Q&A: Jill Kargman celebrates the square pegs of Park Avenue on ‘Odd Mom Out’
Jill Kargman is the star and creator of Bravo’s “Odd Mom Out,” the network’s first (and still only) scripted sitcom. Recently embarked on its third season and based loosely on her 2007 book “Momzillas” about competitive parenting among the very wealthy, it’s a deft and charming satirical ensemble comedy that both fits and mocks Bravo’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Feckless brand, treating its subjects not with sharpened claws but bemused affection.
“This is not a mean-spirited show,” Kargman told me recently over the phone from New York. A hands-on mother of three, she grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side – her father was the president and chief operating officer of Chanel – but crafted her identity from elements of punk, grunge, goth and musical theater. “It does have heart and family at the center of it and embraces kookiness,” she said. “I never want to ever make anyone feel like I’m taking them down.
“Even though it has ‘Mom’ in the title,” she continued, “it’s not about parenting. It’s really just about being a square peg in a round hole – that’s what people seem to identify with. It makes me happy because I never started out trying to do that; I was just telling my stories.”
There are Trump jokes in the new season. Where were you in the production cycle when the election happened?
We were two-thirds through the writing. It really rocked us, and we were very unproductive for a solid two days, and then it all kind of made its way into the latter half of the season. We don’t get too political, but it’s loaded with fun barbs against Trump and his Cabinet, and a lot of it sort of dovetails into Lex’s story line. Most viewers will, hopefully, be like-minded, and if they’re not, I’m OK with that.
Did the election have any effect on New York culture?
Well, New York is so pro-Hillary. But I understand now why in the Emily Post ‘50s they raised people not to discuss politics at dinner, because it can quickly change a nice evening.
The rest of America obviously knows Trump as this New York success story with a big tower in the middle. But the truth is he’s a punchline in New York; he’s not a member of the clubs the Von Weber types [Jill’s old-money in-laws in the series] would go to. If you live in a big, gold, tacky pumpkin, you don’t get into those. And I know he has his various philanthropies, but he doesn’t support the arts or anything cultural in New York, where most powerful people in the city really roll their sleeves up and get involved.
At the beginning of the new season, some characters have lost money in a Madoff-like Ponzi scene. Did you see that up close when it happened? Is there an element of reality in Upper East Side matrons burning themselves on stoves or ironing boards attempting to do their own housework?
Funny you should mention that. Since we decided to have a smaller writers room this year, we had some leftover money and we had consultants come to give us story dumps. We had an Upper East Side ER doctor from a prominent hospital tell us about rich person accidents, and he actually said that, in their staff layoffs, someone pulverized their hand making smoothies for the first time — they didn’t know that a Vitamix could be lethal. Someone ironed her dress onto her body. She didn’t know.
Of course with Madoff, there was so much devastation, particularly the foundations that he ruined. There were people who had huge financial corrections — they had to lay off their staff and all these things — but it still looks like a pretty good life to me. If you’re losing one of your three homes and you still have two, people would kill for your problems.
Did you ever worry that you were living in a bubble, that privilege might be disconnecting you from life?
No, because, I’m exposed to people like that, but I’m not that. I could have five shows on the air and it’s not the same league as some of these Wall Street guys. The way I was raised anyway — I’m 42, I already am who I am and I have my values from my parents, and I don’t covet the things I think rich people covet. I really just feel like the best part of being rich would be “give it away.” I’m not sitting here polishing my halo — I buy things I want — but I don’t feel like I’m in that bubble at all.
We had a very comfortable childhood, but when I look at it through the prism of the Upper East Side, the excesses of the 1980s were so in contrast to us. My parents shut it down so fast if I ever said, “Oh, I want this; all my friends have it.”
My struggle is not that I’m in a bubble but that my kids are. When Ivy was 3, she said, “Why are you the only mommy in school without red bottoms on your shoes [the hallmark of Christian Louboutin]. And I was horrified that she would observe it. That’s what I struggle with, not my own values, but my kids’. Whenever they say, “Everyone else got this,” I say, “Since when I am like every other mom? I don’t care.” So far, so good. But that continues to be a struggle for me.
Does your apartment in the show reflect your real-life environment?
It’s identical. Our production designer came over with two assistants and I think they took 500 pictures; they snapped every artwork, they were opening drawers. One of my kids stuck googly eyes on the top of a cinnamon shaker in our kitchen, and when I walked on the set for the first time, there were googly eyes on the cinnamon shaker. And she picked up on the morbid side of me — I have a collection of hourglasses and vanitas things with skulls. My family was very Addams Family-ish. Growing up, my parents read the obituaries first, and we always talked about death and how time is fleeting; I think it makes you enjoy every second more.
Was your smaller writing staff this year a budgetary or a creative decision?
We have the same budget. I just feel [with fewer writers] there are fewer inhibitions, people can take more risks. There were some days in Season 1 and 2 where we had eight people in there, and with eight people at least I wouldn’t take as many risks — you want to curate your idea a little better before blurting it. This just felt really safe and small. We laughed all day long.
So we took the extra money and, aside from the doctor, we had a social reporter from the Wall Street Journal; we had a Forbes reporter to talk about the economic fallout of Ponzi schemes; and another reporter who covered finance in terms of IPOs and mapping the growth of a private sector luxury goods brand. Having someone come in to say, “I’m a doctor, here’s the crazy [stuff] I’ve done,” that’s way more useful to me than an idea that may or may not be grounded in reality. I like knowing that rich people’s boob implants explode on the Concord. It lends veracity to the show. And I like that sometimes with the craziest parts of our show, I can say, “No, that’s real.”
‘Odd Mom Out’
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd
The complete guide to home viewing
Get Screen Gab for everything about the TV shows and streaming movies everyone’s talking about.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.