Heaven is not always as pleasant as it seems. In the case of Peacock’s new series, The complex, paradise is the scene of an unsolved mystery. William Jackson Harper and Cristin Milioti play Noah and Emma, a married couple celebrating their 10th anniversary at Oceana Vista Resort. Their marriage is at a standstill and they desperately need something to spice it up. Emma soon learns of two former guests, played by Skyler Gisondo and Nina Bloomgarden, who disappeared on the eve of a hurricane in 2007. Emma and Noah are in on the action as they try to solve the mystery , but soon learn that they’re not the only ones who want answers.
The complex is created by Andy Siara, who wrote the romantic comedy Time Loop, Palm Springs. Luis Gerardo Méndez, Gabriela Cartol and Nick Offerman complete the cast. In an interview with Digital Trends, Siara, Bloomgarden and Cartol spoke about the unique concept behind the show as well as the chemistry created between the cast while filming in Puerto Rico.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: I wouldn’t say that solving a crime and exploring marriage go well together, but you manage to make it work. Did The complex start out as two separate ideas and then you put them together? What was the genesis behind this idea?
Andy Siara: About eight years ago, it was kind of an indie dramedy about a kid who goes down to a resort with his family. An earlier version of Sam. And then he strikes up this friendship with this older couple who are celebrating their 10th anniversary, trying to figure out what happened to their marriage. It’s an earlier version of Emma and Noah. This script was not very good. [laughing] So I put it away, never to see the light of day because it’s just not very good. But I could never completely stop it. So every year I would go back and take it apart, rebuild it and try to find a new way.
After several failed attempts, I realized that I was not only looking at the initial inspiration behind the script, but also the characters and where I was at the time of writing the script through a nostalgic lens. That’s when I split the characters on those timelines. Emma and Noah, in the present day, try to resolve what happened to Sam and Violet, but also what happened to their own relationship over the past 15 years. And inside of that, that’s when this mysterious component appeared to us. That’s what brought this other side to the show.
Sometimes, The complex deals with serious matters and matters, but other times it is all about jokes and romance. Did you find it difficult to balance seriousness with humor?
Siara: Oh yeah. It’s very hard, and sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s like, “Maybe you went a little too far on that one.” I love this tonal line going from silly to sincere. Have one foot on the banana peel and the other in the grave. There were nights I said that all along Palm Springs. Laughter is how we go through life, [and] how we connect to people.
But also, sadness and tragedy are also our way of connecting with people. And so once we go back and forth between those two things, I feel like all genres can be stacked on top as long as we keep the tone consistent. But it’s still a tricky line. Like maybe we’ve gone a little too far in the silly, comedic references that happen, so let’s go the other way. But, we still want to stay away from heavy melodramas too.
Nina, was filming in Puerto Rico one of the attractions for this role? You can be honest with me because I don’t blame you if that was the case.
Nina Bloomgarden: Absolutely. After reading the script, knowing that you’re going to be somewhere tropical, that was great. [laughing]
In Puerto Rico, I guess you were all close. Did it help develop chemistry with the cast?
Gabriela Cartol: Of course, 100%. We’ve become a family, and that’s one of the things I’m grateful for. There’s no way to work that I can think of except with a family group. You can be there to tell the story, but also to hang out because on the weekends, we go out, laugh and have an amazing time. I think the chemistry went on screen.
When you read this script, what could you understand about Violet?
Flower garden: I bonded a lot with Violet. When this scenario came to me at my first audition a month ago, I lost my own father. I think it’s the script that’s coming [to me] and getting Violet, who is dealing with the loss of her mother, was really, really magical because I was able to grieve Violet and sort out some things. Yeah, I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about other people and how they deal with grief because Violet deals with it in a different way than I do. By seeing this, you gain empathy for many others.
What about Luna made you want to play this role?
Cartol: Every bit. The fact that she goes back in time and moves forward. The fact that I can, as an actress, be able to play two people because she is one before and one after the hurricane. It was really attractive to me. Also, the plot, story, cast, creations, [and] the challenge of playing in English. It’s my first American show so I was in for it. I was like, “Yeah, I’m 100% Luna.” As soon as they told me I was going to be playing her, I was like, “Yeah, I’m Luna.”
You talked about it, but you basically play two characters. What were the challenges of playing Luna in two different timelines?
Cartol: I think it had to do with body language. Every time I went back in 2007, I felt free. I felt reckless. I felt like I had this energy to move forward all the time and out. But when it comes to 2022, I feel like I had to be a woman and I had to be more mature. All the things the years have sunk into.
Violet hilariously encounters Sam when he crashes into a tree. Right away, you have this great chemistry. What was it like sharing scenes with Skyler?
Flower garden: So good. I mean he’s like a master at what he does. He’s been doing it for a while. It’s my first big thing for film and TV, and so having Skyler as my stage partner was really, really awesome. We kind of met on the first day on set during the head injury when I’m in the hotel room doing all that stuff. It was our first day on set and it was just perfect. We had just met, and Sam and Violet had just met. They’re in an embarrassment, which puts me and Skyler in the same embarrassment. And so I think from there we organically made our scenes as straight as possible. It worked very well.
You also shared scenes with Nick Offerman. To me, he seems like the nicest, most down-to-earth guy. Is it true?
Flower garden: She’s a diva. [jokingly] No. He is truly the nicest person I have ever met. He has lived so many lives. He is so kind and kind to everyone, knows everyone’s name. I learned so much from him in life and in the game. Our chopsticks scene was improvised. He was really teaching me how to use chopsticks because he lived in Japan for a year.
Andy, you worked with Cristin on Palm Springs so you know how capable and talented she is as a performer. What about William made you think he would work well with Cristin?
Siara: Well, he and Cristin had worked together before. They were in a play together several years ago. I think they were playing a married couple who went through a divorce. But I remember Will being the first person Ben and I met. Ben Sinclair, director of the first four [episodes]had worked with Will on High maintenance before too. When we met Will, everything he said about the character on the show is like the best version of that character I could have ever even thought of on my own.
Once we were done I was inspired to dive back into the scripts and then start shaping it around it [Will]. That’s before he even jumps on board. But I think what he brought to it was to inject real life and lived experience into it. It was only part of the way, and he went the rest of the way, inspiring me to go further in scripting. Once we shoot, I feel like the scripts serve as a springboard for him. My favorite moments on the show were the little things, like the smallest subtle things, that he threw into it and then felt like a real lived experience rather than just someone playing a role.
Did you have a favorite scene to film?
Cartol: The dance scene. I was so excited [to it]. When I got this, I was like “Wow, that’s amazing.” She dresses up and she dances, and that was definitely one of the most amazing things about the show. My favorite scene in the series.
Flower garden: There is a couple. I think in episodes five and six there are two scenes where Skyler and I are dealing with different people, so that will be really fun. In episode five, we deal with Ben Sinclair. He was the director of the first four. So working with him on five was so much fun. I was looking forward to it from the start. When I found out he was cast, I was like, “Yeah.”
If you were to sell this show to someone who knows nothing about it, why should they watch The complex?
Cartol: I would say you have to watch it because we live in a time where we love uniqueness. This show is unique. You’ve never seen anything like this on TV, I can promise you that. And if not, you come back to me and say that I lied to you. [laughing]
The first three episodes of The complex airs July 28 on Peacock, with an episode premiering every Thursday after that.