Making ‘Mrs. Fletcher’: Arguing. Futzing. Spanking. Agreeing.

Porn is a complex cultural force, a tool of exploitation, degradation and perhaps self-discovery that, in our age of constant connectivity, is rarely more than a few clicks away.

Into this charged territory wades “Mrs. Fletcher,” beginning Sunday on HBO. A half-hour drama with comedic undertones (or maybe vice versa), it tracks a divorced empty nester named Eve Fletcher, played by Kathryn Hahn, who stumbles into a pornography obsession after her son Brendan (Jackson White) leaves for college. At the same time, events indicate that Brendan’s lifelong easy access to smut has left him with some disgraceful notions about women and intimacy.

Making things even more charged is that this tale of a woman’s carnal awakening and collegiate sexual dynamics is being told by a 58-year-old man. Tom Perrotta, whose books “Election,” “Little Children” and “The Leftovers” have translated remarkably well to the screen, this time opted to oversee the translating himself, offering HBO the adaptation rights to “Mrs. Fletcher,” his 2017 novel, “with the stipulation that I’d be the showrunner,” he said recently.

HBO agreed, but the gig came with an extra degree of difficulty: Though presumably no one would know the ins and outs of the book as well as its author, “Mrs. Fletcher” arrives at a time when questions about sexual politics and who gets to tell what kinds of stories are more prevalent than ever.

So it was that Perrotta found himself in a “six-month argument” over his own novel about how much sympathy an entitled college bro deserves, what things Eve would or wouldn’t say and what kind of pornography a woman like her would find alluring. Significant aspects of the book, including the ending, were changed over the author’s objections.

“I was outvoted plenty of times,” Perrotta said. “But in most cases I came to see they were right.”

According to others on the show, it was that attitude that ultimately made the whole thing work.

“We had a wide swath of experience, and Tom was really open to hearing from us,” said Elle McLeland, one of the writers. “He recognized the value of that — it wasn’t just ‘Hey I asked a woman, isn’t that good enough?’ He knew the story would be better because of it.”

As ambitious TV serials have proliferated, a number of novelists have moved from solely supplying grist for shows to becoming showrunners themselves, whether for adaptations of their own books (Neil Gaiman for “Good Omens”) or of other series (Gillian Flynn for “Utopia”) or for original shows (Michael Chabon for “Star Trek: Picard”).

Perrotta, who has seen all of his novels get at least optioned for adaptation, has been moving in this direction since “Election,” in which he introduced the now-archetypal striver Tracy Flick. The author barely weighed in on Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor’s screenplay for the 1999 film adaptation. (“I didn’t know anything about scripts at the time, but I could tell that one was great,” he said.) But a few years later he wrote the script for the 2006 adaptation of his suburban infidelity tale “Little Children” with the director Todd Field, and Perrotta followed that by creating HBO’s “The Leftovers,” based on his 2011 novel of the same name, with Damon Lindelof.

The author strongly disagrees with “the notion that you have to be a certain identity to write about a certain identity, because then all we’d have is autofiction.” But he and the producers knew a roomful of dudes wasn’t going to cut it for “Mrs. Fletcher.” The writers’ room had more women than men and all of the directors were women, including Nicole Holofcener, who shot the pilot, Carrie Brownstein and Gillian Robespierre.

“When you have such a strong actress as the lead of it, having a female voice as director is really important,” said Helen Estabrook, an executive producer.

With its screen-addled suburbanites negotiating sex, shifting mores, loneliness and identity, “Mrs. Fletcher” — both the book and series — is vintage Perrotta, the latest of his tales to mine au courant anxieties for drama and dark comedy. As Eve pursues ever bolder adventures alone and with others, secondary characters — an aimless, sexually fluid co-worker, a trans professor romancing one of her students — are given space to sort through their own issues.

“For so long trans people on television have been the butt of jokes or murder victims,” McLeland, who is transgender, said of Margo, the professor played by Jen Richards. “She’s treated like a human who gets to do human things — I hate that it’s such a novelty.”

As with the novel, the series’s narrative is split between Eve’s and Brendan’s experiences, a structure designed, Perrotta said, to reflect that “the sexual culture in America has changed so much in my lifetime, it’s really difficult for one generation to talk to the generation below it.”

That dynamic played out in the writers’ room. Particularly heated fault lines broke along how sympathetically the show should treat the occasionally despicable Brendan — younger writers pressed for more explicit “moral judgment,” Perrotta said — and how male gaze-y the pornography seen in “Mrs. Fletcher” should be.

“Some people wanted more feminist porn, but my point was that Eve wasn’t an expert consumer, so she’d be using whatever was most prevalent,” Perrotta said. (Complicating this was the challenge of getting permission to use the clips from the producers and performers. “I didn’t want someone’s grandma to turn on HBO and accidentally see them,” Perrotta said.)

For Hahn, the “Pandora’s box of porn” is really just a vehicle for exploring a woman who was breaking out of her prescribed cultural boxes: mother, caretaker, fading divorcée. “It’s almost like she’s having an affair with herself,” she said.

While Hahn sympathized with the “very vulnerable position” of a novelist offering up his work for dissection and revision by committee, the role of Eve required her to be plenty vulnerable, too. Being Eve involved emotional and physical nakedness, as well as intimate scenes that could occasionally veer into the ridiculous — one montage finds her clumsily experimenting with S&M by spanking herself. (Closed sets, female directors and an intimacy coordinator made things as comfortable as possible.)

“The material and what I had to do” left Hahn more protective than usual of the character, she said, and with strong opinions about what Eve would say and do that didn’t always jibe with what was in the script. “We would get into it and Tom would hear me, and we would futz with it and figure it out,” she said.

What that looked like in practice, Perrotta said, was rewrite after rewrite. Sometimes early in the process — after a table read, say — sometimes on the fly on set. “I can see them in the show now, these lines that were written in a panic while she was getting her hair done,” he said.

But in the end, all the angst, argument and often intense negotiation felt like proof that the whole thing was worth doing.

“Even when it felt like we’d just wasted a day going down a rabbit hole that we shouldn’t have gone down, it also created this ongoing feeling of, like, this material is radioactive,” he said. “That we’re getting close to the hot center of something that’s really important to the culture right now.”

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