Dysfunctional families and embarrassing parents have always made for prime sitcom fodder, but for "How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)"creator Claudia Lonlow, the inspiration for her new show hit a little closer to home. That's because almost 16 years ago, Lonlow and her young daughter moved back in with her parents.
And that's precisely what happens to Sarah Chalke's Polly, who, along with her daughter, moves in with her mom Elaine (Elizabeth Perkins) and stepfather Max (Brad Garrett) for the foreseeable future, thanks to a divorce and the pressures of a lackluster economy. But it's a decision Polly immediately regrets thanks to her parents, who have a much more laissez-faire approach to child-rearing than she does.
Of course, while much is made of Polly's frustrating parents, Garrett and Perkins see things a little differently -- it's Polly who's imposing on them. HuffPost TV recently spoke to the comedic duo about their no-longer empty nest, their instant chemistry, and their advice to parents in similar situations. The show premiered on April 3, yet Garrett and Perkins are already finishing each other's sentences like the old married couple they portray.
HuffPost TV: So what was it that appealed to you about the show? Had you always been interested in doing something with a twelve-word title?
Elizabeth Perkins: [Laughs] I was looking more for eleven or ten.
Brad Garrett: Yeah, it was longer. They trimmed it. Seriously, that's not a bit. But well, I wanted to work with two beautiful women who wouldn't call the authorities on me, and that was Sarah [Chalke] and Ms. Perkins. The pilot script really resonated with us.
Perkins: Thank you. It's a very interesting premise that I think is very relatable right now in today's economy. There are a lot of people getting out of college who can't afford to live on their own. In our case, our daughter Polly, who's played by Sarah Chalke, goes through a divorce and can't afford to live on her own. So she and her young six-year-old daughter move in with us, and we've been kind of loving our empty nest.
Garrett: Yeah, we love our empty nest. It's like, "What's going on?"
Perkins: Suddenly, there she is for the rest of our lives.
Garrett: With a needy kid. She's wonderful, but we have a life.
Perkins: We were enjoying the peace and quiet.
Since the show is based off creator Claudia Lonlow's real-life, did you two ever meet her parents?
Perkins: Oh yeah. [Laughs]
Garrett: Ironically, her dad is one of the co-owners of the Improv Comedy Club in Los Angeles, so I've known him for literally going on 30 years. And yeah, he doesn't like me, I don't think. But that's OK.
Perkins: [Laughs] And Claudia's mother, who was a former actress and a stand-up comedian, I got to spend a lot of time with her and base a lot of Elaine on her energy and her spirit. It was great to have them around.
Garrett: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. They're very eccentric...
Garrett: And you know, they do a lot of things in the buff. Which has to stop.
Perkins: Yeah, they've got to stop that. And Claudia still lives at home, so...
Garrett: Yes, and her daughter's off to college. She's been there this whole time, and still isn't leaving.
Perkins: She's got her own little wing over there in the house. The parents are going to leave before she does. [Laughs]
When you know that your character's inspired by a real person, how do you make them your own? Is that a difficult process at all, especially after you've met them?
Perkins: No, you just gotta take poetic license. You just gotta let 'er rip, because you know, you're never gonna be exactly who that person is. And luckily, with Claudia's parents, they're very giving and very cool, and love what we're doing. And have nothing but positive things to say.
Garrett: And my guy in real-life is very boring. So I had to bring my B-game, for sure.
Perkins: Yeah, you definitely are more interesting. [Laughs]
Do you guys enjoy getting to play characters with seemingly no filter?
Perkins: Yeah, because we have such big filters in real life. [Laughs]
Garrett: Especially in real life. I'm kind of known for not having a filter, I'm doing pretty good now though.
Perkins: And I'm learning to be filter-free.
Garrett: Yeah, it's fun to play people that really have no boundaries.
Perkins: Right, because you can just sort of have a good time.
Garrett: Yeah, and what's fun on the set is comedically we all try things and swing for the fences. And Sarah Chalke is so wonderful to work with, comedically fearless, so I think that helps. Especially when you're discovering your character early on in the show.
Obviously the chemistry between you two is a big key to the show. Was it easy for you to develop that?
Garrett: You know, it was interesting. When I came along, I really wanted the role, and Ms. Perkins and obviously Sarah were already on board. And I did a chemistry read with Ms. Perkins to see if, you know, and it was just immediate that there was just something there.
Perkins: Yeah, we just clicked.
Garrett: She's a very generous, talented actor...
Perkins: Aw, so's he! We get along like a house on fire!
Garrett: But you have to be very transparent comedically as an actor, especially for a good ensemble.
Perkins: Especially when you're playing people who've been married as long as our characters have been married, there just has to be a shorthand.
Garrett: And I love how we're not picking on each other. We accept each other. We like each other. Sure, we have our little things, but...
Perkins: We're not this bickering old couple.
Garrett: Yeah, you know, there are people that are married a long time that dig it. I don't know of any, but they're there.
Did the idea that you'd be playing grandparents take some getting used to at first?
Perkins: Well, they're grandparents, yes, but in a lot of ways they're almost younger-acting than Polly, Sarah Chalke's character. They're almost more free-spirited, they like to have more fun, they like to go out and do more things. They're more adventurous, more outspoken. So they don't really feel like "grandparents" to me.
Garrett: Yeah, nor do we like the term.
Perkins: No, I'm not a granny.
Garrett: Yeah, which is kind of fun, because as Polly moves home, she's the one who's more parental and all uptight. And that's kind of the twist on everything that we're trying to do.
When you're playing over-the-top characters like Max and Elaine, is it important to still find ways to identify with your characters?
Perkins: Well, you know, I just like to get high ...
Garrett: No, he doesn't mean in real life. He means in the show.
Perkins: [Laughs] There's a lot I can identify with in Elaine and a lot that I can't. I mean, I'm definitely not as outrageous as she is. But maybe I am a little bit.
Garrett: Well, I think we have to. You know, comedy, if I can for a moment...
Perkins: Please do.
Garrett: Is almost like a small flame. A small flame. And how much are we going to ignite it, and what are we going to add to it? Still, we are eccentric people, but we need to be grounded and believable so we can go that way, so we don't end up sketch-y or worse.
Perkins: Yeah, I can't really show up high.
Garrett: Yeah, she can't. I can, she can't.
Do you have any advice for parents if their kid wants to move back in?
Perkins: Yeah, say "No." [Laughs] No, of course not.
Garrett: Listen, we're kind of helicopter parents in real-life. So, who could say no? I mean, how can you not be there for a kid?
Perkins: Yeah, I couldn't say no. I don't know of any parent who could, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a difficult situation. And you get through it the best you can. And sometimes there's a lot of humor involved, which I think is what our show's about.
Catch "How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)" on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC in the U.S. and City in Canada.