June 7, 2014 at 4:02 pm

The spirit of Detroit runs through 'Undateable'

Ron Funches plays Shelly and Rick Glassman is Burski in 'Undateable,' which is set in Ferndale. (Justin Lubin / NBC)

So, the most successful summer comedy in five years takes place in ... Ferndale?

That’s right. And it’s no accident.

Show creator Adam Sztykiel grew up in Birmingham and Beverly Hills. When it came time to place “Undateable” (9 p.m. Thurs., NBC), his sitcom about friends at a bar, most of whom suffer from relationship incompetence, he had no doubts.

“It’s not really a city you see often in television, especially in terms of comedies. We said this is a show about underdogs and Detroit is an underdog city,” Sztykiel says on the phone from L.A. “And when we pitched Ferndale, we said it’s young with vitality and it’s sort of that place where the city and the suburbs meet.”

Understand, the Detroit connection isn’t played down in the show. It’s absolutely unavoidable. There’s even a character (Ron Funches) who constantly wears clothes that say “Detroit.” And it doesn’t stop there.

“I’m pretty sure, with that bar set, it is impossible to point the camera anywhere and not see something that is either Detroit or Michigan paraphernalia,” Sztykiel says. “The one thing I said was, the people there have so much pride in our city. If you meet somebody from that area you’re probably going to find out in the first 10 minutes of conversation.”

The show centers on roommates Danny (Chris D’Elia), a superficial ladies man, and Justin (Brent Morin), a nice but less-than-slick guy with less-than-slick friends. Four of the actors actually played a comedy show at The Magic Bag in Ferndale in March, getting a taste of the real thing.

“It was really cool for the comics,” Sztykiel says. “The Magic Bag would be literally within 500 feet of our bar if it was a real place.”

Sztykiel began working on “Undateable” in the fall of 2012. A pilot was shot last spring, the show was picked up and its current episodes were shot last fall. Then the wait for an air date began.

“It goes from being super-excited for people to see it to frustrated that people haven’t gotten to see it yet,” Sztykiel admits. “It’s very frustrating, especially when people keep asking, hey, what’s going on with the show? Oh, it’ll be on.”

It turns out waiting was a wise move. When “Undateable” debuted with back-to-back episodes on May 29, it drew 3.9 million viewers, the biggest number for a summer comedy in seven years, and scored the highest rating for a summer comedy in five years. And, impressively, the high numbers held for both shows, a rare feat.

Turns out Sztykiel’s Detroit upbringing served him well. And he doesn’t expect to lose touch with the area anytime soon.

“My parents, my sister, her kid, and my grandparents all live within eight houses of each other, so my wife and I are out there often, to say the least,” he says.

And he says the spirit of Detroit will continue to run strong through “Undateable.”

“These are guys going through tough times, but they’re not whiners. These are guys who sort of lean into their struggle and, despite the setbacks, continue to fight. Which to me sounds exactly like the city of Detroit,” Sztykiel says.

tlong@detroitnews.com
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