Back in 1995, Emily Fox was a young creative type living in Manhattan with her best friend, working at a series of what she describes as “inconsequential assistant jobs” and comparison-shopping for spaghetti. “The further uptown you went, the cheaper the spaghetti got,” she recalls, noting, “It was 79 cents on our block, and you’d go up five blocks north, and it was 69 cents.”
Twenty years later, Fox lives in Los Angeles and has made a career for herself as a writer and producer in television–her credits include Ghost Whisperer and Jane By Design. And while she probably ate a lot more spaghetti than she wanted to when she lived in New York City in the mid-’90s, Fox looks back on that time with fondness and is having a blast revisiting the era via her scripted series Hindsight.
Airing on VH1, the show centers on a woman named Becca (played by Laura Ramsey), who, at the outset of the series, is living in New York City in the age of the iPhone 6 and is about to walk down the aisle for a second time when she starts wondering if she is doing the right thing. She wishes she could ask her best friend Lolly (Sarah Goldberg) for guidance, but the two women had a falling out and haven’t spoken for years. Little does Becca know she will be reunited with her friend: After passing out in an elevator, Becca wakes up and finds she has somehow gone back in time to 1995, and it’s the morning of her first wedding.
Knowing what she knows, how will Becca approach everything from marriage to friendship to career? We will see as the series unfolds.
Hindsight has earned a lot of positive reviews from television critics for its charming blend of nostalgia and humor. “One of them said that they thought the show was the intersection between Beverly Hills 90210 and Friends, which, to someone who was coming of age in the ’90s, was pretty much the most flattering thing you could ever hear,” Fox says. (Reviewing Hindsight for The New York Times, it was Jon Caramanica who wrote, “The show doubles as credible period dramedy, somewhere between Beverly Hills 90210 and Friends, and an armchair rumination on destiny and will.”)
Here, Fox talks to Co.Create about the origins of Hindsight and what its like to make a show set during a time not so long ago when AOL email was popular, everyone was listening to Collective Soul, and hardly anyone knew what it was to be gluten-free.
The character of Becca and the idea of re-examining one’s life came first–not the ’90s time frame. “We really started building it around the character, thinking about this universal fantasy of getting a chance to go back and live your life over again knowing everything you know–what would you change, and how do you think that would play out?” says Fox. “As we were talking about this woman and the choices she had made, we sort of landed on the idea of weddings, and we started noodling around with the notion of someone getting married again, taking this second chance but feeling like they’ve screwed it up so badly the first time that they were not sure that doing it again was the right choice. So it really started as a meditation of sorts on choices and the idea of revisiting choices and the myth of perfect knowledge. Then as we started thinking about this character and where she lived and where we would find her and where she would end up, the backdrop grew around that.”
Fox’s own experience informed the setting. She lived in New York in 1995 with her best friend in the world. They were fresh out of college and living the NYC dream. “It was a really wonderful time in my life that I have always romanticized and dreamed about and thought, ‘You know, if I were to go back and kind of do anything again, I would do that mostly because it was so fun.’ It was such a fun time to live in New York. The mid-’90s were like the apex of a real go-go decade that we now look back on as such a dreamy Garden of Eden, and it was.I don’t know that we knew that at the time, but as you’re looking at it in your rear view mirror, it comes into focus as a time in our country and in our lives, just as young women, when anything was possible. So we landed her in 1995.”
The show takes place just before the dawn of the technology boom that has been reshaping our lives for the last 20 years. “We had to interact with people in the ’90s. This was sort of the last moment that I can remember where there wasn’t that level of connectivity, where you couldn’t just pin drop your location and send it to someone and then they could come meet you, and they could text you if they were going to be late,” Fox says, adding, “People couldn’t look at your picture online and decide if they wanted to go on a date with you. There was a certain level of face-to-face that was required in the ’90s, and that’s really fun to write to.”
In the second episode, Becca is seen going through extreme iPhone withdrawal. “She keeps looking for it everywhere,” says Fox. “Now, we completely take for granted that we have our devices. God help you if you’re separated from your iPhone for an hour. The other day, my iPhone’s battery died because I’d been using Waze, and Waze just drains your battery, and I didn’t have use of my phone for 45 minutes. It was dead. I had no charger, and I had the shakes.”
A central challenge of the writers room, says Fox, was letting the humor inherent in the ’90s artifacts shine through without making those artifacts the star. “How do we tell this joke [about life, including technology, being what it was in the ’90s] without bashing people over the head with it? We’ve always said that the time period is a backdrop, but this is not a sitcom,” she says. “We really looked to Mad Men in particular and how they let the jokes tell themselves. You have a character pick up a rotary phone and dial, but you don’t zoom in on the rotary phone with a laugh track.”
“You don’t want to distract from the story, which is really the most important part,” Fox stresses. “You want to make sure that you’re with this girl on her emotional journey. It’s a bit like she’s Alice in Wonderland. She’s finding these things around every corner that are sort of astonishing and familiar at the same time and trying to stay on her quest.”
Becca’s friendship with Lolly is really the central love story of the show. “This was the great love that was lost,” says Fox. “I think for women in their twenties—certainly, for me at that time and still to this day—your female friendships help you discover who you are. That person knows you so well and is so compassionate about your experience and so empathetic, and you have your secret language, and you share clothes, and it is such an intimate relationship. It is so defining. Female friendships are the foundation of your life, and, ideally, they last forever. Sometimes, they don’t, and it’s so much more confusing when you break up with a friend than it is when you break up with a romantic partner.”
“I have such vivid memories of a bad breakup in my twenties–it wasn’t that bad, but it felt bad at the time,” she reflects. “My friend came over in her pajamas, and we walked out my front door, and we walked until we found a newsstand and a bagel shop, and we got magazines, and we got bagels, and I remember so vividly her saying, ‘We’re out, we’re talking, everything is fine.’ Then we went home, and we watched movies all day and ate bagels and read magazines, and I cried and laughed.”
The music in the show “is my iTunes library laid bare,” says Fox. “Everything was meaningful. Everything was carefully considered. I’m so emotional about music just in general. I definitely have been known to hear a song on the radio and have to pull over to the side of the road and cry because it just stirs up something so like deep and primal in my heart.”
It was important to the team to faithfully recreate the time depicted [on Hindsight]–not just what you’re seeing, but what you’re hearing, what you’re remembering. “There is a scene at the end of episode five—it’s a series of scenes—and we have REM’s ‘Nightswimming’ playing under it. That, to me, was the most heartbreaking and romantic song I’d ever heard at that time in the ‘90s. I remember I had big feelings about that song.”
The pilot includes the Ace of Base classic, “The Sign.” I love the lyrics,” says Fox. “I love the music. It was so fun to dance to. I have such fond memories of that song just playing constantly. You’d go out to bar, and you’d hear it twice in a night.”
“This is what eBay is for–you can buy back your childhood,” says Fox. “I said, ‘Can we find one of those classic Mac cubes with the flying toasters? And they were, like, yeah, we can get that!’ They found everything I dreamed about. They found a Walkman. We had 15 different pagers to choose from, VCRs, the Discman, the proper TV to have in a living room, the right beer bottles, the right cigarette packs. It was really fun. It was like a scavenger hunt. We’ve had a lot of fun putting that world back together.”
Fox pitched the idea for the show with Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly, who are the EPs on the project, in the summer of 2009. [Timberman and Beverly run Timberman/Beverly Prods and have produced series ranging from Masters of Sex to Justified.] “We set it up at another network, and I wrote the pilot for that network, and they liked it very much but passed on it,” says Fox. “Then it sat on a shelf gathering dust for at least a year, which is the deal with the devil that you make when you write pilots–the odds are very long that anything is going to come to fruition. Most of the time you get a very polite handshake and a pat on the head and a paycheck, and then you go off and do it again.”
This one, though, really stuck in Fox’s head. “I really loved the script. I loved the process of writing it, loved developing it with Carl and Sarah, and I was really genuinely sad,” she says. “When I write a pilot and someone, the network passes on it, I can move on pretty quickly, but this stuck one with me. I really loved the character of Becca. I really wanted to see what happened to her.
“VH1 was actively looking for a project to develop in the scripted terrain, and they got this script from my agent and said, ‘Hey, this is right in our wheelhouse. We’d love to do this,’ which, you know, never happens. This is like the phoenix rising from the ashes. It’s the fairy tale that you hear about in television but you never believe it’s really possible.”