Found family anchors the Netflix adaptation of Ali Novak’s viral Wattpad novel, “My Life With the Walter Boys,” while a love triangle between a girl and two brothers takes the foreground.
When Jackie Howard (Nikki Rodriguez) discovers her parents and sister have died in a freak accident, her uncle Richard (Alex Quijano) sends her to Colorado to live with her mother’s best friend from college, Katherine Walter (Sarah Rafferty), and her husband George (Marc Blucas). As she settles into her new — and atmospherically different — home, Jackie finds herself having feelings for two of the Walter boys: Cole (Noah LaLonde) and Alex (Ashby Gentry).
But that’s about all that makes the show similar to Jenny Han’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” besides the mothers’ best-friendship. Alongside Jackie’s love triangle, Katherine and George have financial struggles in addition to the hustle and bustle of raising 10 children: Will (Johnny Link), Danny (Connor Stanhope), Nathan (Corey Fogelmanis), cousins Isaac (Isaac Arellanes) and Lee Garcia (Myles Perez), Parker (Alix West Lefler), Jordan (Dean Petriw) and Benny (Lennix James). That’s in addition to Cole, Alex and now Jackie. Each of the Walter siblings has their own story, as do the friends — and enemies — Jackie makes at Silver Falls High School.
“I wanted it to be like a big warm hug for people to watch, that people come away feeling happy and not angst-ridden,” showrunner Melanie Halsall told TheWrap. “I just really want people to enjoy it and embrace it and love it as much as I do. Because I love these characters, and we had such fun making it, so I hope that resonates with people.”
Halsall described her vision for adapting the series from the novel as one full of potential, including different aspects of diversity in each character.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. It also contains spoilers for “My Life With the Walter Boys.”
How did you envision this series? Were there any core parts of the book that you had to see in this series?
The first thing that really attracted me to it was the part of Jackie and the love triangle between Jackie, Alex and Cole, but also the idea that she’d come from New York and gone to Colorado. It was a really rich world for me, and it felt authentic, but at the same time very warm. I could see immediately that that would be resonant for an audience.
As well as this love triangle at its core, the book was so much more than that. It had this massive ensemble cast of characters that I could see would be ripe for adaptation into more stories and more characterization and interlocking stories, interweaving stories, and the writer attracted me to the novel threads for that. So it was the world Ali created and also the characters, but also the potential I could see within the novel.
With that ensemble cast you mentioned and rich world, how did you balance the love triangle with everyone else’s stories and give everyone more of a backstory?
We always had romance as our central North Star. We have a lot of relationships in this show — all different kinds of ways, and they interact in different ways and they go off on different tangents. We delved more into the characters’ backstories and backgrounds and did a lot of work thinking about who they were, where they came from. Both the character Jackie that literally comes from somewhere, but also [most] characters are already in Colorado, just to get to anchor those love stories.
There are some characters in the show that aren’t in the novel: Tara and Nick aren’t in the novel, for example; Will and Haley’s story is slightly different from the novel. Katherine and George are in the series much more than they are in the novel. I wanted to make the show have a broad appeal — to 15- and 16-year-olds, 14/15-year-olds, but equally would also appeal to 35- or 40-year-olds. I wanted to have something for everybody in the show.
Was there a debate about which boy Jackie would kiss first between Alex and Cole?
There wasn’t a debate about that. In the novel, she’s with Alex for a while, and she doesn’t get with Cole until the very end. [Jackie] leaves for New York and they make a decision that they’re going to be together when she gets back.
We wanted the series to be slightly different than that. We also wanted to make sure that both boys were absolutely viable candidates for romance and for Jackie, so we wanted both of them to be just as sexy, just as cool. They’re very different. They both have absolute qualities that would make perfect, brilliant boyfriends.
Also, they’re both going through something you know — I think it was important that they’re not just ciphers, either boy, just for, you know, for us to project for Jackie, and the audience projects our desires. They are real characters who are going through things, and that’s partly the reason that they are attracted to Jackie and she’s attracted to them. So in terms of which one she kisses first, I think it is very similar to the book and it does kind of follow the lineage of the book, but how those relationships unfold and what happens within them is slightly different.
Cole’s struggle is that he hurt his leg and can’t play football, but what is Alex struggling with?
Alex is struggling with who he is. He thinks he wants to be like Cole. And he feels that he’s not enough. What happened between Cole and Alex’s ex-girlfriend is something that scarred them, but Alex and Cole have always had this kind of rivalry ever since they were young boys.
He struggles with that because, ultimately, they love each other — they’re brothers. They really care about each other. It’s not really about Cole. It’s really about who he is. Alex doesn’t want to be Alex. Alex wants to be Cole. He has to realize that he doesn’t need to be Cole, he can just be Alex, and he’s perfectly valid to be the person he is.
Whether or not he has absolutely learned that at the end of the season? I’m not sure. That’s where he’s going. In Episode 9 he says to Paige, “I am somebody and you missed out,” and I think he’s at that point. He’s kind of coming to terms with [the fact] that he’s good enough as he is.
How do Will and Hayley, and Katherine and George, embody adult relationships for older audiences?
The weddings in the book are not quite in the same way. We don’t quite get to it in the same way either. There is a wedding in the book that Jackie kind of organizes. It was really important to me to flesh out those storylines. I wanted those relationships to feel authentic, and I wanted to show different levels and different layers of relationships, and people of all ages in relationships.
Katherine and George are our North Star of a marriage and how marriage works, especially when you’ve got other outside pressures like money issues and lots of kids to feed. Will and Hayley embody a mature but also still quite young love. They’re in their early 20s, setting out in their lives together, and the ups and downs that people have in their early 20s with relationships and miscommunications. Communication is what they’re lacking. And so by the end, they’ve come together a little bit more and learn how to communicate.
How did you arrive at all the pieces of the ending?
I kind of had the ending in my head quite early on. Some of that is in the novel. Jackie does in the novel leave for New York, but it happens in a slightly different way. And she’s going to come back in the novel, and that’s when she and Cole will try and have a relationship.
Episode 10 is about “everything seems to be OK.” We’ve had lots of ups and downs, but by Episode 10, everything’s settled down. Jackie’s settled in the house, now she feels like she’s found her family. The wedding is wonderful, Will and Haley have overcome their difficulties. Her relationship with Alex is going well. Alex and Cole have a truce. She and Cole seem to be getting on OK as friends — and then I wanted to blow all that up. That was always my intention, to lead the audience down a certain path and then blow it all up.