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Inside We Are Lady Parts Season 2 on TV’s Top 5 Podcast

Inside We Are Lady Parts Season 2 on TV’s Top 5 Podcast

Welcome to the 261st episode of TV’s Top 5, The Hollywood Reporter’s TV podcast.

Every week, hosts Lesley Goldberg (West Coast TV editor) and Daniel Fienberg (chief TV critic) break down the latest TV news with context from the business and critical sides, welcome showrunners, executives and other guests, and provide a critical guide of what to watch (or skip, as the case may be).

This week, we’re with one of our favorites, Nida Manzoor, the creator and showrunner of Peacock’s We Are Lady Parts, which we’ve been a proud supporter of since it first launched back in June 2021. That’s when Manzoor first joined the podcast to discuss the freshman season of comedy about a Muslim punk rock band.

Since then, Manzoor wrote and directed the action-comedy Polite Society, before turning her attention to the six-episode second season of We Are Lady Parts, which arrives May 31 on Peacock.

Read on for an edited version of the interview and listen to the full conversation during this week’s TV’s Top 5, which also features topics including a look at Hacks season three, a June TV preview and Dan’s Critic’s Corner, in which he reviews We Are Lady Parts, Netflix’s Eric and Geek Girl and more.

The series launched in the U.K. in May 2021 and a month later in the U.S. The renewal wasn’t announced until November 2021. What was behind the delayed pickup for a show that was a critical hit right out of the gate?

Manzoor: Was there a delay? As soon as I delivered the show and it came out, the studio and the channel wanted [season two]. So, I don’t think that there was anything outside of the number crunching they needed to do. I remember thinking it happened so quickly. I certainly didn’t feel a delay.

Did you already know that you are going to be transitioning from the first season into your feature debut? Was that already part of your scheduling?

Manzoor: When the show came out, Tim Bevan — who runs Working Title — asked me if I had a film and I did. And then very quickly I was developing the film and we were going to shoot it. So, it wasn’t part of a wider plan.

With your feature directing debut, the action-comedy Polite Society, you may not have had a $100 million budget, but you were working with a bigger canvas. What did it feel like to go from Lady Parts season one to Polite Society and then to go from Polite Society to the second season of Lady Parts?

Manzoor: It was exciting getting to scale up. There was also a lot of continuity from season one to Polite Society because so much of my creative team who I’d made the show with came with me onto the film. I also got to grow in confidence, especially with comedy and moving between tones, genres and styles. Making the film allowed me to learn a lot. Then coming back to season two, I had this renewed energy, and I was bursting with ideas for characters. I felt so galvanized, and I wasn’t expecting.

How did you keep it from feeling like season two was scaled down after coming from the movie?

Manzoor: My producer John Pocock — who came with me from the film onto season two — was in my corner of wanting to scale up because we’d all just tasted that. We needed the set pieces to be bigger, we needed the songs to be bigger. Obviously, it’s a television show and the budget isn’t the same but where we could push, we did. Where we could do a big set piece, we did. I was really supported in elevating season two.

With the first season of We Are Lady Parts, you were the credited writer-director on every episode. This season, you have at least one episode with a co-writer and you had a writers’ room. How was the creative process different this time around?

Manzoor: I was collaborating more deeply in season two. I had a diverse group of Muslim women in my writers’ room. Having the experience of co-writing an episode with Rashida Seriki, who I really admire, was so joyful and so new for me. I look up to the [Succession creator] Jesse Armstrongs of this world who run massive writers’ rooms and getting to move toward being a showrunner that can work at that scale is something I hope to do, and I feel like season two helped me kind of on that journey, if you will.

A lot of season two felt as if it was about what happens when your dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. With the success of season one, then getting the movie and coming back to do more of this, it’s so different than what your actual experience was behind the scenes. Did that enter your mind at any point as you were shaping the season?

Manzoor: That’s a good point. I have certainly been thinking about success as I’ve been moving through my career and as an artist, thinking about where that joy from success is. I’ve had the good fortune of having the show be well received but also thinking, is that success? Is success all these things that we’re talking about, like scale? Or is it just the freedom to create your truthful art? I feel lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to do that. But certainly, early on in my career, that question was stronger for me when I was being asked to co-write with a white male author a show about Muslim women. I was really being brought on to rubber stamp it. And I didn’t think it was a good representation of Muslim women. But I really needed a job as a writer. I was asking myself: Do I take this job? Is this how I enter the industry? It was a really established writer, I could get a credit. Will I have to sacrifice my integrity? It was something that I felt was true for me as I was finding my way into the industry where I was having to navigate those questions of how do you succeed while maintaining a sense of integrity? Having this writers’ room of Muslim women artists, it was something that came up for everyone: What is success? And how do you work in the mainstream, but also say the things that you want to say that are true to you? That’s something that came up for a lot of people there as well.

What did you do in that situation that you just mentioned?

Manzoor: I said no. I thought, maybe film and TV isn’t going to work out for me. Maybe this is what I have to do because I wasn’t seeing a lot of examples of people making it who looked like me — especially when it came to representations of Muslim women. For so long I thought maybe this was the only path. But ultimately I didn’t think I could sacrifice my integrity.

Did that show ever get made?

Manzoor: I don’t think it ever got made.  

With Amina (Anjana Vasan) still a protagonist, but not necessarily the featured star in season two, you got to expand the stories of the other members of the band. Were you working with details from your initial outlines for the ensemble or did you find things that surprised you as you expanded those initially supporting characters?

Manzoor: I was reacting to a lot of things when I was creating the storylines for season two. It was partly talking to the cast. I find it really interesting hearing what their experience of playing the characters from the inside is like. [Some of their ideas included] wanting Amina to have this love triangle. I love fan culture, and fan interaction with the band also becomes a storyline. What would be the biggest challenge for each of these characters? A character like Bisma (Faith Omole), who in season one is probably the most put-together character — she’s Mother Earth, everything seems to be going well for her — and I wanted to challenge her in a big new way. She is the only Black woman in the band and the only mother and seeing those experiences collide and challenge her self-expression, and her sense of identity was exciting. I had three years away, but I got to really see the actors do other things. I went and saw Faith in a musical theater play, and saw her incredible vocal range, which is why I knew she had to sing Nina Simone because I’ve always wanted Bisma to sing Nina Simone.

Ayesha’s (Juliette Motamed) decision to not come out is something we don’t frequently see on TV. Walk us through the decision to avoid the “character comes out, parents are fine with it or parents reject it” tropes.

Manzoor: It came out of my writers’ room, where I had multiple queer Muslim women who had different points of view on it. It was something that I’ve also experienced from a lot of my queer Muslim artist friends who haven’t come out. There’s sometimes shame around not doing it. I wanted to show the other side of it because there’s so many beautiful stories where people feel emboldened or are able to come out. I wanted to reflect a truth that I was seeing within my writers’ room and among my peers who are grappling with those things.

This season introduces a second, younger Muslim band on the scene, presented initially as rivals to Lady Parts. What attracted you to this contrast between millennial and Gen-Z voices and types of activism?

Manzoor: I was excited to see Lady Parts, who are so cool in their power, feel totally threatened. And especially threatened by this Gen Z band who are free in how they speak and how they interact. It makes you feel like Lady Parts has a lot of work yet to do in terms of self-acceptance and exploring who they are. Second Wife makes them integrate all those things. I wanted to extend it up and we have the character of Sister Squire (Meera Syal), who’s from the generation before Lady Parts and who has had a much different experience in that she didn’t have the doors open for her and she had to fight and didn’t get the acclaim or the accolades and is hard bitten but also just has so much grit and so much integrity. I wanted to show the various generations.

The original songs are again tremendous — and there are additional covers this season, including Britney Spears. Was it easier this season to write the music and get the clearances you needed?

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Manzoor: Yes, it was easier. One of the things we learned was as soon as I’d written the covers in, my amazing music supervisor was on the case. For the, the originals, I’ve been making music with my siblings since we were kids and it felt very organic. With the success of season one, I trusted them more and I brought them in on the ground level more. I would come to our songwriting sessions with just a title like “Malala Made Me Do It” and knowing it’s going to be a Western and we would brainstorm lyric ideas. My brother would pick up his guitar, we’d start jamming and think of melodies and verses. We basically wrote a song a day. It felt like we were kids in our bedroom playing music.

The British TV model yields these six-episode seasons that make for these wonderfully fast and fun binges, but at the same time, from your perspective, does getting to drop in on these characters only for six episodes at a time (and, thus far, only every three years), feel like enough?

Manzoor: I feel like I could write more of the show, but I’ve been brought up with Lady Parts in this six-episode short hit and that’s how I approach the storytelling. I’ve got five characters and I’ve got to serve them and I’m always being economical with my storytelling. I aspire to have a broader canvas with other things that I’ll do and I’d like get to go deeper because it certainly has made me be very disciplined in my storytelling. I’m excited to experience what it’s like to go beyond that half-hour because there’s so much richness in these characters.

The season two finale is extremely satisfying and it could double as a series finale. Was that done intentionally in case you don’t get a third season? 

Manzoor: Yes, I always do that. With season one, I tried to wrap it up. Season two was similar because there’s nothing more heartbreaking than when a show sets up its next season and it doesn’t happen. That hurts me from an artist point of view for that artist who wrote that, because that sucks. So I wanted to round it off just in case the show doesn’t come back.

But that’s not your intent, is it? Do you feel as if you have a third season or fourth and fifth season in you?

Manzoor: I’m open to it. Right now, I just feel like I need to lie down. I haven’t stopped since the pilot. But I’m also open to other things as well.

What are you hearing about season three?

Manzoor: Nothing as of yet. Nothing from the studio. Nothing from the channel yet but I’m keeping an ear to it to see what they have to say. We’ll see after the show comes out and probably get better sense.

What’s next for you?

Manzoor: I enjoy working in genre and I’m developing a dark sci-fi comedy. And a spy action twisted Bond film as well. But right now, just mainly taking a moment and seeing if there’s anything else that inspires me.

The TV industry is very focused on IP in this current climate of contraction. That said, is there one franchise or property that you’d like to get your hands on?

Manzoor: No, because I’ve had such a good fortune of getting to write original stuff. There’s something so joyful about that. I feel so lucky to have been able to create original work and the dream would be to continue down that path. I don’t know if the industry wants it, but it’s certainly where I get my most excitement.

We Are Lady Parts season two is now on Peacock.

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