What does 2042 sound like? Hell, what does right now sound like?
Those are two of the conundrums that faced Me, Myself and I creator Dan Kopelman when he was trying to imagine the sonic landscape of his new CBS sitcom, starring newcomer Jack Dylan Grazer (It), Saturday Night Live alumnus Bobby Moynihan and TV veteran John Larroquette as three versions of the same unlucky in love character — inventor Alex Riley — living, respectively, in 1991, 2017 and 2042.
In classic 1980s Spielbergian fashion, Kopelman went back to the future for the answers. “I started flipping through my record collection and I thought, ‘The La’s?’ Too on the nose,” Kopelman tells Billboard about his instinct to use the British group’s one-off 1990 pop hit “There She Goes” for an iconic scene in the show’s pilot. “But then I put it in the script when I was doing the ’91 stuff, and I went to the Billboard charts to see what songs were hits in ’91, and I knew there was a big slow-dance number. I saw that there was a perfect Bryan Adams song that they’d probably play at the middle school dance.”
Kopelman — who worked a college internship at Polygram Records in Detroit — recalled getting a promotional copy of the La’s song at the time, and decided to seek out reclusive singer Lee Mavers instead to get a sign off on using the tune, which shows up several more times in last week’s second episode. That was actually easier than getting another song he was determined to use for the first episode.
“I knew we had this beautiful crane shot after that epic kiss [between Young Alex and his crush], and I wanted something epic,” he says of the scene that was originally scored to the soaring 2008 Brian Eno/David Byrne song “Home,” which just didn’t get the response he was looking for in early screenings. (“The music is not [necessarily] queued to the timeframe,” clarifies Kopelman about why the show’s soundtrack isn’t always era-specific. “Being in my mid-40s I’m nostalgic for the music of my past… and that’s baked into the show.) He also tried an Arcade Fire track, but his music supervisor at the time said it would be impossible to clear, so Kopelman pulled out his trusty iPod Shuffle for inspiration.
“I don’t really do Spotify, so on the way to work I heard ‘Do You Realize??’ [by The Flaming Lips] and I started working out the lyrics about [how] ‘happiness makes you cry,’ and it was talking about a person’s life, and there was the death part in there subliminally — and it just worked as a great accent.” Kopelman sealed the deal by attending a Lips show with a friend who works at Warner Bros. Records and going backstage to ask permission from singer Wayne Coyne. “They had played [a cover of] ‘War Pigs,’ where he puts all this fake blood on himself and afterwards my wife was like, ‘Um, you got blood on your suit!'” Kopelman says he couldn’t have been happier to be marked by Coyne.
For a showrunner who calls the music-spotting session his favorite part of the weekly shooting schedule, it’s fitting that Kopelman is so deeply involved in making sure each musical cue is just right. After trading MP3s and geeking out over tube amps, retro equipment, Joe Jackson and the Chicago alt rock band Whitney with composer Siddhartha Khosla (This is Us), Kopelman shared that the inspiration for the show came after he watched the nonlinear 2014 Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy, in which John Cusack and Paul Dano played different aged versions of the Beach Boys legend.
“You had multiple people playing the same person, with Pet Sounds as a template, with an exterior that’s fun and happy, but underneath is a layer of melancholy — which is exactly what I wanted for the show,” he says. “It’s a network sitcom, so it has to feel bright and sunny on one level and have a happy ending, but on the other hand, it’s about one man’s life and in life there is happiness and tragedy and he [Khosla] leans into that.” Kopelman says Khosla tried hard to channel Wilson when writing original music for the show, going so far as to renting the same studio Wilson uses on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles to record drums for the score. “That was probably the most fun I’ve had on the whole project,” he says of those recording sessions. “Two hours of him hitting timpanis and getting that big sound.”
Khosla’s ethereal score has that perfect sunny/sad Beach Boys feel, with melodies that weave in and out of episodes, including a lilting reggae cue that spans all three timeframes in last week’s show and a bit in that same ep where a cafeteria food fight features the kind of “whoo-oh-oh” melodies and martial drums that wouldn’t be out of place on the Boys’ long-lost (though since resurrected) 1967 opus Smile.
“I would have way more needle-droppy stuff if I could afford it,” says Kopelman of his dream of packing each show with budget-busting recognizable hits from his Shuffle. So, instead, he counts on the dozens of cues Khosla recorded this summer — many before he even saw a script — plus the odd throwback song that is just too perfect to pass up.
“There’s one in the future where we have older Alex sad and alone on his birthday, and he’s telling a waitress at the diner about it, and Harry Nilsson’s ‘One’ comes on, because there’s a smart jukebox that listens to your conversations and plays the appropriate music,” he says of Nilsson’s legendarily solitary 1968 hit. “He starts lamenting that he was supposed to spend the day with his daughter and she’s working, so he’s alone… [Harry Chapin’s] ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ [comes on the jukebox and it] would have been perfect, it was a $50,000 joke.”
With an unlimited budget, Kopelman would stuff the show with even more songs from his iPod. But for now, he’s still counting on that weird happenstance thing that has worked so well so far. “I was listening to this Billie Holiday box set that I have downloaded onto my iPhone, and I was shuffling through and the  song ‘Me, Myself and I” came on and I’d never heard it before,” he says. “And I said, ‘Okay, I’m totally using that song. And I’m using it for the title of the show… and in a romantic scene!”
Me, Myself and I airs on Monday nights at 9:30 p.m. ET on CBS.