‘Recovery Road’ Showrunners Explain Why ‘Romeo and Juliet in Rehab’ Isn’t a Love Story

“Everyone’s recovery is first and foremost,” Bert V. Royal tells TheWrap

“Recovery Road,” the new drama that premieres on Freeform Monday night, was originally pitched as “Romeo and Juliet in Rehab,” but according to showrunners Bert V. Royal and Karen DiConcetto, it’s not really a love story at all.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to be completely, all-the-way rooting for this couple,” Royal said in an interview with TheWrap. “We present it as a bad idea, and the characters make some very bad choices.”

The show, according to the executive producers, is really about one character’s recovery journey and the bonds she forms living in a coed, adult sober living facility.

“It is one of those situations where if we had set this in a rehab facility and not had romance in it, I don’t think it would have rang true,” Royal said. “Just because it is a coed house. Certainly, sometimes you replace one addiction with another.”

Royal and DiConcetto spoke with TheWrap finding the right balance between romance and rehab.

TheWrap: You’ve described the show as “Romeo and Juliet in rehab.” Does that mean it’s a tragedy at its core?
Royal: We’re taking it one day at a time. We don’t really have an end yet in terms of their romance. In the first season, we’re just sort of bringing them together. There’s certainly going to be some ups and downs and highs and lows. We haven’t really decided if we’re going to go the same route as [the novel by Blake Nelson that the show is based on] … I think there are certainly some tragic elements to it. But for us the “Romeo and Juliet” aspects of it is more just that they’re being pulled apart by life and by their addiction.

Do you worry about romanticizing rehab and drug abuse? What steps do you have to take to avoid that?
Royal: One of the big rules in recovery is that you’re not supposed to be in a relationship for the first year. Or if you are in a relationship, you’re not supposed to make any big changes to the relationship for a year. And Maddie is in a relationship with someone else. She’s not making very good decisions. I don’t think we’re glorifying them. And you’ll see as the show progresses, we’re certainly not saying that this is an ideal relationship, and we’re not going to hold it up as such.
DiConcetto: But the tension does make for really exciting stories for us.

But when fans of the show are inevitably rooting for Maddie and Wes, doesn’t that mean they’re kind of rooting against their recovery?
Royal: We hope not. And I don’t think anybody’s going to be completely, all-the-way rooting for this couple. We present it as a bad idea, and the characters make some very bad choices.
DiConcetto: And hopefully it plays out in a way that’s realistic. So that you’ll see why they make the decisions that they do, and why it’s a bad idea.
Royal: One thing that you’ll see with these two characters is that they always put their recovery first. They’re just as scared of their growing feelings as anybody would be.

What do you want people to take away from the show after watching it?
Royal: For me, it’s certainly not a love story. It’s about Maddie’s addiction and her recovery. Everyone’s recovery is first and foremost.
DiConcetto: And the bonds between them and the sense of community in the recovery process.
Royal: It is one of those situations where if we had set this in a rehab facility and not had romance in it, I don’t think it would have rang true. Just because it is a coed house. Certainly, sometimes you replace one addiction with another.

How did you go about casting Maddie? What was it about Jessica Sula that stuck out to you?
Royal: Jessica, she was fantastic … Our casting director pulled us into her office one day and told us, I have a girl to show you that I think you’re going to dig. And when we saw her tape, and I thought she was great, so I said “Yeah, let’s fly her out.” But when she auditioned in the room, it was just incredibly clear. Everyone turned to each other and said, “Yeah that’s it.” We determined right then and there and she was the right one. It was probably the best decision we made throughout the course of the entire show.

At TCA, the network said this show was “serving the legacy” of “The Fosters” and “Switched at Birth.” Is that how you see it?
Royal: We do. It’s funny, because we were part of the crossover of ABC Family becoming Freeform. So I think we have one foot in the old ABC Family style and one foot in the new. Which I think is really exciting. They were very cool with us very early on, saying “Everything you think you should be doing as an ABC Family show, throw that away. Let’s start over” … It was really cool to have that creative freedom for once. Any network has a specific idea of what they’re looking for, but with this, they just decided to let us play and come up with a new sort of palette.
DiConcetto: And they encouraged us to really push things, really push the envelope, which was awesome.

“Recovery Road” premieres Monday, Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform.

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