FX Sweetens the Toon Deal

Archer

Archer

This month, the cable network debuts Chozen, an intriguing new animated series about a white gay rapper—and showcases a diabolically different new season of Archer.

The Fox network might be the home of Animation Domination, but it’s sister cable network FX that is serving up some sweet competition this month. Not only do we get to enjoy an exciting new season about everyone’s favorite self-involved spy Archer, there’s also the debut of Chozen, Grant Dekernion’s crazy new series about a white gay rapper adjusting to regular life after being released from prison.

Dekernion, who used to be a writer’s assistant on HBO’s comedy series Eastbound and Down, tells us that he began to think about creating a show that involved hip hop music a few years ago. “I wanted to tell a story that I hadn’t seen in animation before—something with unique characters,” he says. “So I talked to the folks at Rough House [production company for Eastbound and Down] and we came up with a solid idea and pitched it to FX about two years ago.”

The series’ animation is produced by Floyd County Productions in Atlanta, which also works on Archer. Stylistically the toon is different from Archer, and the animation is done in Flash, as well as Photoshop and After Effects. “These guys are able to produce a high-quality product in a relatively short amount of time,” says Dekernion. “I believe we can deliver an episode in three months’ time, which is unbelievable.”

“As far as the lead being gay, I figured why not? It’s fun to play with tropes common in hardcore rap, which is usually ripe with misogyny and sexism. I wanted to take a different point of view.” — Chozen‘s creator/exec producer Grant Dekernion

Voiced by Bobby Moynihan, Danny McBride, Michael Pena, Kathryn Hahn and Method Man, Chozen definitely doesn’t shy away from going where few animated shows have gone before. “I really wanted a different take on the usual rap star TV show or movie,” notes Dekernion. “As far as the lead being gay, I figured why not? It’s fun to play with tropes common in hardcore rap, which is usually ripe with misogyny and sexism. I wanted to take a different point of view. Our main character is someone you want to root for. He is not the smartest tool in the shed, but you really want him to accomplish his dream. As a teenager, he was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and now he has to re-acclimate himself to the world outside.”

Chozen‘s show runner and exec producer is Tom Brady, a TV sitcom veteran who has worked both animated shows such as The Simpsons and The Critic and live-action fare such as Sports Night and Men Behaving Badly. He says he jumped at the opportunity to work on the toon. “I was looking for something exciting and fresh that cuts through the noise out there, and this was it,” he notes. “It offers a combination of things that we haven’t seen before—this character has no use for labels—he’s cocky, dynamic and quite resilient. A lot of the humor of the show comes from the fact that he got locked up as a teen, and most of his experiences are colored by his time in prison. He’s missed out on pop culture and tech advancements, and his sexuality also makes him a little different.”

Brady and Dekernion both say that they’re not trying to push buttons or tackle issues just for the sake of being controversial or political. “You can use animation as social commentary and you don’t have to write slapstick and goofy jokes all the time,” says Brady. “Chozen is modeled after the current trend in comedy, which is more grounded. It’s got gritty humor and flawed characters and is based on real life. Grant worked in the music business before he was a writer on Eastbound and Down. He has a brilliant twisted mind and knows the rap world very well. The show is really the culmination of everything he’s done.”

While all this devotion to real-world situations may be seen as a plus in some circles, the question that comes to mind is, why did they even need to make this show animated? Brady says the medium comes in handy when they create music videos or get inside some of the characters’ heads. “Things get a little fantastical at times, when he want to highlight the character’s emotional state, when he smokes something or gets drunk, we can play with the possibilities of animation,” he explains.

“I love working with the animation team at Floyd,” says Dekernion. “Archer is my favorite animated comedy. I’ve always loved different kinds of animation—Heavy Metal and Akira are two of my favorite movies. I am also a huge fan of Robotech. Family Guy, Black Dynamite, The Boondocks—they are all great comedies that are smart and fun.”

At the end of the day, Dekernion says he feels insanely fortunate. “I’m so grateful to have the support of people like Danny McBride, Jody Hill and David Gordon Green [exec producers for Rough House] who took a shine to the story and helped me get to where I am today,” says the Chozen one. “I guess the lesson here is to really dedicate yourself to your project and put your head down, keep writing and rewriting. Just do the work … It’s not easy and it’s not always fun, but in the process, you end up finding something much better.”

Meanwhile, on Archer

Now that we’ve met Archer‘s new animated companion show on FX, we need to find out what is happening to the superspy and his team on the show’s fifth season. So when we got the show’s talented writer and exec producer Matt Thompson on the phone, we were hoping for a big scoop. However, things are never that easy!

“What we’re doing on the new season is kind of a big secret,” says Thompson. “We’re changing a lot of things, and when people see it, they’re either going to love it or hate it.”

What Thompson does tell us is this: “We’re going to find out that ISIS is shutting down and they’re not going to be spies anymore,” says the secretive exec producer. “It’s going to change things up and after people see what [show creator] Adam Reed and I have done, they’re going to say, ‘You are a genius’ or ‘You totally f—ed it up.’”

Thompson further explains that he and Reed were kind of getting bored with doing the same thing they had done in previous seasons of the show, which first debuted on FX in January of 2010. “We tend to do things that interest us and hope it interests others as well. Adam actually writes all the scripts for the series. We are going to have the same characters as before, but they’re going to do different things, ”

When we press him on details about guest stars, he gives us a few tidbits. “We don’t have a lot of juicy guest roles, because the show is designed to work on just our characters talking to each other,” he notes. “But this season we do have a few great voices. Ron Perlmen is coming back as Ramon Limon (the gay, former spy for Fidel Castro), as are Thomas Lennon and Gary Cole. We’re working on a three-part finale and we have someone special in mind for that. I am also working hard on getting singer Kenny Loggins do a guest voice, maybe do ‘Danger Zone’ on the show. He has stood the test of time.”

The toon, which is produced by Floyd County Productions in Atlanta, has often been praised for its clean, crisp visuals, which blend 2D animation with CG elements. Archer is created using Adobe Illustrator for the characters, Photoshop for backgrounds and After Effects for the animation, and the action is supplemented with Cinema 4D and 3ds Max. According to Thompson, they allow Reed three weeks to write each episode, then they have three weeks to draw it and three weeks to animate the show. “Since we have built our library of assets, we can spend more money on the 3D staff, and I think everyone can agree that the show looks better now than when we started,” he adds.

Right now, Floyd County employs about 130 people and takes advantage of Georgia’s generous film tax credit program. In addition to Archer and Chozen, the studio is also working on Seth Rogen’s upcoming Bigfoot toon, which got a pilot order from FX last August.

Superspy’s Secret Recipe?

“I love the dynamic of these six, seven characters and how they bitch at each other. I think the relationship between them really works well. That’s why we picked them up and put them in a totally new situation.” — Archer’s exec producer Matt Thompson

So what is Archer‘s formula for success? How did Reed and Thompson hit the comedy jackpot? “It goes back to something an old boss told me, that the comedy comes down to how these roommates bicker,” replies Thompson. “I love the dynamic of these six, seven characters and how they bitch at each other. I think the relationship between these people really works well. That’s why we picked them up and put them in a totally new situation. In my mind, these seven people really exist: They complement each other in a believable way, and they bicker!”

Another big rule on the show is that the action happens in a timeless world. “I’m a big consumer of what’s going on in pop culture,” he notes. “We don’t do Lindsay Lohan jokes. We surround ourselves with improv comedy and comics, and sit around and chat with them. We are not doing aliens and dinosaurs and talking fish. The show has real world rules (although we just started to bend them with the hologram lady, Krieger’s virtual girlfriend). The goal was not to make the show too wacky. Let’s just make them angry at each other. It boils down to six or seven great voiceover people making it believable—like a three-act Broadway play.”

Looking back at the days when he was working on Adult Swim shows such as Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Sealab 2021, the toon comedy veteran acknowledges that it’s a whole new ball game these days. “On Sealab, we lost money because it cost us about $35,000 an episode and we got $33,000 for it. Back then, you had to move to L.A. and find a job as a production assistant, but now you can stay where you are. Wait until you’re more established. If your show gets enough hits on the web, someone is going to pay attention. Our lead animator made his own One Direction fan cartoon, and it just blew up. He got more traction from that than working on Archer. So the lesson is, if you can do something, throw it on YouTube and don’t worry about how much money you’re going to make.”

The fifth season of Archer premieres on Monday, Jan. 13 at 10 p.m. It is followed by the premiere of the new series Chozen at 10:30 p.m.