Issa Rae is best known for creating and starring in “Insecure,” the Emmy-winning show praised for its realistic portrayals of Black women coming-of-age in LA. And with the new reality show, “Sweet Life: Los Angeles,” she’s trying her hand at capturing the experience for “real.”
Produced under Rae’s Hoorae content banner, the HBO Max reality series follows seven twenty-somethings living in South LA and all of the ups and downs of their relationships and careers. In honor of the launch, Rae flew from Miami, where she’s in production on her next series “Rap Sh*t,” to Hollywood’s NeueHouse to introduce a special screening of the show’s first two episodes on Wednesday night.
“I’m so excited to present what is now my favorite show to you,” Rae told the crowd — including her “Insecure” co-star Yvonne Orji — that gathered for the rooftop premiere.
“I’ve helped edit the entire series at this point. We’re nine episodes in,” Rae told Variety after the screening, sharing what she loves most about the show. “I find myself rooting for them. I’m really just invested in their journey and wanting them to succeed, and wanting them to communicate better, and seeing myself in so much of them.”
Rae says the tight-knit crew reminds her of her own friend group, but admits she also feels some responsibility to shepherd them through life, both as the stars of her show, and also as people. “I feel very much like the auntie or the godmother overseeing it,” Rae quipped.
As an executive producer on the series, Rae is the boss, but she’s taking a very hands-off approach. So don’t expect the Emmy-nominated creator to appear on the show a la “Vanderpump Rules” star Lisa Vanderpump or to referee the “Group Chat” reunion episode like Andy Cohen.
“I’m an observer and I’m just rooting for them. I’m not in the mix in that way,” Rae said, with a laugh. “I want them to succeed and I want them to be happy with their life journey. I really do love them from a distance.”
In fact, she hasn’t even met the cast in person, only interacting with them via Zoom when they celebrated the start of production on the show in February. The cast wasn’t able to attend the party — missing out on the passed appetizers, specialty cocktails nicknamed “Good Vibes Only” and “The Sweet Life” and tunes from DJ R-Tistic — because they’re still in a production bubble finishing filming season one amid the pandemic.
However, Rae did point out two other special guests in the audience — “Sweet Life” producer Ashley Calloway and executive producer Sheri Maroufkhani, who previously starred in and created BET’s “Baldwin Hills,” one of Rae’s favorite reality shows. The pair were key members of “Sweet Life’s” development, bringing their expertise to the new show.
“Ashley was super vocal about the types of people that we should be following around,” Rae says of Calloway, who traded reality show stardom behind after “Baldwin Hills” and is now a manager with ColorCreative, the management company Rae co-founded in 2014. “Ashley also rides for her city. Her family owns Regency West, which is a staple in Leimert Park.”
Of Maroufkhani’s contributions, Rae adds: “Sherri has been extremely supportive throughout. She made the series that we all fell in love with [in ‘Baldwin Hills’], and there was an acknowledgement that we could do so much more with it [now].”
Rae points out that BET’s “Baldwin Hills” and MTV’s “The Hills” aired at the same time in the late 2000s, and she was an “avid watcher” of both, but, “When you look at the production quality between ‘The Hills’ and ‘Baldwin Hills,’ you notice a difference.”
So, while it remains to be seen if “Sweet Life” will produce any moments as infamous as Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag’s “You know what you did” fight in the darkened doorways of Les Deux, Rae intends to ensure that this Black-led reality show gets the same shine that show did.
“I don’t want to sacrifice any of that. I want to give us the same production value and make us look beautiful on screen, with the same amazing soundtracks that ‘The Hills’ got,” Rae explained. “[With ‘Sweet Life’] we were able to mix those two ideas together and follow a new group of people to fall in love with.”
The reality show is the first to launch after Rae inked a high-dollar overall deal with WarnerMedia, which allows the creator to produce projects across HBO, HBO Max and Warner Bros. television brands, plus a first-look film deal that spans WarnerMedia brands, including Warner Bros. Pictures Group, New Line and HBO Max.
And, while Rae is known for multi-tasking, the impact of producing two shows simultaneously hits her from time to time. Rae said she’d been journaling about seeing the newly built stages for “Rap Sh*t” for the first time, which was particularly memorable given how recently she wrapped the final season of “Insecure.”
“We’re shooting a lot on location, but yesterday was the first stage day that we had, [where] you build the places where your characters live,” she recalled. “I was walking around like, ‘I cannot believe I’m back on a stage when I just left Issa Dee’s house and now I’m in this new person’s house.’”
“This is all crazy. We’re actively creating another show, another project that I hope will have an impact culturally,” she continued. “And with [‘Sweet Life’] simultaneously launching, it’s all a dream come true. This is what you pray about. I just hope people are as excited as I am to see it.”
“Sweet Life: Los Angeles” is now streaming on HBO Max.