Spoiler alert: This contains spoilers from Season 1 of “My Life With the Walter Boys,” now streaming on Netflix, as well as the book of the same name.
Who doesn’t love a love triangle? If the “My Life With the Walter Boys” audience is any indication, millions do. The new series, based on Ali Novak’s 2014 book, earned 7.5 million total views in its first four days on Netflix. It has also earned several comparisons to other popular teen dramas, but showrunner Melanie Halsall isn’t worried about that.
The story follows 15-year-old Jackie (Nikki Rodriguez), who moves from New York City to Colorado after the sudden death of her parents and sister. Now living with her mother’s best friend and her ten sons, Jackie finds herself interested in two brothers, while also trying to stay focused on her goal of getting into Princeton — and navigating an entirely new world.
Halsall was drawn to the book because of how “authentic” Jackie seemed and felt that the “rich” world around her “could be a long-running series.”
“The love triangle is fantastic, of course, and I could see how audiences would be really drawn to that. But what I also loved about it was the ensemble around that — this big world that Ali created with all these characters,” she says. “You have all these characters you can create stories for, focusing on the love triangle in the middle.”
Since Novak wrote the book ten years ago — and the author was only 15 — updates had to be made to the tone of the YA book so that it would have a “broad appeal that didn’t feel too young.” Halsall says, “To me, it’s a primetime show that has teenagers in it.”
In order to do that, she built out the older characters’ storylines further while still keeping that love triangle between Jackie, Cole (Noah LaLonde) and Alex (Ashby Gentry), at the center.
Still, she wanted to respect those who loved the book.
“That’s something we were always very conscious of, and I had a lot of conversations with Ali about that. Nine times out of 10, she was perfectly happy with it was updating. She changed it already from when she originally published it on Wattpad,” says Halsall. “She completely understood that we would need to change things for a TV adaptation — for both creative and practical reasons. She wasn’t across every single change, but she understood the reason for changes.”
In the writer’s room, the team “went back and forth” about who Jackie should be with in the end.
“In the book, she’s with Alex for quite some time, then they split up and it’s quite mutual. Then she and Cole decide they’re going to be together once she comes back from New York. I knew I didn’t want to do that,” she says. “The thought I had in my head was that she wouldn’t up with either boy — that she’s a successful young woman, striving out on her own, without a romance. So that was one idea.”
She also felt it was important that, while the book is a bit more focused on Cole, the show include equal parts Alex and Cole, so that viewers couldn’t guess who Jackie would choose.
“I wanted to make Alex a viable option, so we did change his character slightly in order to do that,” she says. “What I really wanted to do was to surprise everybody.”
In the series finale, Jackie and Alex are together but when he drunkenly says he loves her, she doesn’t say it back. Later that night, she finds out Cole fixed her late sister’s teapot and after thanking him, they share a very intense kiss — seemingly, showing that she’s choosing him. Ultimately, she ends up on a plane back to New York with her uncle, leaving an “I’m sorry” note for Alex.
The show, which debuted in November, has been compared many times to “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” another book adaptation about a young woman falling for brothers. But Halsall doesn’t mind the comparisons.
“‘The Summer I Turned Pretty‘ is a great show. I think there’s room for two shows with that kind of theme. I don’t think it’s a bad comparison at all — I can understand why that is and why those parallels have been made,” she says. “I think our show has a slightly different tone to it, and a slightly different mission. I think it’s a great show for people to watch while ‘Summer I Turned Pretty’ isn’t on. I think people that love that show will love this show. So to me, I think it’s all great. I can’t get enough of teenage love triangles, so the more the merrier.”
As for why she thinks it’s resonating, Halsall views the show as “a big cup of cocoa.” Pitched during the pandemic, it was a light-hearted story for anyone going through a tough time. “It’s complete escapism. It’s warm, it’s heartwarming, it’s about family… The warmth is really important to me. I think when you watch that, you can see the warmth come out, and that’s what I’m really proud of. I don’t think you can watch the show and feel anything other than happy, really.”