Gotta Love Them Texan Demons

TBS explores the hot world of animated sitcoms with the clever new summer show Neighbors from Hell.

We’ve all seen our share of demons and monsters in the animated landscape, but the clever new animated series Neighbors from Hell puts a new spin on the much-loved subject. Set to debut on TBS this month, the weekly half-hour series follows the adventures of the Hellmans, a family from hell who are sent to a town in Texas to prevent a giant drill from invading their home in the bowels of Earth.

‘What’s really fun about the show is that we can take a satirical look at suburban life as seen through the eyes of these demons,’ says exec producer Pam Brady, who also wrote the pilot episode. ‘It’s the humans who are actually scarier than the demons. Our family has a certain code of conduct’they’d never start wars or unjustly torture others. One of the neighbors, for example, is a character who’s the head of a Halliburton-like company’very loosely based on Dick Cheney! Even our main devil, Balthazor (voiced by Mad TV’s Will Sasso) is scared of him!’

Neighbors from Hell

Brady, a veteran comedy writer and producer whose numerous credits include Mr. Wong, South Park, Just Shoot Me, Team America: World Police and Hamlet 2, says the ‘family from Hell’ concept was originally going to be a DreamWorks feature, but it was decided earlier on that the premise would lend itself better to a grown-up TV show. ‘Our main goal was to make viewers care for this family of demons. The thing is, Balthazor is hooked on American TV’everything he knows about humans he has learned from TV, so in a way, he’s an innocent.’

In addition to Sasso, the show also features the voices of Molly Shannon as the mom, Patton Oswalt as the odd little goblin/dog and Steve Coogan as Satan. ‘He is vain, insecure, tantrum-driven and British,’ explains Brady.

As the show’s supervising animation director John Rice explains, the series is different from a lot of the TV toons out there because it offers a nice combination of funny writing and beautiful design. ‘If it were a woman, I’d marry it’but it’s not, and I’m married anyway,’ he jokes. ‘I’d say our animation style is post-20th century modern, with an unrefined tone and smooth drinkability. In other words, it’s somewhere between South Park and Shrek‘but not like either of those!’

Brady says the general ‘vibe’ of the show reminds her of classic TV sitcom The Munsters, where the audience is rooting for the kooky misfits in suburbia. She also points out that it was important for the team to make sure that the artists and the writers were constantly communicating and constantly upping their games. ‘We have the table read with the actors, then once we get into storyboards, the artists keep improving on the ideas’I think the board artists made some of the best jokes.’

Neighbors from Hell

While the writing staff works out of an office in Burbank, the animation production is done by award-winning Vancouver house Bardel Entertainment (Zeke’s Pad, The Christmas Orange, Viva Pinata), using Toon Boom Harmony technology. ‘Thanks to the new tools, we are able to review everything from our offices’I remember when I used to work on Mr. Wong, producing that four-minute online short took forever’and that was 10 years ago! And now, the most reliable things on TV today are cartoons. Just look at the FOX Sunday lineup! Look at South Park, which continues to push the envelope and is proving that making animation can be a dangerous line of work to be in!’

Rice, who has worked on numerous TV shows such as The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Family Guy says he loves the fact that his job is to make people laugh. ‘We have to work hard and sometimes we get stressed out and want to strangle each other, but never to death, completely,’ he says. ‘But seriously, why be serious? We’re making cartoons here. We draw butt cracks, animate vomit and sit around in meetings talking about farts and man boobs. It’s like being 12 again. It’s awesome!’

Neighbors from Hell premieres on TBS on Monday, June 7, 2010 at 10 p.m.