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Every few years a new TV show comes along that accurately represents a generation.
Phoebe Robinson is setting out to do just that by capturing the reality of being a millennial 30-something who is still finding her footing as an adult in her new Freeform show Everything’s Trash. Robinson has had a successful career as a comedian, a New York Times best-selling book author, and hosted HBO’s 2 Dope Queens with Jessica Williams. But on the show, Robinson plays Phoebe, a less-than-perfect podcaster who also works in media and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Phoebe has a vibrant personality and a circle of supportive and loving friends and family, who support her as she figures out how to deal with her messy love life, finances, career, and other aspects of her life.
Her brother, Jayden (Jordan Carlos) seemingly has his life together, making Phoebe feel as if she is falling short. Season 1 kicks off with Jayden launching a political campaign, forcing Phoebe to clean up her act and start her adulting journey so as not to ruin her brother’s chances at success (Though she does end up sleeping with someone working on the campaign staff for her brother’s opponent.)
Robinson’s real-life brother is a state representative in Ohio, and the storyline for the show of a struggling and broke podcaster trying to make things meet is also inspired by the comedian’s past. While there are shows like Sex and the City that have been criticized for their unrealistic portrayal of being a creator in New York City, Robinson is setting out to tell a more authentic story, showing people’s flaws and weak spots, which are usually what makes us all more human and more connected.
“Seeing the mess is always more interesting, seeing people figure stuff out and exploring their flaws has always been really intriguing to me as a storyteller and I really wanted that to be a part of the show,” Robinson tells Complex. “People can really identify with that, whether you’re a teenager, in your twenties or thirties. I think that’s something people relate to.”
Society makes people, especially women, believe that they are falling behind if they haven’t achieved their goals by a certain age. Robinson, whose career picked up speed in her 30s, knows that’s not true. Episode 2 titled “Black Excellence Is Trash” also shows the toxicity that can come from the pressure to be perfect, especially for Black women. The series attempts to explore why the comparison game is unnecessary by showing that you don’t have to be an overachiever to be valuable, and you don’t have to be chasing what everyone else is chasing to fit in—everyone has their own, unique strengths and journeys.
The new show, which was based on Robinson’s 2018 book Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay, premieres on Freeform on Wednesday, July 13. Complex visited the show’s set in Brooklyn last month and caught up with the show’s creator, where she told us all about her inspiration for her new scripted comedy and why it was important for her to show a different reality for women in their 30s.
How are you feeling now after having such a great career with comedy and writing to now making your own show?
Phoebe Robinson: I am so excited about Everything’s Trash. I have been wanting to have my own scripted comedy for a while. I’ve been working on it, trying to make it happen for five years and I teamed up with my showrunner Jonathan Groff three years ago. So it’s like three years in the making with this baby and I’m really excited. I think it is fun and young and sexy and smart. I think people are really going to connect with this. I can’t wait for people to watch.
For so long people have said Sex and the City is the “New York show.” You previously said you’re living your Black Carrie Bradshaw fantasy with this show, but you also made the story more real. Why did you decide to make the financial aspect of Phoebe’s story so important?
PR: I mean, I’ve been doing comedy for 14 years. I’ll say for the first 10 I was kind of broke. Not “kind of,” definitely broke. I had credit card debt, and I had student loan debt, so I really want to show that. I think you know with me doing the 2 Dope Queens podcast and all that stuff and you know writing on different shows whether it was Portlandia and Girl Code, it can look like, “Oh, wow. She’s booked and busy. She must have so much money.” Especially when I started the podcast, you don’t get paid a lot for doing podcasting.
So on one level, you can have this thing that’s successful but then, on the other hand, you are hiding your bills and being like, ”I’m going to charge this thing.” I would do the wear and return thing all the time like, “Oh, I have an event let me buy this $200 dress and let me return it.” That’s real life and lots of people are doing and I wanted to show that on the show.
When it comes to creating a show that portrays people in a real way, also people of color and Black people as being flawed, you don’t have to be perfect all the time to be endearing and relatable. Why did you want to make Phoebe this way?
PR: It goes back to the title, Everything’s Trash. Not only is there a war or recession, but it’s like we all kind of do trashy things. We are all kind of a little bit messy and flawed and figuring things out. I just think nuanced characters like that are always super interesting. You have TV Phoebe juxtaposed against Jayden, my older brother, and on the surface, he seems like he has everything together and I don’t but as we get deeper into the season you see she’s good at certain things, and he’s good at certain things. They both have flaws and weaknesses and they need each other in a way to lift each other up. I just think it’s really important to embrace that.
I think social media has kind of conditioned everyone to just present their best self and show like the Highlight Reel. Seeing the mess is always more interesting, seeing people figure stuff out and exploring their flaws has always been really intriguing to me as a storyteller and I really wanted that to be a part of the show. People can really identify with that whether you’re a teenager, in your twenties or thirties, I think that’s something people relate to.
I love that the character is in her 30s. Why was the 30s the age that you wanted to highlight?
PR: When Jess and I did 2 Dope Queens for HBO, I was 33, which is still really young but a lot of times in this industry if you’re not 19 and made it, then you’re garbage. So it’s like no, your career can happen in your 30s, in your 40s, and I really think it’s good to show that. That’s the reality of a lot of things. It would be cool to break out when you’re 21 but sometimes it’s just not in the cards for you and I don’t want people to feel like they’re doing something wrong if your life doesn’t look a certain way. So let’s just show the complexity of life and how people come into their own and it happens at different times, I think that’s really exciting.
The first two episodes of Everything’s Trash are premiering Wednesday, July 13 at 10 p.m. ET on Freeform. New episodes will follow weekly and will be available for streaming the next day on Hulu.