Director finds new paranormal rhythm with 'Deadbeat'

Troy Miller helms new Hulu comedy starring Tyler Labine

Tyler Labine in "Deadbeat," directed by Troy Miller.
Tyler Labine in "Deadbeat," directed by Troy Miller. (Hulu)

Ever wondered what happened to the kid who said, "I see dead people?" Well, maybe it's not Haley Joel Osment, but acclaimed TV and film director Troy Miller is examining a similar idea with laugh riot Tyler Labine in the new Hulu comedy series "Deadbeat."

"We kind of liken him to the kid in 'The Sixth Sense' after he grows up and is trying to scrape together a living," Miller told me with a laugh in a recent interview.

A new online series that follows the structure of a TV sitcom, "Deadbeat" stars Labine as Kevin, a down-on-his-luck medium who encounters spirits and helps them with their unresolved problems so they can move on to their final resting place -- even if it sometimes involves the spirits entering his body to do it. Brandon T. Jackson also stars as Kevin's shifty best friend Roofie, while Cat Deely plays Camomile, a successful psychic whom Kevin discovers is a fraud. Lucy DeVito also stars as Camomile's assistant, Sue.

One of the biggest appeals for Miller to do "Deadbeat" was that he was able to take on a familiar genre, yet present it in a decidedly different way.

"It's fun to do the paranormal, but not in a scary, mystic, horror kind of way," Miller said. "We just wanted to build this one from the ground up, about a regular guy who just happens to have the use of visual powers. I cast Tyler Labine because I knew he could play a kooky, young John Goodman-type of person."

Miller directed all 10 of the first season's episodes, which have been released weekly. Much in the way he directed the latest "Arrested Development" episodes for Netflix, Miller said directing an online series for a platform like Hulu allows for much more creative freedom than you'd get on traditional television.

"I like the online landscape because it's like the early days of HBO and even Showtime," Miller observed. "They would put their money on filmmakers with unique and independent voices.  Nowadays it more network broadcast-like there. There's a lot more reckoning that needs to happen and the way you deliver is different. You have to work with creative execs now and the demands are greater. But with the upstarts like Hulu, Amazon and Netflix, they're minding their brands, but as individual entities they realize they can do their own shows and find people to create them."

Miller said when such online platforms "realize you have what they want, they'll turn you loose, creatively."

The interesting thing about "Deadbeat" is, while the show was created for online, it is still edited like a network TV sitcom in that each episode is 22 minutes in length. Miller said there's reasoning behind that approach.

"First of all, for me as a producer, 22 minutes is sort of the sweet spot for a half-hour comedy with a three act structure," Miller explained. "Plus, since Lionsgate is the studio that owns the show with Hulu, it can be distributed internationally since Lionsgate is an international distribution company. In an ideal world, the show finds success on Hulu, but seen worldwide in syndication on television. So basically, we're following the network model and keeping the shows as tight as possible so there's not so much revision of the stories to get to the half-hour TV world."

As of this writing, Hulu released the season finale of "Deadbeat" on its website, but before that, Miller received the good news that the show was being picked up for a second season.

And even though Miller has been working for three decades directing and producing, he's definitely raring for more.

"I've haven't stopped working since my first job in 1980," Miller enthused. "The good thing is, I'm just as excited now working with Hulu and using new technology with cameras and where we can take our shows."