Becoming an empty-nester proved to be a launching point for Tom Perrotta’s novel “Mrs. Fletcher” — which he’s now turned into a new HBO series starring Kathryn Hahn.
“The germ of ‘Mrs. Fletcher’ came when my wife and I dropped our daughter off at college seven or eight years ago,” says Perrotta, 58. “Being an empty- nester was this unexpected new beginning. This era of being a parent —which seems endless when it starts — actually does end. There you are in the middle of your life, and a big space opens up.”
Premiering Sunday on HBO (10:30 p.m.), the dramedy “Mrs. Fletcher” is a dual coming of age story following Eve Fletcher (Hahn, “Happyish”), a divorced single mom whose dating life is invigorated after her son Brendan (Jackson White, “SEAL Team”) goes to college. In a simultaneous plotline, Brendan stumbles socially in his new setting.
“I think college men are confronting new standards of behavior,” says Perrotta. “While I’m telling the story of a woman whose world is expanding, I’m also telling the story of a young guy who, in high school, felt empowered and entitled. Suddenly in a college world [he’s] pushing back against his feelings of sexual entitlement.”
Perrotta’s novel turned out to be prescient, as it covers conversations about gender and culture that were not mainstream yet when it was published in 2017.
“When I started writing the book, #MeToo hadn’t happened yet. Even the Caitlyn Jenner moment of transgender visibility hadn’t happened,” he says. “I was really reacting to what I felt was all this rumbling just below the surface of American culture.”
Perrotta, an expert in plumbing the secret yearnings and uneasy undercurrents of American suburbia, has had several novels adapted to the screen: the Oscar-nominated “Election” starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon (1999); the Oscar-nominated “Little Children,” starring Kate Winslet (2006); HBO’s “The Leftovers” (2014-2017). “Mrs. Fletcher” marks the first time he’s also served as the creator of the screen version.
“It turned out to be like a quantum leap from what I had done before,” says Perrotta. “On ‘The Leftovers’ I was heavily involved, but almost all my work was on the writing side. With ‘Mrs. Fletcher’ I was involved with every aspect of the show. It was more than a full-time job. It’s amazing seeing what actors do with these roles. By the time it’s done, Kathryn’s ‘Mrs. Fletcher’ is the only Mrs. Fletcher to me.”
The show does not shy away from getting raunchy at times, as it depicts how technology has influenced modern dating. Perrotta says that’s a longtime interest.
“It’s a subject that I have been extremely interested in for a long time … from ‘Little Children and [other novel] ‘The Abstinence Teacher,’ ” he says. “I have an interest that’s a little bit sociological—and I’m just curious.