Amrie’s Take on TV: SIDE ORDER OF LIFE

About two weeks ago, I got a fabulous surprise in the mail. After a long work day, I came home to find an adorable envelope filled with information and the pilot episode of Lifetime’s new show “Side Order of Life”. I’ve watched it 4 times since then, and I’m just so excited for new episodes!

The show is about Jenny McIntyre (Marisa Coughlin in a charming role), a 30 year old woman on the verge of the perfect marriage with the perfect man. That all changes when her best friend tells her that the cancer she thought she had beaten had returned, and was overtaking her brain. What follows is Jenny’s world slowly falling apart before her eyes, and she needs to find a way to make it all better again. She has a strong group of friends, who all have fabulous chemistry. Diana Maria Riva (Vivy, cancer-stricken friend), Jason Priestley (saintly fiancé of Jenny), and Chris Gartin (Rick, struck with love for Vivy) all mesh so well with each other. They really are fabulous. What I love most is the surprise element of the officially-titled Cell Phone Guy and what he represents for Jenny as she starts her new life.

Along with the luck of watching the pilot episode, I had the privilege of speaking with Margaret Nagle, creator, writer, and executive producer of the show, about what she thinks about her show, how she feels about her characters, and what she hopes we all get out of the material.

I asked Margaret where she got the idea for the show and how it ended up at Lifetime.

“I wrote a movie [Warm Springs, for which she got an Emmy nomination]. I had been doing other things. I wrote a spec script in my garage. I love the subject of Warm Springs. I gave the script to [Grey’s Anatomy executive producer] Mark Gordon. He said we’re going to make it, and it ended up nominated for a few Emmys. That week, Warner Brothers requested a blind script [basically, Margaret could write about whatever she wanted]. I had a meeting with Warner Brothers. That day, I checked my email. When I was a freshman at Northwestern, I was part of a very tight knit group. I got an email from a friend whose wife was dying from cancer. The email Jenny sends in the pilot is the email that I got. Rather than BCC us all, he put all our names on the list. Friends from New York, LA, the girl I wasn’t speaking to. 60 people whose lives were inner connected forever. Death brought us together.”

“I called my agent in the car and pitched the email. I said what if we backed it up 5 years, picked 4 random people. My agent said absolutely. I originally wrote it for ABC, but it was right around the time that Emily’s Reasons Why Not tanked so bad. They were freaking out about what they wanted. That killed the project at ABC. My agent said what about Lifetime. Suzanne Daniels totally came to the rescue. Unfortunately, my friend died shortly after that email.”

I asked Margaret to talk about the show – what good stuff we can expect, what we can expect to enjoy, and she had a lot to say. She believes in her show so strongly, and I’m inclined to agree!

“We seem to live extraordinarily perfect lives. I spent 2 years writing about the Lost Boys of Sudan for a movie. Mourning and experiencing the troubles of Sudan, you realize stuff is happening. We are responsible to one another, whether we acknowledge it or not. It’s time to grow a soul. The show is a birth of a soul. Jenny gets a call from the universe. She calls back. It’s not enough to deal with just the 20s. The 30s are much more indicative of character. We’re responsible for what we are going to do with our lives. Jenny is very beautiful, talented. Vivy is her conscience. She kicks her in the ass. She has to start her whole life over. Vivy lives with the cancer. It affects Ian, Rick, and Jenny’s life.”

“People of all ages love this show because it’s about friendship, love, life, cell phone guy, a relationship with a wrong number, and how Jenny will figure herself out. The first 13 are all about Jenny. It’s about people’s narcissism. She’s a narcissist who gets burned for it. I thought, let’s have her fall down a hole. Experience a journey that makes her grow. I wrote the first 13 as a movie, or a miniseries. There is a cliffhanger at the end. Ian becomes super important in the 13. We see what it’s like to see a guy get his heart broken. Rick believes if Vivy loves him, he’ll be complete. That story takes him through the entire 13. He’s not going to ease up. We’ll see Vivy go through chemo. [At one point], we meet Vivy’s other best friend Becca (How I Met Your Mother’s Ashley Williams). People get competitive. Becca comes down to play in the ‘Cancer Olympics. She wants Ian. We see the magazine experience some trouble, and we meet Jenny’s parents. Her mother is a wild woman. It’s a lot of fun stuff. Sex, messy, fun. Character driven. Jenny’s mom comes on to Rick. He goes to Ian. Ian says that she’s hit on him before, too!”

Margaret continued to talk about what we should get out of the show.

“Jenn’s dilemma is that she always wanted a life she want’s meant to have. She wanted to be this golden girl. Part of what we’re watching is her realizing that life. She has to live reality. She has to find the courage. The show is about love. The forms love can take. How we love our friends. I have friends. My friends are everything. They’re another kind of family. Friends are even more important than they’ve ever been.”

Margaret also gave a little insight into later episodes. Episode 2 [the second episode after the pilot], called “Whose Sperm Is It Anyway” deals with Rick and Ian wanting to be a good friend to Vivy, as they complete to see who will get to fertilize Vivy’s eggs. They have a “sperm off”, as Margaret puts it.

Margaret is incredibly involved in all aspects of the show. While we were on the phone, she got a call from the set. They wanted to know if she could come check out the tattoo that they put on Chris Gartin for the storyline of Rick getting a tattoo to support Vivy. She’s also sure to put aspects of her life into the show – the horrible bridesmaid dress? “My friend is so mad at me. The bridesmaid dress in the pilot is hers!”

This is the kind of show you should watch with your girlfriends, or your guy friends. One of Margaret’s favorite stories about the test groups comes from the feeling of having a group of friends to watch the show.

“In watching the test groups, they loved watching together. One of the test audiences went out to dinner together after watching! I sent it to my two roommates. They watched it over the phone together and spent 2 and half hours discussing it afterwards. The feedback has been enthusiastic and passionate.”

Margaret left me with two final thoughts – pay attention to the voice on the other end of Jenny’s phone conversations. You might find that it’s a voice you’ll recognize well! Margaret got a phone call saying “I have to play cell phone guy”. While she wouldn’t give away who it was, expect to see the actual person show up in season 2!

Her final thought is something that can definitely apply to our every day lives! “There is no third world. I believe there’s just one world. A world without World War II, Vietnam, huge problems. It’s a cushy time, we need to wake up. Time to wake up. We think our lives are safe. We have control. You really don’t. Life is right now. You better go for it. I waited years to write. I finally sat down to write, I overcame my fear. It totally changed my life. I did it. You better do it.”

Margaret is a real class act, having faith in a show that really has the potential to go places! I for one cannot wait for new episodes – I look forward to the next few weeks to see how it all plays out. Don’t miss the premiere episode on July 15 at 8PM on Lifetime!

In other news – a new Clark and Michael episode goes up live on Wednesday. I’ve had the incredible privilege of talking with Clark this week and I asked him to offer up a tease of what to expect in this week’s brand new ‘sode. He said:

“Well, without giving too much away: Clark has a gun. Michael reads the paper. We play some (more) golf. Guest starring “Greek” (that show I’m on….) and “Live Free or Die Hard”’s Jake McDorman and Chris Candy (son of comedy legend John Candy”

Please tune in!

Stayed tuned next week for some more insight into the mind of Lifetime writers, as well as some exciting stuff to look forward to as Discovery celebrates the 20th year of Shark Week!

Feedback is welcome!

For all the latest TV news and reviews