Awards Daily talks to Yellowjackets showrunners Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson about where the Yellowjackets’ parents are, their original Dazed and Confused pitch, and what their series has in common with Girls5eva.
When TV fans become obsessed, they become rabid (almost like a cannibalistic clan, you might say?) and no one is more surprised by the fandom of Showtime’s Yellowjackets than its creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson.
“I think surprising is an understatement,” says Lyle with a laugh. “We did not even come close to anticipating any of this.”
“I try not to do too much of a deep dive on the Reddit stuff, but what I have seen is really so amazing and creative,” says Nickerson. “We are honored and appreciative and hopeful that maybe a lot of it is its own fun game for a lot of the fans to play that doesn’t necessarily require them being right to have the speculation be worthwhile.”
One recent theory that Nickerson is impressed with is about the character who has become affectionately known as “Pit Girl” online.
“One of my favorite theories that I’ve heard about—that’s not correct—is about the woman we saw running in the teaser that fell in the pit. There was a theory that that wasn’t a flashforward from the ’96 story, but a flashforward from the 2021 story, and that it was actually Callie. That’s a really cool idea. You should save that and put it in your own pilot someday!”
Where are the Yellowjackets’ Parents?
Something that feels so fresh and unique about Yellowjackets is the focus on its leads. In other shows, we might have a storyline of what the parents were doing in the 19 months while they were searching for their kids, but we never meet Shauna’s mother or Misty’s sister or anyone else outside of the core four and the team.
“It felt like this was about them, and their home life was only a part of the pilot,” says Lyle. “Because we knew we didn’t want to explore that in too much detail other than in little bits of Natalie’s home life or Shauna meeting Jackie’s parents later. We really wanted to get across that teenagers live their own life; they have this secret private life that is very much outside of that home sphere and that was the version of them we were most interested in exploring.”
“A lot of times in shows with teenagers, it’s actually hard for the parents’ storylines and the teens’ storylines to coexist, even if they are both individually interesting,” says Nickerson. “I wonder if part of it is that often they’re designed for two different audiences. I feel like a lot of times in developing teen shows, there’s this idea that only teenagers would watch teenagers—what’s in there for the parents? We want everybody to like both storylines and it’s not about that this storyline is for this age bracket. I think we all know that adults consume teen stories. We’re not designing these stories to serve separate audiences.”
From ’95 to ’96. . .to ’76?
At one point, the Yellowjackets pilot was set in 1995, but when COVID threw a wrench in production plans, Lyle and Nickerson had to move everything up a year.
“Because we were moving things forward, it actually made it easier,” says Lyle. “We had more to play with. To be perfectly honest, because the development process in television is long, I was cleaning up my desktop and putting things in folders, and I realized in the very first document, it was ’94. Really it just opened the door for more ’90s references, beyond 1994, which is really fun for us.”
But what about ’70s references? Believe it or not, the story’s timeline actually got moved up—way up. In their original pitch, it wasn’t the Uruguayan Rugby Team Crash of 1974 that they used as a reference, but a cult classic starring Matthew McConaughey.
“Part of our original, original pitch when we were just formulating the idea was,” says Lyle, “‘Imagine if the cast of Dazed and Confused became the Donner Party?’ What I loved about Dazed and Confused was that feeling of nostalgia, because I hadn’t lived through the ’70s, and now I’ve realized we’re giving that to a whole new generation that hasn’t lived through the ’90s. So I feel spiritually what we’re doing is very similar, but we realized it made so much more sense to base it in the ’90s when we were teenagers ourselves.”
“Greetings from the Canadian Rockies!”
There’s a confidence in the Yellowjackets pilot in how it takes its time placing all the cards on the table. For example, audiences don’t learn about the threatening postcards being sent to Taissa, Misty, and Natalie until the second episode.
“In a lot of ways, we imagined the pilot as a prologue,” says Nickerson, “and it was really trying to lay out the world as it was before the main inciting incident started in both storylines, which would be the plane crash in ’96 and what was going to bring the adult characters together moving forward.”
“We’re big believers in that the pilot should set the tone for the series and to our minds, this has always been a bit of a fun genre mashup that we had no idea we could pull off,” says Lyle, “but we knew we really wanted to try. Obviously there are elements of horror, dark comedy, and coming of age, and first and foremost, we always wanted the show to be a character study and about these characters. The mystery of it is a component, but we didn’t want it to be necessarily at the forefront. So holding [the postcard plot] felt like a great way to set up what the show was at its core and at its heart and then we could introduce or play with these plottier elements.”
A Whole New Era of Women in their 40s
Two critically acclaimed shows right now involve 40-something women trying to move forward from the trauma they experienced more than two decades ago. Between Girls5eva and Yellowjackets, are women in their 40s having a moment?
“First of all, I love Girls5Eva,” says Lyle. “I think Paula Pell is an absolute comedic genius. Very selfishly I like to think that women in their 40s are interesting, as a woman in my 40s myself. It’s interesting to me that we’re so accustomed to seeing male characters at this age and being incredibly compelled by them. It feels like there’s a period of time between the late-20s and late-30s that’s a little more difficult for male actors because it almost feels like we’ve agreed that leading men are in their 40s at this point and now in their 50s. So we take that for granted. You take for granted all of these seminal male characters and I guess that’s not as much the case for women, but hopefully that is changing because I think our show is a great example of the absolute treasure trove of incredible actresses—Melanie, Tawny, Juliette and Christina—and it baffles me that people would not think we should make a show about them.”
Nickerson echoes this sentiment, but says that they don’t feel as much a responsibility to depict these women as to make it an interesting show that everyone can enjoy.
“We feel a responsibility to be true and unflinching and sympathetic and also deeply interesting. I guess that’s a responsibility we feel for all our characters. I think we’re really proud of having such a female-forward show, but I think first and foremost we want this to be an interesting show. I would love it if people of all ages and gender expressions and everything saw themselves in all of these characters because I think that that’s what at their very best, even if they are rooted in a deep specificity, that’s what stories do, they expand the humanity of all of us.”
Yellowjackets Season 1 is available on Showtime.