Ragdoll showrunner explains why he infused the gruesome serial killer thriller with comedy
There's nothing funny about the gruesome case at the center of AMC+'s new drama Ragdoll, but that didn't stop showrunner Freddy Syborn from infusing humor into the serial killer thriller.
Based on the Faustian novel by Daniel Cole, Ragdoll centers on Detective Sergeant Nathan Rose (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), his partner Detective Inspector Emily Baxter (Thalissa Teixeira), and newcomer Detective Constable Lake Edmunds (Lucy Hale) as they attempt to solve a disturbing case in London where six murder victims have been dismembered and sewn into one grotesque body nicknamed "the Ragdoll." It doesn't exactly sound like a laugh riot, but it was important to Syborn, who previously worked with Ragdoll executive producers Sally Woodward Gentle and Lee Morris on Killing Eve, to prioritize the humor on this series, especially after he read Cole's novel.
"It's a really entertaining read; it's this gruesome premise and intriguing," Syborn tells EW. "It's macabre, but Daniel Cole, the author, allowed his characters to still have fun and have a sense of humor. That really appealed to me because people are funny. I think it's very, very, incredibly rare to meet someone who isn't funny. Everyone's got a sense of humor; it's weird to meet someone who doesn't. You talk about it for days after! 'I met this person who didn't crack a smile once.' They stick out a mile. And yet so many thrillers and lots of TV shows don't necessarily acknowledge that."
Syborn points out that "humor is universal," so realistically, there should still be funny moments even in a series as dark as Ragdoll.
"So the challenge became, how can you tell this story with the genre thrills, the gore, the scares, and the mystery but still explore this extra dimension that people have which sometimes gets left out," he says. "The way we use humor is, I never wanted the story to feel like it was slowing down to tell a joke. I didn't want it to feel like we were going out of our way to artificially create a funny situation. I was interested in the way that humor is so often used as like a defense mechanism and a coping mechanism. The rule was always if the characters are going to be funny, they know they're being funny, and it's about the intention behind the joke that helps to tell the story and to ground it and for it not to feel gratuitous."
Syborn ended up using the friendship and working relationship between Rose and Baxter to bring out the comedy and explore their emotional journeys. "Rose and Baxter have this shorthand that they've developed as a kind of coping mechanism in all the gruesome crime scenes that they've ever been to, and we see that in action straight off," Syborn says. "Which I thought was useful to establish the relationship and to see that they're clever, they're close, but they're also maybe slightly numbing themselves to the horror of it all and hiding behind the humor."
He continues, "And then as the series goes on, they use humor in lots of different ways; jokes become weapons or smoke screens or desperate cries for help. As the show goes on, Rose starts making jokes that aren't funny because he's spiraling. He uses jokes in a hurtful way or in a mad way, and they go wrong, and they're prickly."
For example, in the first episode, Edmunds confronts Rose shortly after meeting him over one of his "jokes" that doesn't land. "That's an important moment in episode 1. It was always important to me in the script that we are on Edmunds' side when Rose tells a crap joke and is hostile and sarcastic to her," Syborn says. "I want the audience to be on Edmunds' side when they look down on him and say, 'Actually, that's not funny, and that's not how I do business, and I don't like that tone.' It's really good for us to show the audience that you're not always meant to find this guy funny. And Edmunds doesn't find this guy funny, and she's probably the sanest person there. That was part of dismantling the myth of the brilliant detective as he really goes off the rails."
The Ragdoll series premiere is available to stream beginning Thursday, Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT on AMC+, with new episodes debuting every Thursday. Check out EW's exclusive clip from the premiere above now.
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