Mining Family for Comedy in ‘9JKL’
After going against type to play the villain in last year’s “Prison Break” reboot, Mark Feuerstein is comfortably back in his “nice Jewish guy” wheelhouse as the creator and a cast member of the CBS comedy “9JKL,” which was inspired by his family.
“It’s nice to step out of your comfort zone and play the darker side, but it’s also nice to return to laughing and playing characters who are kind and represent the best of humanity,” Feuerstein said.
The premise of the show, which premiered Oct. 2, has its roots in a real-life, sitcomish situation the Los Angeles-based actor, now 46, once found himself in. He occupied the middle apartment between his parents — Audrey and Harvey — and his brother’s family during his eight-year run on “Royal Pains,” which was shot in New York and ran from 2009 to 2016.
Feuerstein’s character, Josh Roberts, is reeling from both a divorce and the cancellation of his series, “Blind Cop,” and returns to New York seeking comfort and support from his family. The problem is, his well-meaning but meddling parents don’t understand the concept of boundaries.
“The family is getting in the way of him realizing his goals to get married, have children and get working again,” Feuerstein said.
“It’s an amalgam of stories that put our characters in ridiculous situations. It starts with my history and personal source material. But the characters are very different from who Audrey, Harvey and my brother Eric are.”
Nevertheless, Elliott Gould’s Harry Roberts is a lawyer with a predilection for bow ties, just like the elder Feuerstein. The Roberts apartment set approximates the Feuersteins’, down to the mass of Post-it notes on the refrigerator. Despite their ethnically neutral surname, the family is indeed Jewish, though it’s not specifically stated at first.
“We didn’t consciously avoid the fact that we’re Jewish, we just want to ease the audience into it,” Feuerstein said. “We don’t want to turn people off who might not have as open minds as people in New York and L.A. I am very proud to be a Jew. And we will take our time with how we treat those things, whether it’s mentioning Chanukah or a bar mitzvah.”
Feuerstein created and executive produces the show along with his wife, Dana Klein, who serves as showrunner. In the roles of his parents they cast Jewish actors Gould and Linda Lavin, who played Feuerstein’s mother in “Conrad Bloom” two decades ago. David Walton and Liza Lapira, who are not Jewish, play his heart surgeon brother and the brother’s non-Jewish wife, who is a pediatrician.
Although the show’s family arrangement is at times too close for comfort, Feuerstein said he cherished the time he spent living close to his parents.
“I was a guy in a stage of life where you don’t often get to spend that kind of quality time with your family, because you’re supposed to have moved on and be focused on your own family,” he said. He’d married Klein in 2005 and they had three children they raised in Los Angeles during the run of “Royal Pains.” He flew back to L.A. on weekends to be with them.
“Because of the nature of our business and the fact that I had to shoot it in New York at that time, I got all of this wonderful quality time with my mother, sitting at the table, talking about the day’s events with my father, my brother and his wife and their children. And I wouldn’t have had that otherwise,” he said.
Feuerstein no longer needs to commute long distance, as “9JKL” shoots at CBS Studio Center in Studio City, in front of an audience. Feurstein’s resumé includes comedies (“Caroline in the City,” “Good Morning, Miami”), dramas (“The West Wing,” the film “Defiance”) and a comedy-drama (“Nurse Jackie”), but this is the first time he has collaborated with Klein, whose producer credits include “Friends” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”
While the show comes from his personal experience, Feuerstein said he believes it can have broader appeal.
“I hope everyone feels that this is their story on some level,” he said. “This family dynamic is international and universal. Everyone can relate to a mother and father who aren’t afraid to get in your business.”