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TV Talk: CMU grad plays an exec on a TV comedy in Hulu's 'Reboot' – TribLIVE

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Trib Total Media TV writer Rob Owen offers a viewing tip for the coming week.
With all the sequel series and reboots on TV and streaming services in recent years (see NBC’s “Quantum Leap,” premiering at 10 p.m. Monday), it’s unsurprising that some TV writer/producer would want to critique the phenomenon.
Writer/executive producer Steve Levitan, who co-created “Modern Family” and Pittsburgh-set, short-lived Fox comedy “Back to You,” said he got the idea for Hulu’s “Reboot,” about Hulu rebooting an early-2000s sitcom, after watching the train wreck of ABC’s “Roseanne” revival.
“I remember just thinking to myself, well, that’s the show I want to see: What’s going on on that set?” said Levitan, a fraternity brother of KDKA-TV news anchor Ken Rice during their days at the University of Wisconsin. “For me, the reboot is also metaphorical, that these people are getting a second chance to reboot their lives. One of the themes of the show is when life hands you one of those rare second chances, try your best not to blow it.”
“Reboot,” streaming on Hulu Tuesday, stars Keegan-Michael Key (“Schmigadoon!”) as a Serious Actor (think: Robert Reed) who agrees to star in a sitcom revival, “Step Right Up!” (think: “Step by Step”) because he’s impressed with a gritty script from a new showrunner with an indie background (Rachel Bloom, “Crazy Ex- Girlfriend”).
“Reboot” benefits from a great cast – Judy Greer and Paul Reiser are among the show’s series regulars – and some funny moments. But occasionally it feels like there’s something missing.
“You know how in the old show they always did the right thing?” Bloom’s writer says. “I want them to always do the wrong thing (in the reboot).”
As often happens in Hollywood, her approach gets watered down and through the first three episodes, viewers never get to see the cast in the show within “Reboot” do the wrong thing. Or if they do, it gets rectified too quickly and “Reboot” crosses the line into the kind of sentiment the show mocked moments earlier. Still, “Reboot” has enough going for it that I’ll stick with it to see how it develops in later episodes.
Carnegie Mellon University 2011 grad Krista Marie Yu (“Dr. Ken,” “Last Man Standing”) co-stars as Elaine Kim, a Hulu executive loosely inspired by former “Modern Family” writer Elaine Ko.
“My character wears 6-inch heels because Elaine Ko wore 6-inch heels,” Yu said in a late August phone interview, “In episode four, when Elaine Kim is on a bicycle, that’s a tribute to how (Elaine Ko])learned how to ride a bicycle on the Fox lot.”
During her time as an acting major at CMU, Yu, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, did not necessarily see her career path playing out the way it has with several multicam sitcoms (the kind with a laugh track) on her resume.
“I’ve never considered myself a funny person, so I think at school I did have a lot of confidence issues,” and coming out of school she didn’t have expectations or ego about the kind of work she might get. Yu cites hard work, some luck and gratitude for the opportunities that followed.
“In terms of comedy, I have learned a tremendous amount and that stems from ‘Dr. Ken.’ Every single person I worked with, from Ken Jeong to Suzy Nakamura to Jonathan Slavin, Tisha Campbell and Dave Foley, Albert Tsai, they all were very bold in their choices. Now, sometimes when I don’t know what I’m going to do, I will channel them, like, ‘This was something that Jonathan taught me, like, to pearl clutch.’ It’s the things that I might not have thought of on my own but have grown from the seed of how wild and hilarious the people are from ‘Dr. Ken.’”
When she joined multicam comedy “Last Man Standing” for its final few seasons as foreign exchange student Jen, Yu worked alongside Wilkinsburg native Jonathan Adams (“Nicest man, best laugh,” Yu said) and traded notes on their time spent in Pittsburgh.
“It’s always really exciting to meet somebody who is from Pittsburgh or has gone through the CMU program, like Ming Na Wen,” Yu said. “While we didn’t work together that much, he was somebody I looked up to on the ‘Last Man Standing’ set because he really understood how to advocate for himself as a Black actor. He just did. He wasn’t showing me how to do anything but just by being who he was I learned a lot from him.”
While “Reboot” is a single-camera comedy about rebooting a multicam sitcom – with Yu’s Elaine more a part of the single-cam element and not a performer in the multicam show within the show — Yu was literally surrounded by familiar walls.
“The actual (‘Step Right Up’) set is from ‘Last Man Standing.’ The back of the (walls) will say things from ‘The Last Man Standing’ set like ‘Mike Baxter’s office.’ So its our living room from ‘Last Man Standing.’ There’s a lot of meta going on,” Yu said. “The second AD from ‘Last Man Standing,’ Sean Lafferty who just retired, he wrote his name on the back of one of the walls, and his name is there.”
Other than returning to film a role in the 2015 holiday comedy “Love the Coopers,” Yu doesn’t get back to Pittsburgh or the CMU campus much — if she did, she said, she’d return to Girasole in Shadyside and Rose Tea Café and Ali Baba in Oakland — but she does take on a “little sister” who comes out of the CMU drama program each year. She’s particularly eager to help them move from the highly structured environment of CMU’s conservatory training to the real world where each grad “narrates your own path.”
“That’s a big step for anybody whos 21,” Yu said. “I had an amazing big sister named Angela Lin. She just finished a recurring (role) on the HBO Max show ‘Made for Love’ with Ray Romano, and she really put her heart out there and helped me navigate not just the industry and agent questions, business questions, but life questions, like what do you do when you feel a little bit on the outside? I also have a big brother from Carnegie Mellon, Lea Coco, who just wrapped ‘Queen Sugar.’ He got me my first job at Midtown Bar and Kitchen as a hostess. Both of them still give me life advice, boyfriend advice — every kind of advice — and I aspire to be the type of older influence that they have been to me.”
You can reach TV writer Rob Owen at rowen@triblive.com or 412-380-8559. Follow Rob on Twitter or Facebook. Ask TV questions by email or phone. Please include your first name and location.
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A casual guy with no definite plans for the day, he enjoys life to the fullest. He has a big passion for Linux, open-source, gaming, and blogging. He believes that the world is an awesome place and we’re here to enjoy it!