#5: Prescription Laughs

(Pictured above: Sanjay Rao in ‘Vials’)

This week, to close out the year, we will count down the five most read stories on The Savvy Screener for 2017.

Today, the editors thought it appropriate to post two on the same day, because both — #5 “Prescription Laughs” and #4 “Weary Drug Dealers” —  are about Vials, a new comedy series about beleaguered pharmacy employees. The show, which debuted on Amazon this Thanksgiving,  struck a chord with many readers.

In this exclusive interview, originally published on November 9, series creator Michael Carl Jude (pictured below) discusses the inspiration — and next steps — for the show:

(Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

The Savvy Screener: Who are the creative forces behind Vials? How was the idea hatched and developed?

Michael Carl Jude: I got the idea after working in the pharmacy industry as a technician for about 10 years while attending college and law school. Every year I would look at the fall line-ups, expecting a pharmacy comedy to pop up on a network or streaming service. One never did. Finally, last year, after decades of procrastination, I was able to write and produce the first comedy series about a pharmacy.

I sought the help of Alex Ayala and Chris Karr, a very talented duo of directors, to get the show off the ground. They had created another service industry show, Server Life. Alex and Chris helped cast an incredibly talented ensemble of comedic actors for Vials, including Ethan Stites, David Lampe, Sanjay Rao and Elena Weinberg. Alex also acts in the series.

TSS: How many episodes are planned? Will there be a second season?

MCJ: I have four seasons planned if the show gains a large enough following. We believe it will, based on our incredible fan base. The first season will have five episodes and focus on a small independent “mom and pop” pharmacy. The second season will involve working in a large retail chain. The third will take place in a hospital pharmacy and the fourth in a dispensary. We named each episode for a drug or other things pharmacies sell. Episode One is “Xanax.” Other installments include “Norco,” “Z-Pak,” “Shots” and the season finale “Plan B.”

“The pharmacy is an unknown realm for most people… It’s a serious profession, but some crazy things go down daily.”

TSS: Can you tell us a little more about the topics Vials will mine for laughs?

MCJ: The pharmacy is an unknown realm for most people. What goes on behind the counter? What are they doing back there? What do you mean it won’t be ready in five minutes, all you have to do is slap a label on it? How bad can customers really be? Do pharmacists really not get breaks? Is the doctor’s handwriting that difficult to read?

It’s a serious profession, but some crazy things go down daily in a pharmacy. The biggest laughs will be in the customer interactions and how staff must tactfully deal with offensive scenarios.

The show is also very topical and timely. We will tackle everything from Xanax to overpriced medications to Martin Shkreli. Vials will also address serious issues such as the opioid crisis and other forms of addiction. Hopefully, this will promote awareness.

One real-life pharmacy customer: “Oh, so you aren’t only incompetent but you’re a wise ass too… I am going to have my husband come back here and kill you tonight.”

TSS: How autobiographical is the series? If so, what’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had with a customer?

MCJ: As noted above, I worked in the pharmacy industry for about a decade. The show is fictional other than one character, Joe, a lawyer. He’s there to serve an interesting story arc involving a corporate takeover. Luckily, I’ve never been in Joe’s position.

David Lampe in ‘Vials’

Most bizarre experience? One time a woman gave me a really hard time because one of her meds wasn’t in stock or something like that.  After ringing the scripts, I mumbled, “You’re welcome,” just to be a dick. She said, “What the fuck did you say?” I repeated it. “Oh, so you aren’t only incompetent but you’re a wise ass too. You and I both know I didn’t thank you. I am going to have my husband come back here and kill you tonight.” I laughed. She left.

I never understood why some customers are so mean. They don’t realize the pharmacist is trying to make sure their doctor didn’t miss potential interactions among medications. We would joke that some customers claim the pharmacist is trying to kill them. Pharmacists are the first line of defense against prescription mistakes. We have a tag line: “If they wanted you dead, you would be. Be nice to your pharmacist.”

TSS: What is your creative background? Do you have any other projects in the works?

I’ve acted, but only on stage and as a hobby. I did do some small film and TV roles, but nothing of note. I was more committed to school and my law practice. This is my first attempt as showrunner, writer, creator, publicist, marketing director and producer. Thus far, it has been a complete success, and we have a slate in place for our new production company.

“People ask me, ‘Is this like the pharmacy version of The Office?’ The answer is no, at least I don’t think so.”

TSS: Tell us more about your production company.

MCJ: The company is Boat Drinks Productions. The name comes from Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. A college friend who got me into film and I loved that movie. I realized then I wanted to make movies or a television show one day.

TSS: What are some of your own personal favorites? Or shows from the past that have influenced Vials?

MCJ: The Shield, Breaking Bad, Narcos, SOA and Game of Thrones are some of my favorites. I’m inspired by irreverent comedies like Curb Your EnthusiasmVEEP and The League. Like Curb, I tried to bring each Vials episode full circle. People ask me, “Is this like the pharmacy version of The Office?” The answer is no, at least I don’t think so.

TSS: Anything else you’d like viewers to know as the Vials premiere nears?

MCJ: We will release only the pilot on Thanksgiving Day, so no binging, at least not right off the bat. Some of the most successful Amazon shows started this way. We believe in that model.

Our tracking numbers suggest we will reach 350,000 to 400,000 unique viewers within the first three months. Once we reach that target, we will release the last four episodes, probably in the spring. The fans are really dedicated to the show, and they will be rewarded for their patience.

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