Exclusive: Extraordinary’s Emma Moran reveals the true message of her hit new show

Emma Moran, the talented writer of the Disney+ series Extraordinary, absolutely obliterates the myth of perfection in her new interview with Stylist

In spring 2020, Emma Moran was working on her MA in screenwriting and spending the Covid lockdown as many of us were: back in her childhood bedroom, worrying about work, seeing very few people. But then she got a call: the script she’d won a competition with less than a year previously was getting picked up by Disney+. And now, here we are: chatting in a very nice London hotel while the young cast of Moran’s show, Extraordinary, holds court next door, speaking to interviewers from across the world.

It’s a “fairytale for a writer”, Moran tells me, days before the eight-episode series drops in full on the streaming service, while we sit surrounded by press junket finery and in the middle of all the stuff that makes TV: cameras, microphones, spotlights, branding. It could be intimidating for a debut screenwriter (frankly, it still unsettles me), but she laughs when I ask her if it feels crazy.

“Yeah, I’m just milking it: I’ll take the free coffees, I’ll take getting my hair and make-up done. I’ll focus on the nice bits and then don’t freak out about the rest of it.”

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Moran won the inaugural Thousand Films scriptwriting competition with her sitcom Extraordinary, inventing a world where everyone develops a superpower when they turn 18 – everyone except Jen (Máiréad Tyers, pictured above), who struggles to find her feet while also having to deal with dates who can literally fly out of the bedroom window during the awkward morning-after chat.

Produced by Sid Gentle Films, the production company behind Killing Eve, it’s smart, funny and very different to the superhero fare we’re accustomed to. Despite our distinct lack of magical powers in this world, Extraordinary really does feel something close to how everyone having a hero-esque gift might play out in reality: shitty people will still be shitty even if they can fly (perhaps they’re even shittier); your mum still can’t work the TV despite being able to control technology with her mind; the dead can literally speak through your flatmate, who works in insurance resolving clashes over wills.

“Yeah, like I can fly but rent still needs to be paid,” Moran agrees. “That was really important, to keep the economic reality of it, keeping our world recognisable.”

Watch the trailer for Extraordinary below:

And it is: the show is set in London, and within the clash of the everyday, often incredible, and sometimes hilariously specific superpowers that nearly everyone develops, Jen is experiencing what plenty of us feel in our 20s: directionless, left behind and suspecting everyone else has got their life together while you tread water waiting for something to happen.

I speak to Moran about the experience of having a debut show streamed on one of the biggest entertainment platforms in the world, writing through lockdown and being OK with not being the best (though I suspect after this, living averagely is not going to be the case for Moran…).

Congratulations on the launch of Extraordinary. Are you pleased with how it’s turned out?

Yeah, I’m really proud. It’s really cheesy, but a few months ago I was like: ‘I think it’s my favourite TV show!’

How are you feeling about everyone finally getting to see it?

Mmm, I’m nervous for my parents to watch it – there are some rude bits in it. I think they’ll find it funny but it’s nerve-wracking, isn’t it? It’s out there, and you can’t really control it anymore; it takes on a life of its own.

Is it strange to think back now to when you started writing it? Does it all look how you thought it would look?

I think better. Having Sid Gentle and Disney on board gave it a scale I didn’t think was possible. I’m quite used to British sitcoms – I love them, but they tend to be slightly less glossy, I suppose. I think we’ve done a really good job of getting that superhero look to everything [in contrast with] the griminess of the flat and Jen and her friends.

It still feels very British, like not too glossy…

Yeah, it just sort of makes London look, er… nice. Which can be a feat, to be honest, sometimes! It’s still very London, very east London, but has that nice energy and feel.

Extraordinary’s premise is described as about feeling “lost and messy” in your 20s and comparing yourself to others’ successes, with Jen being “painfully self-aware”. Where did it come from?

I always wanted to write a classic flatshare sitcom, but when I tried to write the standard one, it was always like there was something missing: I’d seen it before, there was nothing special about it. Then when I was trying to write this, it felt like pop culture was getting inundated with the superhero genre and this is a very loving pastiche of it – I do like those movies but I just felt like, ‘Oh god, these people are just great. Why are they good at everything?’

Emma Moran with the Extraordinary cast at the red carpet premiere.

And if they have a flaw it’s a picture-perfect part of the story…

Yeah like, ‘Oh, my flaw is like I’m too fucking perfect!’ So I just had this brainwave to combine this genre that’s all about being the best and reaching and aspiration and ambition – being good at everything – with just this really low genre of the everyday, and feeling lost and not being the best at stuff and trying and failing at things. I thought it was really nice to mash the two up and luckily a lot of little comedic ideas came out of it and kept going.

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Is there anything you took directly from your own life?

It’s more inspiration from the feeling. OK, I’ve probably talked to some woman that’s been like ludicrously beautiful and she’s said she’s not worn make-up [like a woman with the power to shapeshift in the show]. And I guess when I was writing it I really did feel the way that Jen does in the show. I don’t feel like that anymore, or I still do a little bit, when everyone around you is kind of becoming an adult and getting engaged or getting a good job and knowing what career they want, and you’re kinda lost and feel like, ‘What do I have to offer?’ And not really finding anything, that’s a horrible feeling. I think the point of the show is understanding that you don’t owe anyone, that you don’t have to have anything to offer, that you’re just OK. And that’s fine: you’ve got your friends, your family – just have fun. You don’t have to be the best at things.

Was that your starting point? Did you want to write a story about that feeling?

Yeah, a little bit. It’s important to me that it’s kind of a quest for nothing. Like it’s a hero’s journey, but what if they just don’t get it? Life still has to go on and you still have to be OK with yourself, so trying to capture that feeling – and validate it – is the core of the show.

You’ve said you very much relate to being directionless while seeing others hit those life milestones. But do you now feel like, ‘Oh, this is what I’m meant to do’?

Yeah, yeah, and it’s interesting because you can check off one box then, like, three more boxes appear, you know? ‘Oh, great the career’s going good; I’m lucky that I found the thing I want to do and I’m good at it,’ but ‘Oh, it would be nice to have a partner or something, have a haircut…’ We deal with that in the show: you’re never satisfied so don’t beat yourself up. There’s always gonna be a new thing you’re upset about.

Extraordinary is a superhero show unlike any other.

As a debut, how was the process of bringing it to the screen? Was the idea always meant to be a TV show?

I knew that I wanted to work in TV, so that came before the idea a little bit. But the original script came about because I had this idea [and] I wanted to write it but I was just very lazy and it was like, here’s a deadline [the Thousand Films competition], it’ll make me write it. And worst case scenario: nothing happens. But it landed up winning that competition, was picked up by the production company and just snowballed. It’s a fairytale for a writer to be honest.

And you got the call that it had been picked up during lockdown?

Yeah, I got the green-light call in lockdown while living with my parents and feeling very sorry for myself!

How was lockdown for you?

I was having a tough time. It was nice to spend time with my family, but career-wise I was, like, is the industry even going to exist after? It was very existential, and then I got this call and I didn’t believe it at first, I was, ‘Yeah, all right, cool. They’ll change their mind – this isn’t real.’ And then it just kept going. I developed it mostly in lockdown, and then when writing, luckily, things were opening. The writers’ room was still on Zoom, which was not ideal, but we still got great ideas from it.

What was your process? Did you have somewhere in your parents’ house you liked to write or would you tell them to give you a bit of peace and quiet to work?

I wish [laughs]. I had my own bedroom, so as long as I had a room that was all I needed. It’s quite a peaceful part of the world: rural countryside, cows out the window. An ideal writers’ retreat, to be honest. I find moving back to cities a bit harder just because you can’t go out and like, feed a sheep. But it is mainly just me sitting in a room, which is why this is so surreal – it’s just me and my laptop 90% of the time.

Did it shatter any preconceived ideas of what being a writer would look like? Like imagining sitting in some cool coffee shop with your laptop, but in reality, you’re on your childhood bed…

…in my pyjamas that my mum put on the radiator for me, yeah. And she brings me my tea. It did feel like a weird regression into adolescence, which was probably quite helpful for the show, because everyone in the show is in arrested development and doesn’t feel like a proper adult.

Like Jen’s sibling relationship: we go back home and just revert to being teenagers…

Yeah, you just become like a child and everything becomes childish instantly. You flip a switch.

Extraordinary on Disney+ explores the universal human story of feeling rubbish in your 20s.

Did you take anything from anyone you know and put it into characters? Maybe you wouldn’t want to say if you had…

My mum thinks she’s [Derry Girls star] Siobhán McSweeney’s character! I don’t think she is – Irish mums have a bit of a hive mind, so if they see one of them they’re like, ‘That’s me!’ I think that’s the closest we come to someone, but my mum definitely doesn’t have the bad aspects of the character. Only the good things.

Did you meet Siobhán before the show or did you meet on set?

Yeah, I met her on set; it was really embarrassing! I’d never met her before – I’d seen Derry Girls and I was like, ‘Gosh, she’s so funny,’ but my mum’s a huge fan and I went over to her and was just like, ‘My mum loves you!’ And she was like, ‘OK…’ She’s fantastic; she’s really funny.

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As an experienced actor, did she look after the newer stars?

I wasn’t on set that much, but I’ve only ever heard great stuff from the cast about her. I think it’s nice to have a real comedy legend on there. I know it’s intimidating for the younger cast, and not to speak for the actors, but I’m sure you learn so much on set from someone like that.

You mentioned the writers’ room. How was it coming up with the incredibly specific superpowers? Did any not make the cut?

I don’t know if anyone else thought this was funny, but I thought it was hilarious and it was my idea: just being able to know someone’s postcode. I don’t know why you’d ever use it. I definitely have a Word document on my computer of powers that didn’t make it in. I do get people pitching [powers] to me all the time, which I love. I’ll steal it if it’s good!

Extraordinary issues an important reminder about what it means to be perfect.

When it came to the writing process, did you have anything to take you out of a block or help you focus?

Oh gosh, I’d listen to really intense rock and heavy metal. And it’s not really usually my genre; I think it would just shock me into doing it. Normally, I’d just wait until the ideas come. I think it’s good to brainstorm for a bit then go and do something completely different: just go into town and do a food shop, go for a walk and hang out with friends. The worst thing to do is sit in front of a laptop and get mad at it because the ideas aren’t coming. They will, you just need to let it happen.

You did some stand-up comedy before this, which puts you very much front and centre, whereas writing is behind the scenes. Do you prefer that?

I think the amount of effort you have to go to [with stand-up] and the dedication to make it work is not something I really… had. I loved it and thought it was a great education for writing: getting to the joke and not being sentimental about your material. But after a while, unless it’s your calling in life, it gets to be a lot. I get the same thing out of stepping back and writing funny stuff, and it’s nice because now I can collaborate with people like actors and producers and art departments and directors. I really love that more collaborative process.

Once production started, was there anything about the process that surprised you?

I [only] got to go to the set a little bit because it was still quite Covid-y, but I love being on set. It’s really fun to see it come to life. Nothing major surprised me, but I think just the scale of it – going from writing it in your bedroom. As a writer, you are thinking more about character dynamics and how people relate to each other, and it’s all very, like, domestic, and this is opening it out to the whole visual world of the show. It has its own identity and is a beast of its own. So it was just kind of spectacular.

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Once that visual world started, did you find you changed the direction some characters went in when you started to see it come together?

There have definitely been some characters that now that they’ve come to life you’re like, ‘Oh, I wish I’d used them more.’ They throw up depth to their character that I hadn’t really thought of.

You’re always asked what power you’d want. Do you change your answer every interview?

I say it depends on how insecure I feel on the day. Like, I’d want to shapeshift so I could look amazing all the time, but it depends. If it’s a superpower within the world of the show, I don’t think I’d want one; they always have this weird drawback. I think I’d just stay out of it. I’d be a Jen.

What do you hope people will take from the show?

It feels really weird to say that it’s anti-aspirational; I don’t want people to try less! But just feeling a bit more content about not having the thing, not being the best at stuff, being okay with being okay.

What’s next?

I don’t think anything I can say, but I’m busy. Lots of stuff in development, and very writerly things.

Not a return to stand-up then…

No. I mean, I miss it. I miss performing, but maybe not stand-up!

Extraordinary is streaming now on Disney+.

Images: Disney/Getty

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