Bonanno, whom Higgins was already dating, was brought on board as the only member of the creative team with previous script-writing experience—he’s a member of Aunty Donna, a sketch troupe with their own Netflix show. Even then, the three creators weren’t entirely sure how to write a sitcom. Bonanno used Seinfeld’s “The Big Salad” episode as a model, studying its script to figure out how to structure an A-plot and a B-plot. Higgins drew from her extensive experience watching TV as a child in Bullengarook, a rural town 30 miles from Melbourne. Mahbub had to threaten to quit her job in order to get leave to attend script workshops.
Though they didn’t have much professional training, they did have plenty of material to draw from. Much of Why Are You Like This was inspired by the creative team’s own experiences. Penny’s arc in the premiere episode, in which she accuses a gay man of being homophobic, is based upon something Higgins did back when she worked at a tech startup. Another episode focuses on Austin’s depression, an illness all three creators have battled. The song that plays during Austin’s drag performance in that episode, Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”, is the same song one of Bonanno and Higgins’s friends listens to when he’s depressed. They based the character on him and added the performance element after script editors said the episode needed something “active,” after several scenes in which Austin is not moving much, because, as Bonanno said, “when you’re depressed, you can’t fucking do anything.”
Internet-induced nihilism is an essential component of Why Are You Like This. According to Higgins, being a 20-something means “seeing fucked stuff all the time [as a result] of being online.” But “because you’re so depressed, it’s all fine. It’s all gravy, baby.” Still, it’s strange to see those aforementioned glowing reviews classifying the show as a grenade being launched at Gen Z. The characters are young, but their generation is never defined—nor do the creators think it necessarily matters. “I think anyone writing about this over 35 are like, ‘[It’s about] young people,’” Mahbub said. “It’s not that the technology’s any different, it’s just that [they’ve] forgotten what it’s like to be 22.” (For context, Mahbub is 31, Bonanno is 33, and Higgins is in her late 20s.)
To accurately depict their characters’ experiences, “basically, we didn’t have to do a focus group on how 20-year-olds use TikTok,” Bonanno said. That said, he’s personally reduced the amount of time he spends on social media these days. Mahbub deleted her Twitter a while ago, as she’s told several interviewers while doing press for the show. “I’m prone to cyberbullying,” she told me—meaning that she’s susceptible to bullying other people. (She does, however, still have a lurking account.) “I guess it’s all on me,” Higgins said. “I feel pretty cemented in TikTok and those sorts of things. I’m a huge consumer of that kind of media. [The show] is us looking back at our experiences when we were younger and a little angrier, but then, we’re writing about today, and we’re still alive today.”
It’s not like the creators have an optimistic outlook for the world anyway. “It’s been shit,” Mahbub said. “It’ll be shit, and then there’s nothing. That’s it.” So why bother making a show? The answer is simple, said Higgins: “What else are we doing?”
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