Previewing SurrealEstate “Set Your Flag On Fire” + Talking Character with Spencer Creaghan
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
That old adage about good fences making good neighbors gets tested this week on SurrealEstate when a pair of neighbors with a serious hate on for each other threaten to derail a sale for Luke, or lead to a multiparty homicide. Away from the office, Phil gets a test of his own when his sister (Natalie Brown) hits town with family estate paperwork that strikes a nerve. And Zooey is reconsidering her recent life choices.
Written by Duana Taha and directed by John Vatcher, the episode explores a different kind of boogedy situation where the problem du jour might not actually be a house. Luke’s clients, Tariq and Mina Hasan (Nabeel El Khafif and Elisa Moolecherry), spin a tale of terrible behavior by their next door neighbors, Renata and Rowan Massey (Geneviève Steel and Tony Nappo), who defend their behavior by recounting what they’ve been on the receiving end of. Nobody comes out harmless. [Trigger warnings for my critter people on a couple of things.]
When Luke suggests a truce, things get weird as Rita shows up to list the Masseys’ house after they suddenly decide to sell, too. And then a block party goes really, really badly and Augie and Zooey become the key to unraveling just what in the hell is actually going on.
For Phil, old home week with his sister takes a turn for the awkward when she shows up asking for a signature on paperwork involving his mother and the church, which surfaces a whole host of previously unaired sibling grievances. Susan is still MIA, and the lack of closure finally elicits a response from Luke on his role in her sabbatical turned (presumed) resignation. It’s a full episode, and I love that we’re getting more character exploration every week, and confirmation of the familial bond The Roman Agency crew have with each other.
When I spoke with series composer Spencer Creaghan last week, we chatted about creating individual music for each of the characters, a journey that began with writing for Luke. “A lot of that is conversations with showrunner George [Olson] about who these people are … beyond just the show. Who are they in their personal lives? Who are they in their professional lives? Who are they in their isolated rooms? And trying to understand how that can then turn into a piece of music,” he explains.
“And Luke was probably the most interesting because the piece that I wrote as my pitch was supposed to be Luke’s theme. But as I watched the show and as I spoke with George, I learned that Luke’s a pretty deep guy. Then that riff wasn’t gonna be enough to really capture who he was.”
“So I wrote another piece of music that was more connected with him and his mom. And that in a way become Luke’s theme. It’s this very somber piano piece that plays a lot of times, especially this season whenever Luke is contemplating his life and where he’s supposed to go.”
“I call that theme ‘Luke’s Failures,’ because he is who he is because of his past and because of his mom leaving and his dad being a good dad, but not being the most emotionally available dad when it comes to the things that Luke really needed to talk about, and Luke’s had a house issue where one of the houses didn’t go right and he lost a family.”
“So I wanted to play into that in with Luke. A lot of his music is actually more about his frustration and loss rather than his heroism and his action. I thought that that might’ve been a more interesting angle to take his music. And thankfully, I think it’s worked overall.”
Creaghan explains that it’s a carefully crafted dance to accompany the performances and the story and not overpower them. “I think that what we’re resonating with when we watch it back is what I like so much about what’s happening, both in the acting, the edit, the script, and in all aspects of the production, along with the music, because I get a really good sense that all of us are, if not verbally linked, we’re subconsciously linked.”
“There’s definitely a link in how Tim is acting and how the music is. And I think it only helps both of us compliment one another. I said this in another interview during Season 1, but I try really hard to not step over the actors. I think they’re doing an amazing job.”
“I don’t wanna get in their way, but I also know that we need music, so a lot of my job is to try and figure out what are they doing that I don’t need to touch? And what are they doing that maybe would be helpful to just add a little bit of a button on? And that failure aspect was an as aspect I just kept seeing in how Tim was playing him.”
“He was playing a pretty strong leader, but a leader that had some ghosts, right? And I thought, if we brought those ghosts out, how would that play in his music? And I think that was a pretty interesting.”
Creaghan expands that same careful consideration to all of the characters. “With Zooey, it’s about a quest for a discovery of who you are. For August, it’s about this past that seems hidden in enigma and a mystery, but it’s filled with so much love and comfort. But we never really get to see that because he’s not with his family in the same way that he’s with these guys. So how can we bring that out,” he shares.
“Susan is the audience stand in in many ways. And so, like her, her theme is more a melodic and catchy and comfortable, but it still has to have epicness and power and all this danger, because she has this firepower.”
“And Phil has this long history with the church that has shaped who he is. So his a theme is constantly a tour between who he is and his faith and this love of who he’s become, but also this love of his past. Almost for all the characters, the past certainly plays into a lot of their themes and how they act and how they are.”
SurrealEstate airs Wednesdays at 10 pm/9c on Syfy in the US and CTV Sci-Fi and Crave in Canada. You can catch the first five episodes now streaming on those platforms. ICYMI, our Season 1 and 2 coverage, including previews and interviews, is here. Here’s a preview of “Set Your Flag on Fire.” And check back this season for more of my conversation with Spencer Creaghan.
Photos courtesy of Duncan de Young/Blue Ice Pictures/Syfy; video courtesy of Syfy.
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