ABC Family begins rolling out new episodes of its college hit "Greek" tonight with the usual doses of bad behavior, romantic complications and, every so often, the kids even go to class. Our Jim Halterman chatted with "Greek" creator Patrick Sean Smith for a crash course on the sometimes-racy content, how the show (and its young characters) are evolving and if the bumpy relationship between Casey (Spencer Grammer) and Cappie (Scott Michael Foster) is ever going to steady.
Jim Halterman: Shows like "Gossip Girl," "90210" and "Greek" always seem to bring in an audience. Creatively, what is it about these shows that appeal to you?
Patrick Sean Smith: Part of it is that I had an incredible college experience so getting, at my age now, to be able to write about that time in my life is kind of nostalgic and I think it's also when [the kids] get into life crises about who they're going to be, where they are, that sort of thing�there's a little more allowance for kids at that age to have that. With some shows, eventually you're like "Meredith Grey, please figure out your life! You're 30!" but for our kids you allow much more in their making a mistake, their learning experiences and it all feels like a series of firsts for them as opposed to a cycle of issues.
JH: The show's racier elements (sex and partying) aren't really sanitized considering the network that the show is on. Has ABC Family put any limits on you can and can't do?
PSS: ABC Family has embraced the authenticity of the world. I personally do not want to do edge for the sake of edge or shock for the sake of shock. I feel like we have a perfect relationship in that they trust me to handle those parts of life responsibly. I don't think we're going to do a special episode on drunk driving, as so many people are aware that it is terrible. For our show I don't want to get into issues of the week that have been seen in this genre so many times before but I also don't want to avoid the issue as a topic of conversation.
JH: The cast has a little of everyone in terms of diversity. Was that done by design or did it just happen that way?
PSS: I would say a little bit of both. There was so much success in shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Heroes" in casting with diversity in mind but also color-blind casting. It certainly wasn't specifically planned out. Amber Stevens captured [the role of] Ashleigh beautifully with her spirit and energy and she happens to be African American but it kind of played out nicely that way.
JH: In this new cycle of episodes, is there an overlying theme in these episodes? What else is coming up?
PSS: The thing I love about this new batch is that we're kind of moving on with the characters. Rusty (Jacob Zachar) is now an active in the house. He's not the pledge, not a peon. He's kind of doing his own thing and trying to find his own way in the house. As well as Calvin (Paul James) assessing his place in Omega Chi. Now he's not a pledge but one of the brothers. So I think it kind of happened naturally, too. I'd like to say we designed it that way and worked out perfectly the way we planned it out but it's kind of a fresh, new perspective on characters we've seen for 44 episodes. They're growing naturally, they're growing organically but it also feels like it's in a place where I'm not resting heavily on the past 44 episodes with Rusty, he needs a new love interest. Jen K is in the past. Calvin needs a new love interest. Michael is in the past. Rusty and Dale (Clark Duke) move out of Calhoun Hall and get an off-campus apartment which kind of plays out over a couple of episodes. So we put the dorm in the past. It kind of feels like a new chapter in the lives of these characters.
JH: In terms of Rusty, and I mean this as a compliment, he's kind of the "Ugly Betty" of the group. You want him to keep that nerdy quality but you also want him to grow. How do you work that?
PSS: I'm 34 and I still have that nerdy quality. [laughs] I'm glad that you mentioned "Ugly Betty" because we are aware of how we want people to feel about Rusty and that side of him where you feel for him but you don't feel sorry for. Never pathetic but he's always trying to do what's right and deal with the realities of the world but in his fun, very specific awkward way.
JH: Do you ever get the itch to resolve the on-again/off-again relationship between Casey and Cappie?
PSS: I'll be completely honest with you and say that I'm at a crossroads with that very question and it's something that I am trying to be mindful of. I don't want the series to rest on a couple but it's also a part of the show that people really respond to. I think it's also very real with couples to go back and forth and I think that the inherent conflict with Casey and Cappie's relationship is her ambition and his lack thereof. One will have to change, which will compromise their identities. If she chooses to not be ambitious and hang with Cappie then she's losing a big part of who she is and Cappie vice versa. With this next batch, we have her confronting that triangle a little more head-on with Max (Michael Rady) and Cappie where we get to dig into that relationship a little bit more than just kind of �will they or won't they' and get a sense of what they're looking for now and what the problems they had before and whether they are still relevant as they are today because that was 2 years ago in that relationship.
JH: The gay stories with Calvin are handled so well. I know you said he would be going through a lot in his frat house but what else is in store for him?
PSS: The beginning of this cycle for Calvin is seeing Evan come to terms with the character he is becoming. At the end of last season, Evan did something incredibly wrong in hitting Rusty and while Calvin is still Rusty's friend he's also Evan's friend, too. When two guys fight, how quick does another guy decide to side with the right one or the wrong one or just chalk it up to guys being guys? For Calvin, it's him witnessing Evan going down this dark path with Frannie a little bit and he calls him out on it. The first half of Calvin's story isn't necessarily dealing with his sexuality but dealing with his friends who are at odds and who he's going to side with.
JH: It's commendable that you've taken a gay character like Calvin and not reduced him to just being the gay guy in the mix. He's very multi-dimensional.
PSS: I appreciate that. So much of "Greek" is the balance; the balance of not wanting characters to become stereotypes but wanting to keep them real. The comedy and the drama and, especially with Calvin's character, I've always been mindful of our more gay audience looking to have more gay stories but at the same time how do I service that 100% and not have to turn him into a stereotype?
JH: Any guest stars coming up that are notable? I love that you had Carol Potter from the original "90210" on last year.
PSS: Something else that I'm excited about this new cycle - and this will be new for our characters - is we're going boldly where we haven't gone before quite so much which is the classroom. Janeane Garafalo plays a women's studies professor and Cappie and Casey find themselves in her class together. Cappie is the lone male in this room of women and Casey is going to learn more about women�and Janeane calls Cappie out on his being there and it plays an important part in Casey's storyline. We also have Helen Slater in an episode, which I was so excited about.
JH: She'll always be Supergirl!
PSS: I know. She's the coolest woman in the world and was a fan of the show. She's great and I think it will come up about half way through the cycle. Alan Ruck returns in a fun way, which I will leave as kind of a mystery.
JH: Is it difficult to balance the heavier drama that crops up at times with the lighter/comedic stories?
PSS: It's definitely a challenge to blend the drama and the comedy a lot of the times but, for me, the comedy typically plays more effectively in the context of drama and that's where we can go with something super heavier or a sentiment that seems kind of weighty can then be cut with some comedy. We're not going to get bogged down in wallowing or things that are heavy but try to keep the show fun and entertaining.
"Greek" returns with new episodes tonight at 8:00/7:00c on ABC Family.