Column: The surprising wisdom of ‘The Real Bros of Simi Valley’
There are cars in the auto service garage on Moorpark Boulevard in Studio City, and a young man appears to be attaching hubcaps to the wheels of one of them. When he tightens the final lug nut, his co-workers, who have been watching anxiously, erupt in cheers and high-fives, the ecstasy of real bros. As in “The Real Bros of Simi Valley.”
“Cut,” someone yells, and the drill wielder, who is star and co-creator Jimmy Tatro, rushes over to the video village, where the monitors are stacked in the shade of a pop-up tent, watches multicamera replays, suggests some changes in consult with co-creator Christian Pierce and returns to the set to shoot it again.
For the record:
1:05 PM, Oct. 09, 2019An earlier version of this article said that the Chad Kroeger who appears in the show is also in the group Nickelback. They are not the same. It also said that the third season would premiere in January.
Here’s one thing you should know about the YouTube-turned-Facebook Watch series “The Real Bros of Simi Valley”: None of it is shot in Simi Valley. So if you are a fan hoping to go on the “Real Bros” tour of the city that was once home to the Chumash and now is best known for, depending on whom you ask, being the site of either the not-guilty verdict that sparked the L.A. riots or the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, you are out of luck.
And as the series prepares for its third-season premiere on Feb. 14, here’s another thing you should know: It’s very funny.
For the record, I may be the oldest living fan of “Real Bros” who is not related to any of the cast members. The only reason I even knew to watch it was because so many young people told me I had to. It took me a while. Not surprisingly, Facebook Watch skews toward teen drama and reality series, and with so many shows on so many platforms, I confess I rarely gave it more than a cursory glance.
Until I did. And now I’m hooked on “Real Bros,” which is a very funny, occasionally pointed and essentially gentle-hearted satire of reality shows and Valley dudes (though it is not shot in Simi, it is shot in the Valley).
It’s also one of the still-rare shows in which young people sound like young people, instead of some middle-aged writer’s idea of what young people should/might/30 years ago did sound like. Which may explain the general kindness of the send-up — it is people poking fun at their own generation.
The episodes are 20 minutes long, making it easy to watch most, if not all, of them — Season 1 was just four; Season 2 had 10 — in one sitting. The first episode of Season 2 got more than 4 million views; subsequent episodes averaged around 2 million.
Life for Xander (Tatro), his posse, which includes Bryce (Tanner Getter), Duncan (Nick Colletti), Johnny (Peter Gilroy) and Xander’s actual brother Wade (Cody Ko), and their girlfriends/wives, involves a lot of beer, weed, vaping and romantic relationships conducted mainly via texts. Conversations lean heavily on topic-avoiding sentence fragments punctuated by “dude,” and the conflicts are mostly internal and innocuous. (A plotline in Season 2 involved engagement with a group of “Rancho” bros that ended in a truly hilarious white guy rumble.)
But there are also nods at failure-to-launch issues that plague Gen Z — the high cost of housing, dwindling career paths for men not interested in attending college, and the perils of a culture that prizes the accouterments of youth but not its “sleep until noon and then plan a kick-back” realities.
“It was not intended to be shots at Simi,” Tatro says during a brief break on set. “It was shots at deep Valley bros. My aunt lives in Simi,” he adds, “and she hit me up after the show came out, saying, ‘What the hell, man?’ ”
“We should have the wrap party in Simi,” says Pierce.
“Except no one would go,” Tatro answers with a laugh. “They’d be like, ‘Send me the uploads and I’ll post.’ ”
“We thought about Santa Clarita or Valencia, but Simi just sounded funnier.”
Co-creator Christian Pierce
Simi Valley was chosen more for its sound than its actual location. Tatro and Pierce, who had found success on YouTube with the sketch comedy channel LifeAccordingToJimmy, wanted to send up the “Real Housewives” franchise with a show based in the Valley, where Pierce grew up and Tatro attended private high school.
“We thought about Santa Clarita or Valencia,” says Pierce, “but Simi just sounded funnier.”
Both are quick to acknowledge that they “know these guys,” although — their frequent “Real Bros” cadence and vocabulary choices aside — they definitely are not those guys.
Or maybe they are those guys, if Xander had decided he wanted to be a filmmaker rather than a mechanic celebrating his 300th rim installation.
Although some members of the crew are older than the show’s creators and stars, many are not. At the Studio City shoot, the air smells strongly of spring rolls and vaguely of weed, and the chairs around the monitors are filled with young women and men who fit into the same Vans-wearing, smartphone-thumbing, Instagram-obsessed demo as the show’s characters.
All the characters have actual Instagram accounts, by the way, though they are run by Tatro and his staff to increase audience engagement with the show.
And therein lies the difference, a disparity between image and reality that often confounds older folks trying to make sense of millennials and Gen Zs — they may look and even sound like slackers, but many are just as hardworking and ambitious as their counterparts in previous generations.
Tatro grew up in Venice, where, like many men his age (27), he was a skateboarder who made skateboard videos. In college, he met Pierce and the two began shooting scripted comedy videos.
LifeAccordingToJimmy drew millions of viewers, and the two became early YouTube personalities, as they’re now known. But where other YouTube stars were happy to remain on the video-sharing website, Tatro was not. “I can’t do what I want to do on YouTube,” he says. “In the early days, I thought I could, but it’s too unregulated. People get followers for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with what they are making. I mean, now you make a video called ‘OMG, She Didn’t,’ and you get a ton of views.”
Like a few other YouTube stars, Tatro — who dropped out of college to focus on LifeAccordingToJimmy — began getting cast in small film roles, including in “Grown Ups 2” and “22 Jump Street.” Then, right around the time he and Pierce decided to do “Real Bros,” he got a lead in the Netflix doc-satire “American Vandal,” the success of which led to roles in higher-profile series, including “The Guest Book” and “Modern Family.”
“American Vandal” also helped make “Real Bros” a reality; Tatro funded the first season on YouTube. And although the subsequent Facebook Watch deal did not launch the series into the kind of YouTube-crossover stardom that Issa Rae or the creators of “Broad City” and “High Maintenance” have found, it did give Tatro and Pierce a chance to produce an actual series. With a budget that allows them to pay their cast members, many of whom did the first season for free, hire a union crew and tempt high-profile guest stars, including, in Season 2, Chad Kroeger and Nyjah Huston, the highest-paid skateboarder in the world.
That episode saw Bryce poised to win a local skateboarding competition, only to have Huston show up. Bryce, played by an L.A. DJ known as Getter, is one of the more colorful characters of “Real Bros” — his attempt to “throw” with Xander’s baby son Hawk in Season 2 is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time, as is the scripted “behind-the-scenes” reel. In the episode “Baby Drama,” cast members talk about the trials and payoffs of working with “the babies,” saying things like, “Oh, look, the babies are flexing on everyone again, what a surprise” and “You know what sucks? They don’t even do rehearsal” before deciding that they are “just a notch above everyone else.”
“We’ve always wanted to do a behind-the-scenes show that was scripted,” Tatro says, adding that “Real Bros” hadn’t been high on his priority list and that he was “honestly surprised” at how successful it has been.
“I think a lot of people like it because the characters seem so real,” he says. “So many high school and college-age characters are written by people who are clearly way beyond that age, and they don’t seem authentic. Young viewers really like authentic. You can see it online, where polished videos are not doing as well. Now, anyone can make something look good, so the push is to make it seem real.”
While shooting Season 3, Tatro also has had several acting projects, including playing Alex’s boyfriend Bill on “Modern Family” and voicing a character in the upcoming animation feature “Rumble,” which stars Terry Crews and Will Arnett. He and Pierce also have sold a series based on their “LifeAccordingToJimmy” sketch “8th Grade Sleepovers” to Quibi, Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s short-form, mobile-only platform that will launch next year.
The two have worked with new platforms before, including YouTube Red and the now defunct Vessel, but not with the success they’ve found with Facebook Watch. However, Tatro says, “if anyone can launch a short-form platform that works, they can.” He and Pierce have been writing longer episodes for Season 3 of “Real Bros,” mainly because fans have asked for it. But Tatro isn’t sure: “There’s something about 20 minutes that feels like a sweet spot to me.”
Back on set, the garage scene, complete with several bits that will serve as background when Xander does one of his direct-to-camera confessionals, winds up and Tatro goes into makeup and wardrobe for a very distinctive look that acknowledges another kind of bro show, the details of which I will not spoil here. This being “Real Bros,” going into makeup and wardrobe consists of him changing his look in the video village while everyone watches.
“You look awesome, man,” one of the crew members says. “High five.”
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