In The Mix

Awkwardly Awesome

Youthful embarrassments go wide in Netflix’s The Mortified Guide.

Maria Neuman
  • David Nadelberg

    Rebecca Arranda
  • Candice Watson

    Thomas Allison
  • Tyler Clarke and Janelle Green   

    Thomas Allison
  • Liz Grossman

    Thomas Allison

"I moved to Los Angeles with ideas of doing fantasy, animation and pure fiction, but what I've wound up spending my time doing is something that's hyper-real and ultra-authentic," says David Nadelberg, creator of the storytelling juggernaut Mortified.

It started 15 years ago as a stage show with the endearing concept of adults standing up and sharing the most embarrassing (and humanizing) stories from their youth. With everything from teen sexual blunders and diary entries to home movies and coming-of-age moments, it has blossomed into global editions, books, a podcast, a film (2013's Mortified Nation) and most recently, a six-part Netflix series, The Mortified Guide.

"It's been a challenging journey when you have a weird project like this," the Detroit native says. "Mortified is really an unscripted comedy show, but we're probably more in line with a series like Freaks and Geeks than with Survivor."

Watching someone spill vintage teen angst live on stage evokes very particular feelings; translating those feelings to the small screen isn't easy. The secret has been to shoot it less like a traditional stand-up show and more like a documentary, so viewers feel like they're part of the audience, while having the benefit of camera close-ups of everyday people being vulnerable (often) and hilarious (always).

"Mike Mayer did an amazing job of capturing what's so special about Mortified," Nadelberg says of the director-showrunner who has overseen both the documentary and the Netflix series.

Even though the stage show has featured plenty of celebrities — like Jackie Tohn from GLOW, actor Elijah Wood and director Paul Feig — the "special sauce" has nothing to do with someone's résumé and everything to do with the subject matter. "Nostalgia is a powerful tool," adds Nadelberg, who plans to launch a Dutch-language series with the same winning format later this year.

"We see it all the time with TV or film reboots and remakes," Nadelberg says, "but our goal has always been to give you the whole range of human emotions — from angst to laughter — because that's what real life is."

Definitely no shame in that game.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2018