A spec script about the quest for connection leads to Lodge 49.
You're not supposed to sell the very first TV script you ever write, much less see that script get turned into a series.
But that's how it went down for Jim Gavin, who had toiled at a number of jobs — from selling plumbing supplies to working at a gas station to being a PA on Jeopardy! — before adult-education classes at UCLA inspired him to begin writing short stories when he was about 30.
In 2010, he had a story published in The New Yorker, and in 2013, Simon & Schuster published his debut short-story collection, Middle Men, to rapturous reviews.
Even so, he was trying to string together teaching jobs and freelance writing gigs — "and failing miserably," he admits. But the book prompted agents at UTA to read his TV spec, and that started the wheels turning. The day AMC bought Gavin's pilot script, his rent check bounced.
Soon after, when he arrived for the first day of shooting on the Lodge 49 set, he found a small army of professionals breathing life into the script he'd thought might serve as a writing sample. "It's impossible to overstate how ignorant I was about all this," he says.
There's a whiff of alchemy in his story, and Lodge 49 — which returns for season two August 12 — conjures up some of that magic.
Wyatt Russell stars as Sean "Dud" Dudley, a shambling southern California surfer hungry for connection after the disappearance of his beloved father, who went missing in the surf while his business was tanking and his Long Beach house was being foreclosed on. It's a story of the American Dream gone off the rails after the Great Recession, and it's a tale Gavin knows all too well.
"Like so many people, my family was going through bankruptcy and foreclosure," says the writer, whose own father still lives in Long Beach, where Lodge 49 is set. "And we were having a profound sense of feeling like the future you thought you had wasn't there anymore."
Dud finds solace in a rundown Long Beach fraternal order whose members offer real-life connection in a disconnected digital world.
Though he's never belonged to a lodge, Gavin has long been obsessed with secret societies. "Driving around southern California, you see these old lodges — whether it's the Masons or the Elks or the Oddfellows — and they seem kind of dusty and lost in time," he says. "The question 'What goes on inside?' has always lingered."
In presenting possible answers, Gavin is hoping audiences will liken watching the show to hanging out with friends at the lodge.
"We want the show to feel different," he says. "When you turn it on, you can kind of relax into a place you want to hang out. There is plot, there is mystery happening — but it never overwhelms this sense of just wanting to hang out with our characters." And now that Lodge 49 has gone from potential writing sample to a hit, how does Gavin feel about everything that's happened?
"I'm fairly certain I got hit by a bus four years ago," he jokes, "and I'm in a coma somewhere, having some sort of coma dream."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue No. 7, 2019