'SuperMansion' creators Zeb Wells and Matthew Senreich confess their love for comics and break down Thanksgiving special
SuperMansion offers a fresh take on glorified superheroes in the form of hilarious spoofs which the creators swear come from their avid love for comics
While Netflix has established itself firmly in the adult animated genre with shows like 'Archer' and 'BoJack Horseman' gaining massive popularity within a short period of time, Sony Crackle's four-time Emmy winning adult comedy 'SuperMansion' has been able to show the same potential for the network with its fast-paced humor and quick wit. All credit goes to creator Zeb Wells — who has also lent his voice for the show — and his partner in crime from their 'Robot Chicken' days, Matthew Senreich — who is the writer for the show. With its latest release, which is a Thanksgiving special titled 'A Prayer for Mr. T', the show escalated its comic quotient when it comes to the simplistic slice-of-life portrayal of the superheroes we have grown up admiring, but through characters which are basically spoofs of our favorite DC Comics and Marvel Comic Universe characters.
SuperMansion is a fresh take on glorified superheroes in the form of hilarious spoofs — which the creators swear come from their avid love for comics. And that is evident from this almost 22-minute-long Thanksgiving sketch of various characters with superpowers merrily galavanting their way through the festival, but screwing up every now and then too.
Both Wells and Senreich are firm believers in normalizing the concept that, at the end of the day, these superheroes are pretty much messy humans too. Here are some excerpts from the conversation they had with MEAWW where they spill how SuperMansion's Thanksgiving special came to be and their basic ideas behind the series in general.
How did the concept of 'SuperMansion' come to be?
Zeb: Me and Matt both were big comic book fans growing up, and both of us have even worked at Marvel comics. I worked there right out of college, and I was a writer there for about ten years. So comic books and superheroes are really in our blood and when we wanted to make a long-form comedy shows that weren't like the short sketches of 'Robot Chicken'. I think superheroes were the only option for us, we just love them so much.
Matt: We were doing Robot Chicken at the time and I turned to Zeb and said he needed to create his own show because I was sick and tired of working on Robot Chicken. And superheroes were the first thing that popped into his mind!
What inspired you guys to spoof superheroes?
Zeb: We knew from Robot Chicken and writing other sketches that we really liked writing superheroes in a comedic way because they're such big personalities. So we knew there were certain actors that we wanted to work with — and there were certain character archetypes that we thought were naturally funny. Like Black Saturn — he's funny because Batman is really a rich kid who has something terrible happened to him. But we wanted to do something that would happen if he was just a rich kid who never had anything bad happen to him, but still wanted to be a superhero — what kind of jerk would he be!
Matt: There's something funny in taking the absurd characters and just seeing them in their day-to-day lives, and what they would be doing in their off time. That was the simple premise to this show.
Speaking about spoofs — would you call them direct spoofs of characters like Batman and the Joker? How striking did you want the resemblance or the contrasts to be?
Matt: I think it really was just trying to come up with the original version of what the archetypes were. We didn't want them to be too close to what you expect. Like Titanium Rex — we looked at a Superman type character and it was how to make him in his 70s. To find that out and give him a personality in that range. It was just about what kind of archetypes we could play with and how do we make them original.
You both have worked together on Robot Chicken — what was the transition like from that series to SuperMansion? Was it an easy one or were there any challenges along the way?
Matt: With Robot Chicken, when you're writing a Joker sketch, as soon as the joke stops being funny, you can just end the sketch. You do a channel flip and it's over. But in SuperMansion, the comedy has to be based in character and any joke you have has to be working in context with the overall character arc, the story that you're doing and has to be true to each character. So it's just a much more complicated form of comedy.
With so many superhero franchises in the genre, what in your personal opinion sets SuperMansion apart?
Zeb: What I see is that we don't not only do comedies. Me and Matt are such comic book fans that we also like to explore the serialized nature of comic books and the drama, and the soap-opera of these characters. So that's been really fun, like something that's been able to differentiate this building, this universe, and these characters and the more episodes that come out, the more we get to know these characters - and the more we reveal about them.
Matt: A show goes on as you learn about each of these characters, it's all about the relationships between them. And it just continues to build over the episodes, and those emotional arcs are what help people want to watch more.
Speaking about relationships with characters — do you have any personal favorites in your list from the show?
Zeb: Personally when I think about characters, it's American Ranger that cracks me up the most because I think of him in Keegan Michael Key's voice.
Matt: I'm not gonna answer that, that's like asking to pick my favorite child!
But about the Thanksgiving special in particular — what is awaiting fans?
Zeb: It's got a lot going on. I think if you're a fan — there's something very interesting in The Groaner and Black Saturn's relationship aspect. There's really great stuff there. Also, it's very Thanksgiving-centric. We wanted to play with the tropes here — such as having to sit at a kids table when you're younger and not being able to sit with adults. Or having to prepare a turkey dinner — we tried to take this tropes and turn them as crazy as possible. So, by the end of the episode, we have one of the longest action shots that we've ever had with the most characters at once. Fighting a threat that has come about because of Titanium Rex and Dr. Devizo's turkey competition.
Could you describe the special episode in one word?
Zeb: I need two... actually three words. Mutant turkey infestation!
As a voice actor, how challenging, or different, do you think it is from performing live action?
Zeb: When you're on screen, you can use your face and your body to convey the meaning, and the drama of what you're saying. But for a voice actor, it has to come all through their voice. And it's adventurous watching people do voice acting because they're really contorting their bodies and really projecting because all of their acting has to come through one instrument. And you have to capture all in your voice. So it's fun to watch really great actors coming in and do this because they act in a completely different way.
Do you adopt any particular go-to method when it comes to playing several different characters on the same show? How do you go about keeping all of them distinguished from each other?
Zeb: The actors have really distinct energy or point of view for these different characters and then incorporate their creativity to attach a voice to that pov. And I think a lot of them grew up doing voices and playing characters in their head. So I find that a lot of them — given an opportunity — have a lot of different voices to pull from.
What made you go ahead with animation instead of live action? In your opinion, how different would you say creating an animated show is from a live action one?
Matt: We came from the comic book world and it was a natural progression for us, so it was always animation. But the conversation starts with what's the best medium for a show to take. If we went on with SuperMansion as a live action, then this thing would be a 100 million dollar budget, but with animation, you can do crazy things with it and make it look amazing.
Zeb: I think that this ability to see these characters build in a way you could hold was very tempting for us, considering the fact that we grew up playing with the action figures. So doing it this way means getting to make our own toys!
What was it like working with Sony Crackle?
Matt: I think it's fantastic, the way they pick up storylines and have a go at it. I think it's a more casual relationship I'd say? More like a bunch of friends hanging out, pitching each other a bunch of ideas. Plus, it's free, and it's accessible. So people will hear about the show and curiosity will take them where it is.
Zeb: I think we really lucked out like that. From the beginning, they seemed to really understand the show and what we were trying to do. And they were also fans of the show, so it's been a really validating, creative experience. There're there when we need them and we are here to listen to any ideas they have. But it's been a super positive experience that spoiled me a little bit.
So what's next for you both?
Matt: I'm not sure what we're allowed to talk about. But we're currently working on our 10th season of 'Robot Chicken.' And of course, there are a few other things that I'm not sure if I'm yet allowed to talk about!