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‘Freak Brothers’ Exec Producers Canton and Solomon Take Us on a Wild Ride, Man!

The Freak Brothers
The Freak Brothers

Animated People

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‘Freak Brothers’ Exec Producers Canton and Solomon Take Us on a Wild Ride, Man!

Last week, the premiere of the new animated series, The Freak Brothers, became Tubi’s  most-watched episode, ranking #1 in total viewing time (TVT) since it launched on FOX Entertainment’s free streaming service. Based on the counterculture comic books created by artist Gilbert Shelton, the eight-episode first season of the show chronicles the offbeat adventures of a trio of stoner anti-establishment characters and their cat who wake up from a 50-year nap after smoking a magical strain of weed in 1969, and must adjust to life with a new family in present-day San Francisco. The series features an all-star voice cast, including Woody Harrelson, John Goodman, Tiffany Haddish and Pete Davidson. We had the opportunity to chat with the show’s charming exec producers Courtney Solomon (Dungeons and Dragons, Getaway, 51, Cake) and Mark Canton (Power, 300, Den of Thieves) to find out more about their hot new toon: 

Courtney Solomon | Mark Canton

Courtney Solomon | Mark Canton

Gentlemen, congrats on landing on the top of Tubi’s most-watched list! Can you tell us a little bit about how you ended up producing this unusual, original show?

Courtney Solomon: Mark and I battered around this idea back in 2017, and we were both recognizing what was going on in the world in regards to more openness to cannabis usage. We thought it was something that wasn’t taboo anymore and was part of mainstream culture. My first exposure to Gilbert Sheldon’s Freak Brothers goes back to when I was 17 and visiting Amsterdam with my friends. We found the comic book at a hemp shop, and we totally cracked ourselves up reading these hilarious comics. 

I consider myself a pretty good sleuth, so I set out to get the rights to the property, and I found out that Gilbert — who is now in his 80s — has been living in France, about 25 minutes away from Paris. So, I flew out to Paris and spent two days with him at his studio. I told him about this idea of re-inventing his work for today’s audience. He was skeptical at first, because he told me that he had flirted with Hollywood before and it hadn’t been a good experience. But after our talk, he decided to let us give it a shot. From there on, we began the process of adapting the property as a show. It was super important for us to stay authentic to the IP as much as we could. Of course, this comic was from the 1970s, and things have changed, so we had to change some of the themes and had to reinvent some of the details to make it a series for audiences in the 2020s.

 The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic

Mark Canton: We loved the whole idea of having the brothers falling asleep and waking up in 2020, because that allowed us to play with many things. The fact that the main characters don’t know any better and we can have fun with current issues. It also gave us room to play with flashbacks from the 60s throughout the course of the series. They get so high and fall asleep for 50 years — who cares that they didn’t age! Both Court and I have had great careers, starting out in mailrooms to forming our own businesses, and having shepherded many series based on previous comics like 300, we have always looked at IP that audiences will respond to. [Canton was also the studio executive at Warner Bros. who greenlit Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie.]

We are fortunate to be working on another amazing property, and we knew that we needed to satisfy the hardcore fans of the original books, which have been translated to 22 languages and sold over 45 million copies worldwide.  We also have a great relationship with the music world, so we were also able to modernize the sound.

Another important thing was sticking to the slightly modified designs of the main character and then we were able to cast the s*** out of it. I think you have to go back to the original Shrek movie to find such an amazing caliber of great actors and actresses playing the main roles in an animated project.

Freak Brothers cast list

Freak Brothers cast list

Can you talk about the animation, and the work that Starburns Industries does on the show?

Courtney: We wanted the colors and the overall palette to be faithful to the original comic books. We were fortunate to have Starburns Industries work on the show, and we love their work on Rick and Morty. Our showrunner Alan Freedland worked with them to make sure we kept a lot of the charm and shading of the original drawings. We slightly updated it and cleaned and modernized the look for the animated show, but you can still get the psychedelic colors in many of the instances. Let’s put it this way, if you are high, you are really going to dig this universe. There is also a nice mix of wide, expansive shots (like the Woodstock scenes in the pilot episode), as well as smaller, more intimate sequences. In other words, we are not shy about going on a wild adventure with the brothers. Everyone was very cognizant of the importance of the work of artists like Sheldon and R. Crumb and strived to keep the original designs as much as possible.

Why do you think these characters are still loved after so many decades

Courtney:  I think they are so timeless, and there is truly something about each one of them that you can love or hate. They’re a cross between the Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges, but they’re stoners, too. There were always great counterculture messages infused in the comic books. As it turns out, over the past few years, the whole counterculture perspective has come back in a big way. The things that Phineas would go on rants about make even more sense today.

We also looked at the franchise and added more diversity to the mix to make it resonant for audiences today. Yes, the main three characters are three white guys, but they are living in modern day San Francisco, which offered more chances for representation. We felt that their cat should definitely be female, and we started to dream about the ideal person for this role. We started to dream about having Tiffany Haddish. She was our first ask, and when she said yes, we knew we were on a roll.

Mark: Before this show, Court and I had never done animation before. So, it was a learning process for us, but at the end of the day, it made it simpler for us. You just want a good story well told. We know how to do that. Actually, it has been a lot easier than live-action , because you don’t have to be on the set every day. Nobody is going to call you a stupid producer. Plus, animation allowed us to continue to produce the project during the pandemic. Other productions were shut down, and we were able to continue. Also, as a result, adult animation has come to the forefront. 

The Freak Brothers season one characters

The Freak Brothers season one characters

How did you end up working with Tubi?

Courtney: This is going to sound bizarre, but we wanted to be on a good AVOD from day number because this show is about pushing the envelope and having fun. We wanted to take this project to a place where they would love it and it was important to them. We didn’t want to be just another show, so that that network or the streamer would really get behind it and tell everyone to watch it. We started talking to Tubi before they were acquired by FOX. We had just done the animatics at that time. We also loved the team at FOX, so we figured they were going to make this their baby and take good care of it. They have done a great job of getting the word out and haven’t been trying to censor what we were doing because they loved the material.

In the third episode “The Expendables,” you have a great storyline about Jeff Bezos hiring the brothers to fly his rocket to Mars. Considering that you have a two year lag between writing the episode and airing, how did you get so many of the details right?

Court: We were laughing about how prophetic that episode turned out amongst ourselves. We wrote that script two years ago. You know it was just dumb luck. Even the shape of the rocket came out looking a lot like [Blue Origin]. That’s the great thing about animation — you can really tackle political and cultural humor without any handcuffs on. Also, we are not advocating getting high by any means, but if you do smoke weed, you will probably have even more fun watching the show!

The Freak Brothers

The Freak Brothers

Finally, what do you hope audiences will get out of your show?

Mark: During these times, we wanted to create something that would make people laugh, have a good time and forget about everything else. We all need that in our lives, even more so now. We are just very glad that people seem to be enjoying the show. These guys are no-holds-barred. They don’t know it, but they are freaks. There’s a little freak in all of us.

Has Gilbert Shelton [who is now 81 years old] seen the show himself?

Court: Oh yes, he has been very involved from the start. We were showing him the script and he loves the animation. He gave us huge kudos, and we were very happy about that.

The first season of The Freak Brothers airs on Tubi. A new episode premieres on the free platform every Sunday.

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