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Slip's Zoe Lister-Jones Welcomes the 'Paradigm Shift' in How Women's Stories Are Told on TV

The creator and star explains why it was so important to depict "a woman's sexual awakening later in life."
  • Zoe Lister-Jones in Slip (Photo: Roku)
    Zoe Lister-Jones in Slip (Photo: Roku)

    Roku's Slip may present as a comedic story about a woman traveling to different dimensions through orgasms, but at its core, it's an exploration of female desire. Starring and created by Zoe Lister-Jones (Life in Pieces), Slip centers on Mae Cannon, a museum curator who has become restless in her 13-year-marriage to her soft-spoken college sweetheart, Elijah (Whitmer Thomas). When Mae reaches her breaking point and hooks up with a sexy musician (Amar Chadha-Patel), she wakes up in a parallel universe in which she's married to him — and just as dissatisfied with the way her life has turned out. As Mae enters new relationships in different worlds, she searches for a way back to Elijah, her "original" life, and her true self.

    Over the past few years, stories about women yearning for something more have become common on television, with shows like Better Things and Fleishman Is In Trouble (both of which landed on Primetimer's Best TV Shows of 2022 list) offering their own takes on these themes. Slip proudly continues this tradition, folding larger questions about Mae's hunger for new experiences and her sexual awakening into the specific beats of her dimension-hopping.

    In an interview with Primetimer, Lister-Jones, who wrote and directed all seven episodes, reflects on the "paradigm shift" in the way women's stories are told on television, her "unapologetic" approach to Mae's sexuality, and the many Easter eggs to be found in the dramedy's parallel universes.

    Mae's journey in Slip is so personal, but the underlying feelings of dissatisfaction and restlessness are universal. How did the show's concept, and this blend of the intimate and the broadly applicable, come about?

    It started with me wrestling with similar questions to Mae in my own life, just around that sort of eternal restlessness and desiring more and what we do with that desire. And the sort of "what ifs" that plague us, and all of the junctures in a life that we could've taken a different path, and fixating on whether those paths would have been better traveled. Slip was ultimately borne out of that.

    I was also really interested in exploring a woman's sexual awakening later in life and female sexuality, more specifically as being really a propulsive force in the narrative. So out of those questions and themes, Slip was born. And then it percolated for about a year, and in quarantine I ended up writing the season.

    Slip is the latest in a series of shows — including Better Things, Fleishman Is in Trouble, and Tiny Beautiful Things — about women who begin to question what they want out of their lives and/or marriages. Was there anything in these shows that inspired you to dive a bit deeper with Slip?

    Well, Tiny Beautiful Things and Fleishman weren't out, but I'm a fan of those shows. Better Things, I think, is an incredible series, and one that I found hugely inspiring. I think Pam Adlon is such a genius, and what she did with that show was really revolutionary.

    I think I have many predecessors. Obviously, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Michaela Coel and Issa Rae and Lena Dunham, there are so many women who have carved out this space so that I could be doing something this unapologetic in terms of sex and sexuality. So I'm very grateful for all of them.

    For so long, the stories of women in their late-30s and 40s weren't prioritized on screen — it's almost as if it was this limbo stage that producers didn't want to touch. Why do you think that's finally starting to change? Was it important to you to be a part of this wave?

    Yes, it's very exciting to be a part of this new wave. Television as a medium in general is really exciting, and this is my first foray into it as a creator. The space that it allows in terms of storytelling is just so expansive, and it does really allow for bolder storytelling in a way that I was dying to get into.

    Why we're here now — I hope it's indicative of a paradigm shift in terms of the stories that are being told. I do think there is a paradigm shift. I think we still have a long way to go, but I do think that stories about women, particularly women coming into themselves and their bodies later in life, are ones that are really important to tell. Because not only have women historically been sexually objectified, but obviously youth has been so fetishized. Any time we can be subverting those stereotypes, it's impactful for culture.

    Slip really nails the blend of comedy and drama that we see in a lot of these other shows. What is it about the dramedy format that pairs so well with a story like Mae's?

    My favorite things to watch as a viewer are ones that can deftly navigate tone. Comedies that also have incredible pathos are the best of all worlds, so I think I set out to do that myself with Slip. And television does give you, like I said, more space to navigate tone. Because you have so much more time with a character and their evolution, you can take bolder swings. It was important for me to really ground Mae's personal journey so that I could take some broader swings with the comedy.

    Were there specific moments where you found yourself leaning into the comedy over the drama, or vice versa?

    Episode 7, the season finale, is one that leans into Mae's darkness a little bit more heavily, and that was something I did have to think about, how that would be navigated. But what I wanted, or at least my intention in making the show, was to not make any fear-based decisions. And so I was really just following my gut in terms of allowing for the story to be emotionally driven, and whatever emotion that is to be acceptable. If it was comedy, it was comedy, and if it was a deeper, darker exploration of human suffering, then that's what it was. [Laughs] I think in the writing process – that's a big part of that process, but then in shaping performance, that is hugely impactful.

    Beyond Gina (Tymika Tafari), who's a constant as Mae's best friend, how did you determine where these parallel universes would intersect?

    At its core, the show is about human connection and how profoundly important that is. That's probably a function of me writing it in isolation. And I loved the idea of a sort of central cast that could return in different forms from world to world. I love Easter eggs as a viewer, so I wanted there to be moments throughout the series that people would want to pause and rewind and go, "Wait, we saw that person! Who was that person?"

    But in terms of the Buddhist themes and reincarnation and who we are and how we come back based on a karmic cycle, [that] also really interested me. And I guess, the idea that the world does have infinite possibilities, even if you aren't jumping from universe to universe. In just one life, there are so many selves that we can step into. I find that to be comforting.

    The Buddhist themes really are so uplifting. It's interesting to see how Mae embraces them over the course of the season.

    Yeah. I had been learning, just as a layperson, about Buddhism, and I found it to be such a nourishing practice in terms of its set of beliefs. Especially when it comes to what we do with our desire — the central question at the core of Buddhism's look into human suffering is about renouncing desire, which is not something that is really possible to do outside of a monastic lifestyle. So I wanted to look at what we do just as fallible humans with those feelings, and how we tend to fill the void, for better or for worse.

    Speaking of desire and satisfaction, the finale leaves off on an uncertain note. Is there a world in which Mae will ever be satisfied? What might that look like for her?

    I always love an ambiguous ending. [Laughs] Because I think that mirrors life. Even when lessons are learned and discoveries are made, another roadblock is immediately put in your way. My hope for Mae is that she is able to find a sense of satisfaction, but I also think that just the human experience will never allow for that hunger to be entirely satiated.

    So, I've written Season 2 with a writers' room that Roku has supported. We don't yet have a green light. But I'm hoping that we get to shoot Season 2 because there's so much more to explore with Mae and her quest for safety and satisfaction.

    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    Slip is now streaming in its entirety on The Roku Channel. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Slip, Amar Chadha-Patel, Emily Hampshire, Tymika Tafari, Whitmer Thomas, Zoe Lister-Jones