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Mary McNamara: The surprising wisdom of 'The Real Bros of Simi Valley'

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Tatro grew up in Venice, where, like many men his age (27), he was a skateboarder who made skateboard videos. In college, he met Pierce and the two began shooting scripted comedy videos.

LifeAccordingToJimmy drew millions of viewers, and the two became early YouTube personalities, as they're now known. But where other YouTube stars were happy to remain on the video-sharing website, Tatro was not. "I can't do what I want to do on YouTube," he says. "In the early days, I thought I could, but it's too unregulated. People get followers for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with what they are making. I mean, now you make a video called 'OMG, She Didn't,' and you get a ton of views."

Like a few other YouTube stars, Tatro -- who dropped out of college to focus on LifeAccordingToJimmy -- began getting cast in small film roles, including in "Grown Ups 2" and "22 Jump Street." Then, right around the time he and Pierce decided to do "Real Bros," he got a lead in the Netflix doc-satire "American Vandal," the success of which led to roles in higher-profile series, including "The Guest Book" and "Modern Family."

"American Vandal" also helped make "Real Bros" a reality; Tatro funded the first season on YouTube. And although the subsequent Facebook Watch deal did not launch the series into the kind of YouTube-crossover stardom that Issa Rae or the creators of "Broad City" and "High Maintenance" have found, it did give Tatro and Pierce a chance to produce an actual series. With a budget that allows them to pay their cast members, many of whom did the first season for free, hire a union crew and tempt high-profile guest stars, including, in Season 2, Chad Kroeger, the lead vocalist of Nickelback, and Nyjah Huston, the highest-paid skateboarder in the world.

That episode saw Bryce poised to win a local skateboarding competition, only to have Huston show up. Bryce, played by an L.A. DJ known as Getter, is one of the more colorful characters of "Real Bros" -- his attempt to "throw" with Xander's baby son Hawk in Season 2 is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time, as is the scripted "behind-the-scenes" reel. In the episode "Baby Drama," cast members talk about the trials and payoffs of working with "the babies," saying things like, "Oh, look, the babies are flexing on everyone again, what a surprise" and "You know what sucks? They don't even do rehearsal" before deciding that they are "just a notch above everyone else."

"We've always wanted to do a behind-the-scenes show that was scripted," Tatro says, adding that "Real Bros" hadn't been high on his priority list and that he was "honestly surprised" at how successful it has been.

"I think a lot of people like it because the characters seem so real," he says. "So many high school and college-age characters are written by people who are clearly way beyond that age, and they don't seem authentic. Young viewers really like authentic. You can see it online, where polished videos are not doing as well. Now, anyone can make something look good, so the push is to make it seem real."

While shooting Season 3, Tatro also has had several acting projects, including playing Alex's boyfriend Bill on "Modern Family" and voicing a character in the upcoming animation feature "Rumble," which stars Terry Crews and Will Arnett. He and Pierce also have sold a series based on their "LifeAccordingToJimmy" sketch "8th Grade Sleepovers" to Quibi, Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg's short-form, mobile-only platform that will launch next year.

 

The two have worked with new platforms before, including YouTube Red and the now defunct Vessel, but not with the success they've found with Facebook Watch. However, Tatro says, "if anyone can launch a short-form platform that works, they can." He and Pierce have been writing longer episodes for Season 3 of "Real Bros," mainly because fans have asked for it. But Tatro isn't sure: "There's something about 20 minutes that feels like a sweet spot to me."

Back on set, the garage scene, complete with several bits that will serve as background when Xander does one of his direct-to-camera confessionals, winds up and Tatro goes into makeup and wardrobe for a very distinctive look that acknowledges another kind of bro show, the details of which I will not spoil here. This being "Real Bros," going into makeup and wardrobe consists of him changing his look in the video village while everyone watches.

"You look awesome, man," one of the crew members says. "High five."

(c)2019 Los Angeles Times

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