Boston has played backdrop for plenty of Hollywood productions. Now it’s Brockton’s turn. The city known for raising fighters Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler has gotten a bad reputation. Recently, it made a list of places in Massachusetts that need a hug.
Now, Brockton is the setting for “Wayne,” a new series premiering Wednesday on YouTube’s streaming platform. And it seems to be striking a chord — the pilot’s trailer has already attracted more than 10 million views.
“Wayne” tells a violent but darkly funny story about a 16-year-old Brockton boy, made by Brockton native Shawn Simmons.
As Episode 1 opens, the words “Brockton, Mass.” — all in caps — tell viewers where they are. Aggressive guitars (from White Stripes musician Jack White) set the tone as a teen boy with moppy brown hair rides his BMX bike across a rusty bridge on a winter day.
He passes scrappy buildings, sidewalk skateboarders and heaps of snow before running into a trio of menacing dudes. They order him to leave. When he doesn't, one of the boys growls, “I said go!”
There’s a good chance Simmons might’ve run into that kind of threatening guy when he was a kid back in the '80s in Brockton.
“As much as I love it ... it's a hard town, it's a blue collar town,” he told me. “You know, there was a fight every weekend. Like a lot of towns in this country there's, you know, two kids fighting somewhere in the woods or in a Burger King parking lot.”
Casual attitudes toward violence were a big part of Simmons’ youth. But there’s one especially brutal incident he witnessed when he was 8 years old. Now 45, the longtime TV writer says it's still stuck with him.
“This kid was getting beat up by five or six kids,” he recalled. “When those attackers got tired and decided they had whooped this kid’s butt enough, they kind of walked away — laughing as they do.”
But the kid who absorbed that swirl of kicks and punches stood up, Simmons said, and, “picked up a rock, threw it at them, and then took another beating.”
A scenario like that kicks off the drama in Simmons’ YouTube series. It quickly embeds viewers into the raw, tough world the writer says he wanted to capture and then amplify.
Simmons explained how his father raised him on revenge thrillers from the ‘70s: “Death Wish” with Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry.” To flesh out his young, main character named Wayne, Simmons began wondering: “What was Dirty Harry like when he was 16 years old? Quiet. Can’t stand to see injustice.”
Simmons also looked for cues in the lineage of gritty, Boston-based movies like, “Black Mass,” “Good Will Hunting,” “The Fighter” and “Gone Baby Gone.”
" 'Gone Baby Gone' is devastating, really hard to watch,” Simmons said, “but that captured the Boston people I grew up with.”
These hard-scrabble films also hit home for series director Iain MacDonald, 48. (He's made documentaries and dramas at the BBC before switching to more comedic fare. These days, he's a producing director on Showtime's "Shameless.")
“I came from across the pond but I kind of grew up in a tough place where you had to fight on a Friday on a Saturday night,” he said, “and that was just the way it was when I was a young teenager.”
Two other collaborators on "Wayne" connected with the main character's vigilante spirit, too — and with Brockton. Rhett Rhese and Paul Wernick, who are responsible for the hit comic book movie "Deadpool," say it really hit home for them. Via email Rheese elaborated, “As two kids from the white-bread suburbs in Phoenix, Arizona, whose most exciting event was when Mom bought Miracle Whip instead of mayonnaise, we were fascinated by Brockton's parallel universe of toughness, grittiness, and heart.”
Regarding Simmons, Rheese wrote, “He has a voice unlike any we'd encountered in Hollywood. ‘Wayne’ is violent, funny, and full of feeling, which is a mixture we look for when we're telling stories.”
So they worked together to produce a mercenary-driven story laced with hyper-real violence, a barrage of F-bombs, and sardonic humor.
Early in the first episode the principal of Brockton High School (Boston-born Mike O'Malley) gives Wayne some advice.
“Listen Wayne, there’s always gonna be people doing rotten stuff to other people, but you’ve gotta let the proper people handle it. If you run around righting wrongs your whole life, that’ll be your life.”
Then — within seconds of stepping foot outside the principal’s office – Wayne sees a thug on top of his buddy down the hallway and takes a whack at his jaw. In another scene, Wayne purchases an aluminum bat to punish a guy for harassing a convenience store clerk who's also the jerk's girlfriend. When Wayne is through he politely says he'd like to return the lightly-used bat.
The plot follows Wayne, played by Irish actor Mark McKenna, on a road trip to Florida. He's bent on recovering the 1978 Trans Am his mother’s boyfriend stole from his father years ago. The teen flees Brockton in a blaze of bloody violence with his new girlfriend Del (Ciara Bravo).
Del's mom — like Wayne’s – left her kids and husband. Del’s dad is physically and verbally abusive.
As she and Wayne screech away on a motorcycle, Del utters, “Bye daddy” as he begs her to stay.
Simmons says the stakes are high for struggling kids like Del and Wayne who are largely on their own. The world they occupy brims with toxic masculinity. Wayne, Simmons added, is searching for a lot more than his dad’s car.
“This kid is trying to figure out his purpose and where he belongs in the world,” the writer said. “And I think the masculinity thing is just one of the confusing things of how young men are supposed to figure it out.”
Simmons continued, saying boys aren’t always taught how to express their feelings — him included.
“My dad didn't spend a lot of time saying, 'I love you,' out loud. You know, he said things when he got off the phone like, ‘Keep smiling,'” Simmons recounted, “And I knew he was saying, ‘I love you.'”
A much more extreme example of that type of father/son interaction plays out between Wayne and his dad moments before the father dies of cancer.
He turns to his son — looks around the living room where he spends his days in a hospital bed — and instead of saying, “I love you,” he says, “Thank you for, you know, not being a big p---- about all of this.”
Then Simmons reflected, “Vulnerability is sadly something that nobody wants to show in towns like that — which is kind of messed up.” Violence, he added, is the way Wayne knows how to show people he cares.
When asked if the series glorifies aggression, Simmons pointed to how stylized the fight scenes are — like in superhero movies. For him, "Wayne" — at its core — is a love story.
“It really is about these two kids looking for where they belong — and hopefully be with each other — because it's more emotional than all these other elements combined: the comedy, action, violence,” Simmons said, adding he hopes audiences come away rooting for the teens.
Back in the '80s, Simmons found where he belonged through Boston’s punk rock and hardcore scene. He remembers taking the train from Brockton to see shows at clubs like The Rat and to scour record store bins.
“That was kind of like finding my people,” Simmons said, “We used to sit out in front of that Newbury Comics, drink giant Dunkin's ice coffees, and sit on the curb with our records before getting back on the train to Brockton.”
Simmons went on to graduate from Emerson College and has spent 13 years writing and producing TV in Los Angeles. (He's also worked on the Amazon series "School of Rock" and "Awkward.") He says music still propels him to this day. The soundtrack in "Wayne" is like the soundtrack of his youth, he said, adding Wayne is also a “hardcore kid.”
Now the Hollywood TV writer is poised to find out what the world and the people in his hometown think of the story he’s been imagining for years. The second season will be set entirely in Brockton, according to Simmons. He’s so excited about the premiere he got a “Wayne” tattoo on his forearm. It’s book-ended by lightning bolts, and "Wayne" also happens to be his father’s name.
This segment aired on January 16, 2019.