The title of Cody Lee’s debut screenplay, The Everys, refers to the family at the heart of this ode to the family sitcom. Normal yet far from normal, the Everys reflect the positionings and scriptings of all that we’ve come to expect from the sitcom form. And yet, there’s something about the family’s clay form that itself unseats those expectations right from the start. Sharp and unnerving, The Everys questions while it preserves, leaving readers to wonder what role they take in molding the normal everyday imaginings of the family form.
I was fortunate enough to talk to Lee about storytelling, images of the every day, and the politics of centralizing characters made of clay.
Could you tell me a bit about the title of your screenplay?
Well, I started writing it a few years ago, and originally, it was titled “The Nobodies.” Then I started developing the characters a little more—I was taking a class at Second City at the time—and began to realize that these four people were just that, people, and deserved to be recognized as such. So then it became “The Everybodies,” but after saying it aloud a few times, I knew that wasn’t it either. And at this point, the characters were only friends, not family. Then it hit me, the “epiphany,” if you will. And now here we are.
There are such recognizable sitcom moments—like queued laughter, situational comedy, typical office and home settings. How did you see those playing a role in telling the story of the Everys?
For whatever reason, no matter what story I’m working on, I write as if I’m watching it on TV. That may be because, growing up, I didn’t really read much and spent most of my time in front of the TV. But in terms of The Everys, it wasn’t that I set out to write a sitcom and then the characters followed; it was more “I have these characters in mind, what’s the best way to present them?” And the answer was, they needed a space to be as comical as I imagined them, but also have the ability to interact with the world and its cruelty.
I really love how these new shows like Atlanta, Dave, and Master of None are proving that you don’t need a bunch of jokes and punchlines to be funny. Normalcy is already funny and weird enough. That being said, some things aren’t funny at all. So being able to find a balance between those two was definitely a top priority.
There’s a bit of the absurdist in this screenplay. Can you tell me a bit more about those moments?
The most “absurd” thing about the book is that we see it that way. That because these people don’t look “normal,” there’s something going on. But in actuality, they’re just stumbling around like the rest of us, living basic, lower-middle class lives.
On the flip side of that, it’s difficult to question what we’re used to, and see things that are considered “normal” as anything but. Another absurdity that comes to mind is the fact that Bailey kisses ass for a living. The most absurd thing there isn’t its literalness, but that if it were a regular job, we’d think nothing of it.
The last bit that falls into this category, I think, is Reese’s job. They go into stores and hang out in order to make the place seem more diverse, which is so far from fiction, it’s absurd. In the past year, how many all-white businesses hired a person of color? Probably every one of them, because otherwise it’d look terrible. I’m not saying they made the wrong choice, but what I am saying is, don’t think we don’t see what you’re doing.
The Everys are made of clay and, in many ways, because of this push against the gendered or racialized assumptions inherent in the sitcom form. Was it important to mold them in this way?
It was more important to make sure that they had heads. And once that was done, I didn’t care too much about what they looked like.
The world of the Everys includes references to Dali, Starbucks, Arianna Grande, and Rupi Kaur. How do you see these cultural underpinnings functioning in this screenplay?
I meant what I said about the most absurd thing being our inability to see it otherwise. However, I am a human being. I understand that it’s a bizarre tale, so I wanted to provide the audience with some sort of footing, a little reality to ease the transition into such a strange realm, so that hopefully in the future, a story like this doesn’t have to seem so strange.
Each of the Everys seem somewhat bound up in a certain social position. Is there a certain politics for you in that scripting?
Good question! You know, I’m not entirely sure. What I do know is that there are some things that don’t make sense. Like, how Nicky, a fourteen-year-old child, has to worry about their family’s financial well-being. That there are kids who don’t get the chance to be kids, and others that, because of some lucky card they pulled in another dimension, can afford to live as children until they’re old and gray.
Your screenplay grapples with the idea of what makes us human or, rather, what do we imagine makes us human. Was this a central project of this screenplay?
I wrote the screenplay out of boredom, mostly. I was bored of race and gender. Everyone loves saying, “No one wants to talk about this or that,” but I’ve found that those are the things people talk about most. And I appreciate the time spent doing so—because for the longest, no one was—but personally, I’ve had enough, and I think others have too. Now seems like a good time to move forward, into a new, more exciting world. We’ve seen hatred; what does love look like?
I think of all the shows that spawned The Everys. Shows like Black-ish, One Day at a Time, and Fresh Off the Boat. Shows that fought and are still fighting for a seat at the table. They all captured a very specific group of people, yet all of them had the same message, which was that everyone’s menial life is equally important, and that no voice deserves to go unheard. While I’m well aware that, in the grand scheme of things, there aren’t enough of these shows and showrunners, it seems that we’ve covered all the bases.
From where I’m sitting, we have three options: Continue to build upon the same minority-focused stories we’ve already heard, in hopes that someday enough of them will have been made to deem the entertainment industry (and the world as we know it) equal; Keep digging for “fresh perspectives,” until even the common house spider has spoken; Or expedite the process of equality by making it impossible to tell who exactly should be demanding it.
by Cody Lee
Long Day Press
Published on June 22, 2021
Clancey D’Isa is a Daily Editor at Chicago Review of Books and the Director of Strategy and Development for the Seminary Co-op Bookstores.