by Tamar Barbash
One of the highlights of the ATX Festival this past weekend was having the chance to sit down with Jessica Goldberg, creator of The Path and writer on Parenthood. I had the opportunity to ask her about her writing process, what we can look forward to, and (of course) some her favorite ‘ships.
Below, listen to our interview live or read on for the full transcript. And be warned: Spoilers for both The Path and Parenthood included. (Sincere apologies for the background noise in the audio file)
The Shipping Room: I’m here with Jessica Goldberg, I’m very excited to chat. I have a lot of things I want to ask you, but my first question is just how you came to the story of The Path. What made you want to tell that story?
Jessica Goldberg: Yes. Well, I was on a hiatus. I worked on Parenthood, the TV show.
TSR: I have so many questions about that, too!
JG: I was going through a really rough year. I had lost a parent, I was getting divorced, and I sort of, you know, just kept feeling…thinking about what is it like when you feel like everything you built your life around sort of doesn’t feel real anymore. Or it feels fake. It’s very mysterious, writing. I’d always been sort of obsessed with religion and religious movements. So I don’t know how exactly I got from those feelings to writing the show but somehow I wanted to put what it feels like if you lose your foundation into a show.
TSR: That’s so interesting, that it’s a metaphortical type of story.
JG: Yeah, that’s what it ended up being. So when I was on a break from Parenthood I just decided I’m just going to sit in a room. I hadn’t written anything for myself in so long. So I just wrote it for myself. And then I gave it to Jason Katims, who was m boss there, and he loved it and we took it out together.
TSR: The differences between The Path and Parenthood are many —
JG: Huge, yeah.
TSR: But what I find interesting is the similarity in that, really, at their core they’re both about family. Do you like writing about family, do you find that it comes easier to you?
JG: I mean, that’s always been, when i was a playwright before TV, I loved writing about family. I think the way a family works reflects society as a whole. I think what Jason really loved about the show was that it was very truthful. That’s what he seeks, like in Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, the deep honest emotions of characters. that is his one through line in his work. So while the shows are very different, we work from emotional storytelling.
TSR: It’s so fascinating because you think of family and the way family is portrayed on Friday Night Lights and Parenthood is more in line with how I think of families in the world I live in where parents love their children unconditionally.
TSR: What I thought was kind of fascinating about The Path is that there is sort of this condition to, not the love, because clearly Michele Monaghan’s character…
TSR: …Sarah, loved her children and that was the challenge for her. But I was fascinated by this idea that if you don’t buy into the same set of beliefs that I buy into, I will cut you off. Which I guess exists in religion.
JG: That’s the difference with this family is that there’s something more important. The movement. The God. Whatever that is, is more important than the individual, which you do find in most extreme faiths.
TSR: So when we first said we were going to sit down together I didn’t have this question, but I just saw this article this morning. So, there’s an article from Variety a few days ago about how with the fall TV line up set, the face of the TV showrunner is still very white and very male. So I wanted to ask you about what it’s been like to come into this role of creating a show and running a show as a female.
JG: I feel so lucky that there’s a bunch of women who started doing it who sort of broke that glass ceiling a bit before me. I feel from the people I have to answer to very trusted. But it is interesting, you go to these panels and often you’re the only woman up there. You see that even though there’s been a lot of progress, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
TSR: Prior to being the creator of a show you’ve been in writers rooms before. Do you find there are often more men?
JG: You know, honestly, I’ve only watched on a few shows before this and Jason hires tons of women, you know he likes that voice.
TSR: Just add that to the list of reasons I think he’s so fantastic.
JG: Yeah, so I haven’t experienced a heavily male room. But before this I wrote screenplays and you definitely feel like it is a more male world of writing.
TSR: Do you feel when you write female characters, is it important to you to present women in a specific way? Are you motivated by that at all?
JG: I certainly found, like in this show, some of the tropes of cults, like men having four wives or women having to walk ten steps behind men. I didn’t want to us eany of those. I wanted to make the women powerful in the religion, which I think often religions aren’t.
TSR: Well, that’s definitely true in the traditional Judeo-Christian religions. I thought the character of Sarah was really well written and I thought the dynamic was so fascinating in that they kind of used their rungs as like these trump cards. It was such an objective way to establish who outranked who, which added a cool dynamic to the relationships.
TSR: So our podcast is called The Shipping Room. We talk a lot about romantic relationships but also all relationships–familial ones, platonic friendships–but the relationship that most captivated me on The Path was Hawk and Ashley.
JG: [laughs] Of course.
TSR: I just wanted to ask you a little bit about how that story developed. Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to have an in-the-cult/out-of-the-cult kind of romance?
JG: It’s so funny because that character, Hawk, wasn’t in my original pilot. And then when I brought the show to Hulu they said to us like let’s get more of the sort of Jason Katims brand.
TSR: The Tim Riggins?
JG: Yeah. They didn’t quite have an idea for it, but I took the note home and I said let’s add a 16-year-old kid. You know, religious people often have kids really young. So we added this Hawk character and then we found this actor who was just like–
TSR: So cute.
JG: I mean he came on a tape and we were like “Stop the tape! Who is this?” And he’s so different, he feels like he could’ve grown up…because he’s not like a “cool”…and yet he’s gorgeous. He’s actually a ballet dancer. So we found him and then that story evolved and it was so beautiful when we found Ashley. You know they really represent the young innocent lovers. That one love that you never have again.
TSR: It’s so funny and we talk about this all the time on the show. I’m 33 years old and yet I’m so drawn in by these teenagers. It’s so compelling and so relatable. First love is just first love regardless of the circumstances around it. I just watched Jason’s Roswell for the first time and there’s sort of similar themes. It almost doesn’t matter what the specifics are. Being an alien, not being an alien. Being in a cult, not being in a cult. It’s those conflicts that separate you and make it challenging to be together.
JG: I’m so sad we can’t tell that story again. Now he’s already been in love.
TSR: This season got a little dark at the end. Do you think it’s going to keep going in that direction?
JG: We try to sort of maintain a balance, although the show is pretty dark. Definitely there were some tragic endings to some of the stories, but we hope to maintain a balance, but the show is definitely not a laugh.
TSR: Yeah, I think it was episode 7–
TSR: –when the show just took a sharp turn. I looked at my husband I was like ‘Wow this show is amazing.’ I wasn’t expecting it to go that route. And also, the Cal character is fascinating because on the one hand he’s so together and on the other he’s such a mess. It’s just so interesting to see that dichotomy.
JG: We got so lucky with these actors. I was on set the other day, we just started shooting season 2 this week, and I was like, this is a fantasy to have these actors in this show. So it’s pretty exciting.
TSR: Okay, so my next shipping question for you. Was there a couple on Parenthood that was your favorite? That you loved writing the most or loved watching the most.
JG: You know, I loved writing for um…um..Sarah..and
JG: No…I loved what’s his name…the photographer.
TSR: Oh, Sarah and Hank!
JG: Yeah, Hank was so fun to me. His oddness. I just loved that story.
TSR: Yeah, Hank was a great character. What we also talk about [on the podcast] that’s so interesting is how you can be so invested in one couple and then all of a sudden another character comes in and you’re like ‘wait a minute…’
TSR: So my co-host, Christine, and I talk a lot about how we loved her with Mark and we wanted that to work.
TSR: Except then Hank came along and it’s like this kinda makes more sense.
JG: Well, I felt like that but maybe it’s because I’m a little bit older.
TSR: Well also, sacrifice seems really sexy and romantic on TV. But at the end of the day, Mark needed to be with someone who wanted to get married and have kids.
TSR: He was 30 years old, that was really the right choice for him even though it was heartbreaking to see. It was like when Tom Selleck broke up with Monica on Friends. But, [Sarah and Hank] is a good one! When you said Sarah I got confused, I was thinking [actress] Sarah Ramos and so I thought you were talking about Haddie and Alex. Actually, which season did you start?
JG: I didn’t come on til season 5. So I did the last two seasons.
TSR: Oh okay, so that was from much earlier.
JG: It’s probably why I loved Hank. He was just so fun to write for and together I really enjoyed that relationship because it was just so not romantic and yet completely romantic.
TSR: Totally. Parenthood is one of the greatest series finales I think I’ve ever seen.
JG: Isn’t it? I mean I wept. I had been in the room when we made it up and then Jason had us over to watch it and I was weeping.
TSR: It’s really challenging to write—I mean obviously I’ve never done it—but as a viewer it’s really challenging to have an episode that feels that it has wrapped up a show that you’ve loved for so long and it really hits all the points you want it to hit and somehow this did.
JG: Well, tonally, I think he totally figured it out. It fit in with the tone of the show and it had so much joy and so much loss. It was so beautiful.
TSR: What I said after it aired was that it felt like…I felt like the flash-fowards were particularly well done. I felt like we were all Zeke Braverman in that when he died what I wanted to say to him was “your family is going to be okay.” So I felt like were all that character and you guys let us all know–
JG: That everyone was gonna be okay. Yeah.
TSR: And also, TV today, everyone seems so afraid of the happy ending. As audiences we don’t get that a lot anymore.
JG: Yeah, that’s true.
TSR: Since Ned Stark’s head rolled off season 1 of Game of Thrones, more and more I just feel like nothing’s safe. The shock is more exciting than the sweet. So there’s very rarely a show that ends and you just feel warm and fuzzy inside.
JG: That’s so true.
TSR: Sometimes it’s just nice to get that.
JG: I know. Especially in the dark world.
TSR: Yeah. So thank you so much!
JG: Thank you.
TSR: Is there anything else you can think of that you want to share about The Path?
JG: No, I’m just so excited that people are watching and are invested.
TSR: I mean, Aaron Paul, man.
JG: Oh wow. He is so beautiful. His heart is just like, his veins are open.
TSR: He’s a treasure.
JG: Yeah, he’s beautiful.
TSR: Oh! Do you guys have a date for when Hulu’s going [air season 2]?
JG: No. I have no idea! Yeah. Alright, cool. Thank you so much. I’m so glad we got to do this.
Watch season 1 of The Path now on Hulu.