she spoke up and said, “If we aren’t doing this story, I don’t know why we’d be doing the show. This is exactly what we should be doing.”

I liked that you allowed your characters to have complex relationships with themselves as women. I’m thinking in particular of that episode in which a woman’s husband convinces her to sit on a shelf. In the end, she makes a controversial choice.

MENSCH Sometimes you have to clear some space and be like, OK, how does this character feel right now? She feels like a badass. She feels like she made a great choice. But then in the blink of an eye…

Feminism is a complex, and sometimes contradictory, collection of beliefs.

FLAHIVE I know that episode will piss people off, and I know it will be read incorrectly. And I kind of don’t mind because I’m glad it exists. I think it’s conversant.

MENSCH That was the game of the series: We like stories about messy women, but these stories have to be really clear — almost reductive — in order to make their points. So how do we do both?

You’ve called these stories “feminist fables.” Why did you want to make fables? And what appealed to you about working with surrealism onscreen?

MENSCH Fables feel deceptively universal. They feel like they’re trying to communicate something bigger, and I think the fun, for us, was subverting that. Like, in which ways are they kind of hollow? And in which ways are there some uncomfortable resonances? Also, fables give you an opportunity to amplify a thing, which is an exciting power. It’s like, what if we committed so hard-core to that choice or idea or feeling? What if we literalized it?

FLAHIVE We’re pretty naturalistic writers at the end of the day, and we went into a couple of these episodes being like, well, it could work… or it could start falling apart conceptually on Day 2, and we’ll have to figure it out.

There’s something about the high wire of trying to deliver surrealism or a magic trick in each episode that lights up our brains in a different way. That’s the hope, anyway: that when you watch it, it’ll play with your brain differently.

Can you tell me how you first met?

MENSCH We were playwrights who both liked each other’s work, and then we both separately got into TV. But the real origin story is that Liz was an EP on “Nurse Jackie.”

FLAHIVE I had all the jobs on that one show for its entire run. I was a staff writer, I was a story editor, I was a producer. I mean, it was grad school. I finally had some hiring power at the very end, when I was an executive producer, and Carly was one of the people I really wanted in that room.

Why is that?

FLAHIVE She’s just such a brain, and as an EP, you want that person who comes into your office in the morning and is like, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about this, and I feel like we’re going in the wrong direction ” You want somebody who’s losing sleep the way you are because it’s really comforting.

MENSCH Our friendship and work combined together into some type of superpower that allowed us to start with “I’ve been thinking about this character all morning,” and then we’d weave in personal stuff, and suddenly we’ve deepened the story.

Liz and I disagree a lot. But then what comes from the debate is usually better than what either one of us brought alone.

Do your disagreements help you develop the story?

FLAHIVE Going around in a circle is one thing, but going around and getting somewhere new … that’s usually where we land. There’s also a thing where someone will have a strong opinion, and we’ll start arguing about it, and it’ll take you to a place where you’re angrily like: “Well, what about this stupid idea? Does that work for you?” And the other person will be like, “That’s great.”

MENSCH We’ve come a long way since the “GLOW” pilot, when you handed me a scene you wrote and I just said, “Yes, like this, but better.”

FLAHIVE I was like: “OK, here comes the scene, you jerk. Back up!”

Did it work?

FLAHIVE I definitely wrote a better scene.

MENSCH I meant the note. But now I would say it better.

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