David Denman and Liza Lapira Chat About TRAFIC LIGHT

Traffic Lights

TRAFFIC LIGHT, FOX’s new relationship comedy, premieres Tuesday, February 8 and focuses on three long-time friends. Mike (David Denman) is married to Lisa (Liza Lapira) and has a young son. Adam (Nelson Franklin) just moved in with his girlfriend Callie (Aya Cash), and Ethan (Kris Marshall) is a happily single serial dater whose most serious relationship is with his bulldog.

Daemon’s TV was there when David Denman (Roy on The Office) and Liza Lapira (Ivy on Dollhouse) talked about their Traffic Light characters, what we can expect from the show, and how it tries to avoid normal sitcom clichés.

On Mike

According to David, “Mike is a solid, stand-up guy and he’s trying to be the best father, best husband, and best friend he can be. In trying to do that, he sometimes struggles with balancing all the aspects of his life and he gets very caught up in the details. He is a lawyer, so that’s natural, but he definitely feels that there are rules to how you should do things. Since he’s been in a relationship the longest, he definitely thinks he knows everything about being in a relationship and he gives his advice no matter how bad it is and whether or not anyone wants his opinion or not.”

On Lisa

Liza called Lisa “wonderful in terms of being in a committed relationship. She’s very stable and one who handles responsibilities of life, i. e. being a wife and mom, being amazing at her career and balancing it very, very well. There’s something grounding about Lisa. She’s the most grounded of the group, which as my boss says, isn’t saying much.”

Lisa also has less serious side. “She’s a smartass,” Liza explained. “She gives as good as she gets and she leads with being a lady and so she’s nice and grounded–until she’s not. Once you mess with her kids, then it comes out. She’s very competitive in sports, so it comes out, or if she’s having a battle of wits with her husband over his GPS, then she’ll roll up her sleeves and go for it.” Liza also loves the banter Lisa shares with Mike and others. “She’s very quick-witted and gives as she good as she gets. She’s also very flirty with her husband, wanting to be his girlfriend.”

On Mike and Lisa’s marriage

David made it clear he thinks Mike and Lisa have a different sort of relationship than you usually see on TV. “We made a conscious effort not to be one of those [typical sitcom] relationships. Both our executive producers are happily married and they wanted to make very clear that we are a happily married couple-we have problems that we work out and deal with, but we wanted to do it in as realistic and relatable way as possible. We didn’t want to do the old man is beaten down by his wife sitcom cliche.”

After conferring, David and Liza decided that the best way to describe Mika and Lisa is that they are both each other’s “worthy adversaries” and best friends. David explained, “They share mutual respect and they are both very successful in their jobs. I think they both think they run the house.” He said he uses Friday Night Lights‘ Eric and Tami as a model.

Liza likes that in addition to bantering and fighting toe to toe, Mike and Lisa keep it hot. “We still hang on to being this young sexy couple that we were in college. It’s just our circumstances have changed. We’re Adam and Callie maybe ten years later.”

On Traffic Light’s different relationships

Just because Traffic Light features two committed relationships doesn’t mean the show looks down on Ethan’s single status. David explained, “We’re not making a comment on where you’re supposed to be in a relationship. We’re commenting on the different stages of relationships-there’s nothing wrong with being happily single and living the lifestyle that Ethan lives. ”

Liza views the show as “an exploration of being happy in the stage that you’re at,” and David agreed, saying also that the different stages help the characters play off each other. “I don’t think Mike would be happy living like [Ethan]. I don’t think Ethan would be happy married with a kid. We’re the two opposites for Adam-sitting on his two shoulders and telling him what to do.”

On the group dynamic

Traffic Light is centered on Mike, Adam, and Ethan, so–at least at first–we see the women mostly in relation to the guys, but don’t expect there to be a typical men vs. women dynamic. Liza explained, “Lisa is closer to the guys. She grew up with the guys like Mike did. They all met in college. It’s never that sitcom trap of Mike’s with the guys-I’m so mad. There’s no guys against the girls. With Callie, we did touch upon a friendship in the latter episodes, but if anything that will only enhance the group aspect of the show.”

David also sees a different dynamic with the guys and Lisa versus the guys and Callie. “Callie has only been around about a year, so she’s more of an outsider. You’ll see [more of Lisa’s history] in future episodes when we do some flashbacks involving Lisa’s bad perm.”

Liza thinks the show will focus more on the women as it goes on. “If we make more [than the original 13 episodes], then it will grow into more of an ensemble thing. It will always be about the three guys and their relationships, but it will also be about a group of friends-all five of us.” She said there’s plenty of potential for Lisa/Callie stories since the two are so different. “Where Lisa is grounded, Callie’s kind of like the firecracker that’s like the new information. In that way the two women are pillars on opposite sides of the spectrum.”

Upcoming episodes

There will be more than one episode where, as David said, “Mike-falsely sometimes-thinks that it might be better for him to hide information from Lisa because he then won’t necessarily have to deal with things.” The pilot is the first example of that. “He’s hiding in the car pretending he’s stuck in traffic so he can watch Iron Man on the DVD player. The reality is that the second he gets home from work, he’s on a second shift with his kid-not that Lisa isn’t doing exactly the same thing, so I think that probably he would get more mileage out of just communicating that he needs this or that, but it’s easier for him to just avoid the conflict.”

David said the pilot is just the beginning of Mike’s backfiring plans. “We have a couple episodes where Mike screws up pretty bad in his need for thinking that he’s controlling information and keeping the relationship happy, which in turn makes it ten times worse.”

Liza said the deception happens both ways throughout the series. “Lisa has her chocolate shake time that she doesn’t tell Mike about. When Callie wants to get away from Adam after just moving in together, she creates a lie.” To make things funnier, Liza said that Traffic Light doesn’t go the expected route of having Lisa punish Mike for the lying. “We explore in the pilot that Lisa is hip to the game. She’s not calling him out on it. She’s saying ‘Yeah, I know you’re doing it, but I’ve got to go for a job now, so take the kid and watch ‘Iron Man’ in the car together.”

Liza described one episode where Mike, Adam, and Ethan accidentally switch lives. “Ethan decides to fall in love for a day, so for a day he goes through marriage. Adam and Callie take care of the kid for a day, so they have our lives while Mike and I escape to a spa, so we’re the newlyweds. At the end of the episode, the moral of the story after all the laughs is that we are happy at the exact stage we’re in and we don’t want to switch lives.”

In another episode, Liza said “Lisa will advise Ethan on how to get his mojo back.” She said the series will often highlight a “brother-in-law/sister-in-law” relationship between Adam, Ethan, and Lisa.

Traffic Light premieres on FOX Tuesday, February 8 at 9:30pm eastern/8:30 pm central

You can read all our Traffic Light coverage here.

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