"It's a combination of The Simpsons, Lord of the Rings, and American Grafitti," says 'Disenchantment' writer Josh Weinstein
The animated Netflix original stars Abbi Jacobson, Nat Faxon, Eric André in the three lead roles of Princes Bean, Elfo, and the demon, Luci, respectively.
Picture this - a progressive, humor-laden comedy at par with The Simpsons and Futurama, set in the medieval times of Game of Thrones. Sounds exciting right? And believe it or not - it is every bit as promising as the aforementioned shows turned out to be. Such is the aura of Matt Groening's latest, upcoming venture - Disenchantment. Co-written with Josh Weinstein, the show follows the story of a medieval princess - certainly not your regular princess, in that she chugs beer like a fish and holds gambling a dear hobby. Living in a patriarchal kingdom, she knows she can never rule, but Princess Bean here wants a life far away from all of this. So who is her escort in the journey? An elf and a demon.
Disenchantment is every bit as exciting and full of prospects as Matt Groening's previous brainchildren. And spilling the beans on how it all came to be is the writer of the show, Josh Weinstein, who has worked with Groening several times before.
The animated Netflix original stars Abbi Jacobson, Nat Faxon, Eric André in the three lead roles of Princess Bean, Elfo, and the demon, Luci, respectively. It will be available for streaming on August 17 but before that, here's all you need to know about it from co-showrunner Weinstein himself.
Over the last ten years, animation has taken on a more adult tone with shows like Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty. Are creator
s of animation shows thinking of adults as the demographic rather than children? Has the streaming industry had an impact on this? What role has the streaming industry played on the mindset of show creators?
The thing for us - with both Disenchantment and Futurama and The Simpsons - was really that we like to make ourselves laugh and to amuse ourselves and, we think if that if we like it that much then even other people would like it too. So we don't really intentionally set out to just write for adults, but we just want to make sure we like it and we're actually hoping that some of them do too, and if there are adult jokes in the show, hopefully, they'll go over kids.
Do animation shows get the same sort of coverage as big budget Netflix or Hulu shows like a Handmaid's Tale or Narcos or GoT? What will it take for that to happen?
Yeah, because we're able to release an entire season at once because of streaming and Netflix, we're able to tell much deeper running, serialized stories. So really, we think of the 10 episodes like sort of an epic 5-hour movie that you can watch in little bits, so it definitely affects the storytelling.
I think for so many years adult animation has been so popular - like it has been in the popular mindset. I think people paid attention to it, they were interested in it.
It's both because we're about to tell both jokes and dramatic stories - combined - and that's very appealing. With shows like Game of Thrones or Handmaid's Tale, they aren't comedies, they are serious dramas that are really well done. But with our shows, it's a combination of dramatic elements and plenty of jokes - which appeals to people.
How easy or difficult is it to get an animated show greenlit as compared to a live-action series?
In certain ways, it's harder because an animated show - a good one - is very expensive. And you have to be budget conscious; you can't just commit to a couple of episodes, you have to commit to a larger bunch of them to make financial sense - and in that way, it's more difficult to get an animated show greenlit.
The whole latent pro-feminism point of view in the story - with Princess Bean and her very Disney wish of wanting to live a simple, happy life, the story might seem typical in terms of another princess in distress story, but this is a beer-chugging-gambling princess with the driest sense of humor ever. So how did that come about?
There have been so many fantasy stories before, and so many types of princesses that are either like Disney types of traditional, pure princesses or sometimes writers make the mistake of going in the other direction, where the princess is totally kickass warrior princess with no flaws. And we thought it would be interesting to approach it with what if she was just a real princess? A 19-year-old young woman stuck in this position where she's grown up in a patriarchal kingdom, where she knows she can never rule - but she wants to experience the world and find her own way. So she's the underdog and we've always liked those the very best. And it makes you really want to root for her.
But that's part of it, cause then we got Abbi Jacobson to play her. And she's got such a great, strong point of view, that her acting and her voice started impacting how we write Bean. So it's a great combination.
What was the 'aha!' moment for Disenchantment and how did it develop from that to the comedic brilliance that it is today?
Matt Groening has had the idea for 8 years. He and I have been working on it for three years. And then we hired writing staff and animators about two years ago, but it developed from a love for the genres of both fantasy and legends and mythology, and I also particularly love medieval history. I'm fascinated by it. So it's sort of a combination of that. Plus the fact that we've already made fun of the present day via The Simpsons, and also by going to the future and now we're able to do the same by going back into the past. It seemed like a very fruitful genre to go to.
The whole concept of Disenchantment is so on the spot. Even the satirical proclamations are extremely literal yet the humor has such an undertone of subtlety; how did you balance it all out?
We actually conceived the stories and mapped them out as if they are dramatic stories, and then we find the humor and jokes in that - so it's most important that we're telling a good story first, and then we find the jokes and the visuals for everything else. But it all starts with a dramatic story.
What is the best aspect of working with Matt Groening?
He makes me laugh - all the time! He's been one of my heroes back when I was in college in the 80s and read his comic strip 'Life in Hell' and I thought he was one of the funniest comics. And he really is! It's just like he makes me laugh - a big laugh - like 10 times a day. So it's great to work with one of your heroes and to have them not let you down.
What was the experience of working for Netflix like especially when compared to traditional TV?
They are amazing. It's very different world than traditional networks like Fox, because they are much more open to interesting ideas and also much more supportive and nurturing, in a way that we haven't experienced with traditional networks. They buy great ideas and just let you go ahead with it, but on the way, they'll offer great ideas too - so it's a big pleasure and change from the way we've been doing it in the last 20 years.
What would you tell people who try to compare Disenchantment to The Simpsons?
It's actually a little more similar to Futurama than The Simpsons. At the base it's similar - we try to write with a lot of heart and love between the characters for all those shows, but it's a combination of The Simpsons, Futurama, Lord of the Rings, and also movies like American Grafitti, which are coming of age stories. The Simpsons is a family show and Futurama is a workplace ensemble show, but this one is very much a coming of age story. Because all the main characters - Bean, Luci, and Elfo - are all supposed to be around 18, 19 and 20 years old. Even Luci - who's a demon and could be a thousand years old - but he's a young demon so these characters are going into the world for the first time as adults.
What is the best part about creating a comedy show that does not have comedic elements that are in your face? Comedy that would require you to think for a second, that is. Intelligent comedy I'd call it.
We really like it. After years of doing other comedies, to be able to tell these very deep stories is very exciting for a writer - to be able to tell serialized stories like that. Like, in traditional sitcoms, and even in The Simpsons and Futurama, they reset after every episode. But for us, the world continues and the characters grow, and they continue with their life throughout however long the series lasts. So that's very exciting as well to actually follow them in real time.
What are the prerequisites of being a writer on a show like Disenchantment?
You have to be really funny. But it's also being not afraid to embrace emotions. A lot of comedy writers always think that if they do something emotional then they immediately have to undercut it; but on our show, gravity falls. They are not afraid to show emotions and treat them realistically. So you have to be both funny and honest and in touch with their emotions with the show.
If you could describe the show in 3 words, what would they be?
Coming of age, really. That's what it's all about - facing the world when you're at that age.
Why did the team finalize on this being an animation? Were there any chats about making it in any other format?
Always animation! Because we just love it. I've done live action shows and it's just not as fun and exciting as animated shows because you can do anything and go anywhere - so every episode is like a 100 million dollar movie. Like that's what it would cost if it were live action. It's a much richer world in animation and I'm happy to stay in animation forever if I can.
Is the show going to promise plot twists, in terms of the story or other technical nuances? What, according to you, should fans be looking forward to the most?
Absolutely! And that's why we have to keep a lot of this show a secret. There are big plot twists and secrets revealed at the end of this season - especially in episodes 8, 9 and 10. There are very big reveals and then those continue on into the next season, through episodes 11 to 20. There are big plot twists and character arcs for our main characters and we know how the series is going to end as well. So people should expect, and hopefully like the big plot twists and developments throughout the whole show.