Writers’ Room Eats is a monthly series where Paste talks to the writers of your favorite shows about their favorite topic: food.
Netflix recently released the third season of fan-favorite Grace and Frankie and is currently working on a fourth (hooray!). Full of vibrators and 1776, the show is better than ever, and the star-studded cast (including Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda) is more comfortable in their characters’ shoes than ever. With fun plotlines, touching moments and laugh-out-loud jokes, the writing isn’t half bad, either. Paste talked to Grace and Frankie writers Brendan McCarthy, Julieanne Smolinski and David Budin about eating healthy, eating less than healthy and eating your feelings during late-night rewrites.
Paste: What’s lunchtime like in the Grace and Frankie writers’ room?
David Budin: Part democracy, part Thunderdome. We each take turns choosing where we order from, but choose wrong, and you have 11 angry people who want your blood. Trying to please 12 writers is a nearly impossible task. We don’t have too many dietary restrictions to contend with, it’s more individual quirk.
Brendan McCarthy: I would say there are 3 contingents—those who care about their health, well-being, and general appearance (fuck them), those who don’t (the best people), and Howard [Morris, co-creator] and Mike [Platt, co-executive producer] (futzy, particular, nit-picky wild cards). Once someone picks a joint, it almost always sparks a heated, not entirely friendly argument about that place. For instance, I’ve been called “white trash” before during the course of a lunch debate. So there’s that.
Dave, Alex Burnett and myself consistently try to steer lunch toward ethnic food—it’s delicious PLUS it gives you a stomachache and a solid excuse to leave the room for parts of the afternoon. Win-win. Healthy people always want salads, which is NOT a meal but something to get through to have your meal.
Paste: So how do you please everyone?
Julieanne Smolinski: We have a couple of extremely healthy eaters who have a very rigid definition of what constitutes “lunch food,” and then we have some of your more typical television writer slob types who will eat anything as long as it’s hot and starchy. I think the most universally agreed-upon, non-controversial spots we order from are what I would call “LA lunch” in genre: salads, sandwiches, lightish soups. Your grilled chicken salads and avocado clubs and the like. If Billy Finnegan had his way we’d have bread crusts and jogging in lieu of the midday meal.
DB: Billy Finnegan doesn’t believe in having what he describes as “dinner for lunch.” And he’s an executive producer, so even though he’s not one to pull rank, we usually feel obligated to defer to him. If we order from a place he doesn’t deem “lunchy” enough, he’ll just eat Greek yogurt. But he eats it right in front of you, making sure you see what you’ve done to him.
BM: Howard (our showrunner, the best sport in show business) and Mike have very particular tastes and restrictions and almost always opt out of whatever we’re eating and fend for themselves. Howard refuses to eat anything green. He insists it’s a medical condition, but I have my doubts. I haven’t really figured out what Mike likes yet … but I know what he doesn’t like. Everything.
DB: Not all the writers are that particular, though. Alex Burnett will eat literally anything. Including your lunch, if you don’t finish it or if you hesitate or display any weakness. He’s part hyena, part human garbage disposal. Brendan will just sulk if he doesn’t get what he wants.
Paste: What can you guys not get through the day without?
JS: We can’t function without a robust afternoon coffee run. Towards the end of a season, the days can get really long, and if you’re going to be there from morning until midnight or longer you’re going to need an assload of caffeine. It really makes you less judgmental of anybody blowing rails in writers rooms back in the day when you’re double-fisting cold brew.
BM: I mean, and I assume you’re going to hear this from every writer you speak to, La Croix is a pretty serious staple—specifically grapefruit flavored (pamplemousse I believe?). I eat a lot of chips, because again, I’m white trash and don’t care about my garbage can body.
Paste: What about late-night rewrites and ordering dinner?
JS: If we’re staying late to rewrite, it helps to be excited about dinner, so we’ll often do something fun like barbecue. (We love Bludso’s, some of us more than seeing our families.) Sometimes if we’re feeling fancy or demoralized, someone will pony up extra money and we’ll get good sushi. We’re mostly transplants and know we’re lucky to live in a food city with lots of options, and so complaining is generally met with a healthy dose of shame.
BM: When the nights get long or tensions run high, everyone (even Billy Finnegan) starts eating like shit. Okay, maybe not Billy Finnegan. But all bets are off when the sun goes down and you’re still at work.
DB: It’s true. I always start my day with the best of intentions, diet-wise. I’ll have a piece of fruit and a cereal bar and try to drink lots of water. But when we’re staying late for a rewrite those plans go right out the window. Then the name of the game becomes trying to front-end load as many empty calories as possible until you’ve successfully eaten your feelings.
Paste: So things quickly go downhill?
JS: We actually scream at our well-meaning PA when he surprises us with bagels or donuts in the morning because we are vain and terrified of being anything less than physically perfect. We mostly try to eat healthy (or are subject to the tyranny of a few healthy writers’ lunch demands) and on late nights tend to splash out on things like Thai food and barbecue.
DB: There’s a traditional dance often seen in writers rooms when dessert treats are brought in. I’ve seen it performed by writers of every level. How it goes is, somebody brings in a box of cookies for the staff. I, the health conscious writer, permit myself to have a small piece of cookie. Just an edge. I had a salad for lunch, I went to the gym that month … I’ve earned it. Satisfied with my self-restraint, I go back to my seat. Five minutes later, I’m up grabbing another small piece. Then I figure I might as well round-up and go for half that bad boy. But that’s it. An hour later and I’ve had six giant chocolate chip cookies, four mini Snickers bars and a chocolate milk and I hate myself.
BM: Late at night, inevitably, our lovely PA Ben will bring a tray of calories. Almost everyone will dive right the fuck in on that—brownies from Sweet Lady Jane, cookies from Joan’s, sometimes just a huge plate of straight-up meat. The trick is to get to it before Howard. He’s the nicest guy in the business, truly. But his table manners are … have you ever seen The Garbage Pail Kids Movie? Would like to reiterate how fantastic Howard is.
Season 3 of Grace and Frankie is available on Netflix now.
Laurel Randolph is a food and lifestyle writer hailing from Tennessee and living in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, baking and candlestick making. Tweet at her face: @laurelrandy