Julia Roberts TV Series is a Go Go

189cd43d0bbea161d2e2a9431d3d54c5Julia Roberts is set to star in her first-ever TV series.

The Hollywood Reporter says Roberts will star in a limited series based on Maria Semple’s novel, “Today Will Be Different.” Roberts will star as the book’s main character, Eleanor Flood.

Roberts has done numerous guest appearances on various TV series over the years, but this project would be her first in a regular role.

Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures is producing the series, marking the first TV project to come under the company’s new television initiative, led by Sue Naegle.

roberts1index Aside from starring, Roberts will also exec produce the series by way of her Red Om Films banner, along with executive producers Semple, Ellison, and Naegle.

“Today Will Be Different” is about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, played by Roberts.

The character is admittedly a bit of a mess, as she decides that today is the day to tackle the little things that she has been neglecting. Of course, life gets in the way of success as a fake-sick son, errant husband, and a former colleague with a bomb-dropping memoir derail her modest plan. Taking place over the course of one day, the series is described as a “hilarious, heart-filled story” about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing our former selves to truly begin living.

“I’m giddy that Eleanor Flood will be brought to life by Julia Roberts and am elated to collaborate with Megan Ellison, Sue Naegle, and the team at Annapurna on this endeavor. This will be a fun ride!” Semple said in a statement.

No network is attached at this point. Insiders say it will be shopped around in the new year. With Roberts’ star power, the series becomes the latest hot project to hit the marketplace.

So Who Is Maria Simple you may ask?

Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” was the kind of instant classic that earns its author a loyal readership in perpetuity. For anyone who needs reminding, it was a novel that skewered all things, Seattle; used an epistolary format to riotous advantage; took a huge whack at Microsoft’s corporate culture; made terrific fun of the Mom Wars at an especially ridiculous grade school; and guaranteed that you, the reader, would never look at a blackberry bush in quite the same way.

It also delivered wall-to-wall hilarity, which had been part of Ms. Semple’s job as a writer of high-end television comedy. (“Mad About You” and “Arrested Development” are her best-known credits.) But delivering laughs does not turn out to be her primary purpose as a novelist. Her new book, “Today Will Be Different,” can be outrageously funny. But it cuts closer to the bone than “Bernadette” did, and its main character’s problems feel more real. This time Ms. Semple delivers less satire and more soul.

This book’s beleaguered heroine is Eleanor Flood, and she has a lot in common with Bernadette. She had a TV career, but that has long since petered out, and she now feels marooned in status-conscious Seattle. Her husband, Joe, a celebrated hand surgeon, is much more famous than she is. (In one of Eleanor’s best paranoid fantasies, Joe performs surgery on a Russian billionaire who has turned the disco on his yacht into an operating room. All goes well until a switch malfunctions and dumps glitter into the billionaire’s open wound.) They have a son, Timby, who attends the monstrous Galer Street School, with which “Bernadette” had such evil fun.

Ms. Semple has challenged herself by making the whole book unfold in a single day. It’s a day that begins with a mantra, from which “Today Will Be Different” takes its title: Today Eleanor will radiate calm. (Does that tell you enough about her usual days?) Today she will initiate sex with Joe. (Ditto.) She will wear yoga clothes only for yoga and will actually perform some kind of yogalike activities. (Wanna bet?) And “Kindness and self-control will abound.”

So now we know what will not be happening in this book. But how much extraneous trouble can Ms. Semple pack into it? Lots. She begins with two big problems in the here and now: Eleanor’s efforts to park Timby at Galer Street fail miserably. He says he’s sick, so she has to pick him up and keep him with her all day. And Joe is supposed to be at his office. But he’s told his staff he’s on vacation for the week.

Maria Semple Credit Elke Van de Velde

With the ideas of possible infidelity and a wife too busy babysitting to go snooping, some novelists might consider their plotting work done. But Ms. Semple, diabolical screwball that she is, is just warming up.

The one-day premise does not prevent her from traveling through time and space. So a lot of the book has to do with the Flood Girls, about whom Eleanor was writing a graphic memoir. When she was the star animator for a hit TV show, she tossed off a few pages about the sisters Eleanor and Ivy and their famous mother, an actress who died of cancer. She even sold this to an agent, who was highly enthusiastic about it. Never mind that the Flood Girls date back so far that Timby knows nothing about them and the agent now works in a cheese shop in Nyack, N.Y. Eleanor does have a sister named Ivy. And a lot of the book is about Ivy’s strange life in New Orleans.

This is an extreme tangent. It leads Ivy across the Styx into an exaggerated Southern elite culture in which the self-proclaimed toast of Mardi Gras society is more pathetic than grand, and is ready made for Ms. Semple’s skewering. The rules of this social set are so extreme that the sisters’ bond is nearly ruptured by a misplaced container of ice cream at an engagement party.

Beyond the fact that Eleanor is studying “Skunk Hour,” Robert Lowell’s poem rife with hints of encroaching madness, the lunacy of New Orleans is barely integrated into the rest of the book. We are inside Eleanor’s head, and her visits with her sister are vitally important to her. But Ms. Semple can’t easily work this huge chunk of Eleanor’s past into the book’s single Seattle day.

Speed bumps notwithstanding, Ms. Semple is an immensely appealing writer, and there’s something universal in her heroine’s efforts to get a handle on a life spinning out of control. We may not all have long-lost sisters who live in the most crazily status-obsessed corners of the South, but we surely know what she means about waking up each dawn with new resolve that melts by midmorning. The Sisyphean poignancy to this book gives it a heft that “Bernadette” lacked, even if it’s also rougher around the edges.

“Today Will Be Different” ends on a wonderful grace note from Timby, who has spent most of the book playing straight man to his mother. In the simplest way, Timby’s line provides all the sweetness, confidence and optimism that Eleanor has been trying — and failing — to give herself on a daily basis. So if the kid’s got it, there’s hope for his mother, after all. Maybe she just didn’t know where to look.

And Ms. Semple’s descriptions of Seattle continue to be priceless. It would be overly generous to say that she has a love-hate relationship with the place. She has a gimlet eye for everything from the “blue-badged Amazon squids, every morning squirting by the thousands from their studio apartments onto my block” to the local art scene, as funded by the local tech billionaires. And the hellish blackberry brambles are back. Ms. Semple’s Seattle wouldn’t seem right without them.

 

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