February 23, 2024

Do you like your sitcoms with a touch of existential dread? Then the forebodingly named How to Die Alone may be just up your alley.

Creator Natasha Rothwell, known for roles in Insecure and The White Lotus, helms and stars in this half-hour comedy from Disney’s Onyx Collective, which creates film and TV by artists of color and underrepresented voices. At a panel for the Television Critics Association (TCA), Rothwell discussed how the concept for the series came from a sense of vulnerability. 

“[I wanted] to really explore the difference between loneliness and being alone,” Rothwell said.

What’s How to Die Alone about?

Natasha Rothwell, Vera Santamaria, Jocko Sims, and KeiLyn Durrel Jones at the TCA press tour.
Credit: Disney/PictureGroup

As How to Die Alone opens, Mel (Natasha Rothwell) is having the world’s worst birthday. Her friends have blown her off, her relationship with her family is less than ideal, and to top it all off, she dies in an embarrassing accident. Well, almost. 

That brush with death forces Mel to re-evaluate her life and consider when she started holding herself back. Case in point: She works at JFK airport, yet she’s too scared to even set foot on a plane. However, now that she knows how quickly life can end, she’s all set to open herself up and start taking chances. At this rate, her future is full of romance, airport hijinks, and maybe even the occasional plane ticket. 

But the journey will be anything but linear, with no quick fixes in sight. Rothwell revealed to the TCA that the writers’ room often used the concept of a Roomba to describe Mel.

“A Roomba has to hit walls in order to clean up the area,” Rothwell said. “Mel is a human Roomba that has awakened. She realized she’s been sleepwalking and she’s able to clean up her life, but we get to see those walls, those moments where it’s scary and there’s an opportunity to quit. We wanted to tell a story where she keeps going.”

Natasha Rothwell heads up How to Die Alone.

Rothwell (The White Lotus, Insecure, and Wonka) created and stars in How to Die Alone. She also serves as co-showrunner alongside Vera Santamaria (Pen15, Bojack Horseman). For years, Rothwell wanted Santamaria as her co-showrunner, but the timing was never quite right until now.

“This is the most vulnerable piece of art that I’ve ever created,” Rothwell said. “It’s challenging to put your shit out there… I wanted to find a partner who could be a rock and steady my hand.”

Joining Rothwell in the cast are Conrad Ricamora (How to Get Away with Murder, Fire Island) as Mel’s best friend Rory; Jocko Sims (Dreamgirls, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as Mel’s ex, Alex; and KeiLyn Durrel Jones (The Other Two, Succession) as Terrance, a fellow JFK employee. The latter play two possible love interests for Mel, but Rothwell and Santamaria worked to make sure the dynamic between the three remained balanced.

“I didn’t want the triangle that was setting up for Mel to feel like there’s an obvious choice,” Rothwell said. However, she did seem excited about the possibility of romance for Mel. “If you ever get the chance to write a [love] triangle, do it!” she joked.

How to Die Alone hits Hulu this fall.

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