February 27, 2020

Fran Drescher Stars in Jewish Comedy Sitcom ‘Indebted’

From left: Steven Weber, Fran Drescher, Adam Pally, Abby Elliott in “Indebted.”Photo by Trae Patton/NBC

As a writer for “The Goldbergs,” Dan Levy mined his colorful Jewish family for stories. Last year, when his parents proposed retiring to California and moving in with him, the idea for another comedy was born. 

Created by Dan Levy and executive produced by Levy and “Goldbergs” producer Doug Robinson, “Indebted” stars Fran Drescher and Steven Weber as Debbie and Stew Klein. They play irresponsible, cash-strapped baby boomers who show up on their son Dave’s (Adam Pally) doorstep. Dave and his wife, Rebecca (Abby Elliott), now have to take care of two generations, “and the parents are acting more like kids than their kids are,” Levy told the Journal in a joint interview with Robinson.

“Millennials are a lot more aware of having financial responsibility,” Levy said. “Baby boomers made a lot of money in the ’80s but they spent and didn’t plan. My friend John’s parents are living in his basement. It’s a very real thing. The more specific you are, the more relatable you can be. It becomes universal. It’s nice to be able to sit down and watch a funny family and get a break from the chaos. That’s what we set out to do.”

In “Indebted,” the Kleins’ Jewishness is overt. “There are nuances throughout. They reference bar mitzvahs, they host a shivah for a great-aunt who died at 103,” Levy said. “When you have Fran Drescher as the lead, it’s obviously a Jewish family. But it’s a show that’s relatable for everybody.” 

Pally, who revealed at a press event for the show that his parents were entertainers in the Catskills, has played many Jewish characters, including in “Happy Endings” and “The Mindy Project.” 

Weber chimed in that he’s relishing this chance to represent the Tribe. “It was time to play a Jewish person. I’ve done everything else,” he said. “I’ve been playing such reprehensible guys for such a long time and have enjoyed it. But the universe handed me this great opportunity to play somebody who is so laid-back and loving and positive.”  

Drescher confirmed that Debbie Klein doesn’t stray far from her trademark roles on “The Nanny” and “Happily Divorced.” “She’s “pretty much what you’ve been used to,” Drescher said. “I like to play characters that are positive and loving, not mean-spirited. I like to be self-deprecating. That’s my brand of comedy and what my fans have come to expect, and I like to give them what they anticipate and as much bang for their buck as possible.” 

Richard Kind, who guest-starred in an episode of “The Nanny” in 1994, appears in three episodes as Linda’s therapist brother.

“I like to be self-deprecating. That’s my brand of comedy and what my fans have come to expect, and I like to give them what they anticipate and as much bang for their buck as possible.” — Fran Drescher

Drescher currently is developing a Broadway musical version of “The Nanny,” writing the book with her partner and ex-husband, Peter Jacobson, with music and lyrics by “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” Rachel Bloom and Adam McKay. She also revealed plans to write a follow-up to her 2002 bestseller, “Cancer Schmancer.” 

“My life has changed exponentially since then,” she said. “I need to write about it and the life lessons that I’ve learned the hard way, and share the wisdom that I’ve gained and the choices that I’ve made.”

Levy, whose mother is from Brooklyn, conceived “Indebted” with Drescher in mind, but Pally was the first actor cast. “Our kids went to preschool together. We’ve been friends for a while,” he said. 

Levy first met Robinson when Robinson was a former agent and saw Levy’s standup comedy act in Boston. Levy segued to sitcom writing when his friend Whitney Cummings invited him to write jokes for her sitcom “Whitney” and later joined Robinson on “The Goldbergs.” (He still performs as a standup comic.)

On “Indebted,” “Dan does all the heavy lifting. He writes the show, he’s the visionary for the show,” Robinson said. “I’m there to help Dan and support him in every way possible. On the pilot, we didn’t have a staff; it was the two of us. Dan would hand me the script and say, ‘What do you think?’ And we would talk about it. We bounce ideas off each other,” he said.

Levy recalled making some last-minute changes in the show’s premise, which was originally titled “Uninsured.” “It dealt more with the medical area. It was coming off more like a TED Talk than a comedy pitch,” he said. “We had to lighten it up. I was panicking, but Doug is good at helping someone not panic.”

“We had very similar upbringings,” said Robinson, who grew up in Merrick on New York’s Long Island, had a bar mitzvah, celebrated the Jewish holidays and went to a Jewish summer camp. “We had my son’s bar mitzvah in Israel and my daughter’s bat mitzvah on ‘The Goldbergs’ set,” he added.

Levy’s youth in Stamford, Conn. was comparable, involving Hebrew school, bar mitzvah lessons and fasting on Yom Kippur. 

Levy’s parents are kvelling over being the inspiration for their son’s sitcom,
and his mother regularly calls with plot suggestions. “They’re having a premiere party at their house,” he said. But he’s still not budging on their wish to move west. “You’re still not living with me,” he told them firmly. “You need to stay in Stamford with your friends.”

“Indebted” premieres Feb. 6 on NBC.