Take a female sportswriter, a group of guy friends and the backdrop of Chicago and you have the ingredients that make up the TBS sitcom "My Boys," which returns tonight for a third season. Series star Jordana Spiro, who plays Penelope Jane (aka PJ), recently talked about the changes coming in the new episodes as well as why PJ is the "straight-man" in the series.
When viewers last saw PJ in the season two finale, her soon-to-be-married friend Bobby (Kyle Howard) confessed that he was marrying the wrong girl (while implying that the right girl could be PJ). PJ, on the other hand, was involved with Bobby's brother, which created its own bit of tension between the friends. Tonight's season opener picks up where the finale left off but, without revealing details, it also moves the show in a new direction for PJ that Spiro, for one, is more than happy with. "I think it gives a lot of room for just a whole new bag of tricks for comedy. When you get into a healthy, stable relationship, some people say that that's the kiss of death for comedy but I feel like it just opens it up for all the different issues that come into play in a relationship like jealousy, being threatened by an ex-boyfriend or what are you putting as your Facebook status. All of that stuff combined."
Obviously, with a tight-knit group of friends, any time one of them falls into a romantic relationship, there is a slight ripple effect that hits everyone. Spiro revealed, however, that the friend dynamic in "My Boys" isn't going to go down the drama-route that some series might be tempted to embark upon. "I think that's the big question of the season is how is it going to change the nature of the friendships when PJ gets herself into a real-life relationship. I have to say... as far as the friendships go and the dynamic between the friends, that does stay the same."
While PJ's relationship status changes, the rest of the cast also goes through their share of bumps in the road. "Everybody sort of undergoes a pretty big change," Spiro explained. "Stephanie (Kellee Stewart) has this chick-lit self-help book out there and she turns it into potentially an empire. She's doing seminars, getting recognized, she wants her own talk show and she's trying to explode and brand herself as the next Oprah if she can. Brendan - Reid Scott�s character - becomes co-owner of a bar and has to work for the first time. One of my favorite lines of his is at one point it's 9:30 in the morning and he asks if Starbucks is open that early. Andy (Jim Gaffigan) has a new child so he's got to deal with that on a whole other level of responsibility."
As the sole female regulars on the show, Spiro talked about the relationship between PJ and Stephanie and what keeps them close. "I think they're both strong and they have a lot of clarity in their viewpoints so while their views are different, they have a sort of a strength in their vision of what life should be like and so I think that they admire that in each other and they're career oriented women. They're not looking for a guy to come in and take care of things for them and they're both sort of proactive women in searching for solutions as opposed to dwelling in drama."
Now that the series is in its third season, how does Spiro think her character has changed over the past few seasons? "Betsy Thomas, the executive producer and creator of the show, it was always her goal to watch PJ become more of a woman and sort of try to grow out of this extended adolescence that PJ finds herself in. I think we see that happening but I think that happens in a really realistic pace. I think women now are having babies at 35... 36... 37... 38... 39... 40... I think PJ is 30 right now and is still single and still in that extended adolescence period of her life. I don't think that's unusual and, to me, it's a pretty realistic sign of the times that we're in."
While careful not to reveal who PJ will be partnered with this season, Spiro talked about her hopes for this new relationship. "I think that what's nice about it is she's in a relationship with somebody... [where] the two of them don't like to be super open with their feelings. They're not a couple that displays public affection constantly. They don't like to rub it into their single friend's faces. They're not always sitting on each other's laps or fawning at each other and I think that's kind of a fun way to be in a TV relationship... to be a TV couple. I think so often you see in television the second people become a couple they're constantly hanging on each other. I think we're trying to avoid doing that because that's not how a lot of people handle their relationships so I think that's kind of nice. I think what I was hoping for is actually what's happening."
Outside of the romantic changes coming, PJ also has some shifting coming up in her professional world. "This season [PJ] becomes a columnist and the guys all tease her and tell her that she got the column because she's a chick and the paper has an angle to market the column," Spiro said. "She struggles with that notion because she's very proud of her work ethic so anything that would indicate that she got something because she's a girl and not because she actually knows her way around statistics and is a good writer is very upsetting to her so that always is something that's part of who she is; that integrity."
Spiro also addressed whether she'd ever like PJ to get a little wackier since she's often the anchor for the crazy antics of the guys on the show. "I like being the wacky sidekick, so to speak," she said, "but I don't take that to my role of PJ. I think it's important for [creator] Betsy Thomas to have PJ appear to be a relatively neurosis-free character and I think in those neuroses, you find that clownish sidekick and I think that's a tried-and-true formula for television. Every Lucy needs an Ethel, ya know? So while I would love to be the over-the-top clown it's not my role on this particular show."
"I think everything about PJ is very similar to myself," Spiro shared about her on-screen alter ego. "In fact, when I initially read the script one of the things that I loved about it so much and responded to so strongly was the fact that she felt so close to me and not only to me but to my other girlfriends and my sisters as well. Just the idea that you have this woman who is not a fashionista and wants a relationship but isn't out man-hunting, isn't sort of this take on the woman that so many TV shows seem to put out there. So, I think just everything about her was sort of similar to how I felt about myself."
"My Boys" airs Tuesday nights at 10:30/9:30c on TBS.