***This article was written for the December ’21 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 315)***
Growing up has always been hard to do. But getting through middle school amid the contradictory strangeness of Los Angeles’ ‘hypebeast’ culture in the social media-saturated 21st century is more than difficult: It’s comic gold that can only be properly conveyed through adult-oriented animation.
That’s the idea behind Fairfax, which debuted its eight-episode first season last month on Amazon Prime Video and is created and executive produced by longtime friends and L.A. natives Matthew Hausfater, Aaron Buchsbaum and Teddy Riley. They’re joined as executive producers on the project by Peter A. Knight, Jon Zimelis and Jason U. Nadler, of the development and production company Serious Business, and Chris Prynoski, Ben Kalina and Antonio Cannobio for Titmouse, which animated the series. The show features character designs from the artist Somehoodlum, who is a consulting producer along with digital pop-culture brand Pizzaslime.
Fairfax stars the voices of Skyler Gisondo, Kiersey Clemons, Peter S. Kim and Jaboukie Young-White as a quartet of middle school students who seek contentment and clout along L.A.’s famed Fairfax Avenue and its fashion-obsessed hypebeast culture.
Fast, Funny and Fearless
The show has a rapid-fire pace and sense of humor that spares no one, all balanced with a sense of heart — and Buchsbaum says they shoot for a 50-50 mix. “We always find that when we weave heart into our stories, and we really make them emotional and give the audience opportunity to connect to our characters on that heart level, that we earn our satire,” he says. “We earn our jokes, we earn the opportunity to be relentless with some situations.”
Buchsbaum, Hausfater and Riley all grew up in Los Angeles, with the latter two having been friends since childhood. Riley and Buchsbaum connected at USC, and when Hausfater reconnected with Riley the trio hit it off.
“Matt essentially approached the two of us and was like: ‘Yo! We should do an animated show on Fairfax!'” Riley says. “And right away we knew exactly what it was and was just kind of perfect because it really was a show about our friend groups growing up. It always felt like this cultural melting pot,” adds Riley. “You’ve got everybody from Orthodox Jews all the way to rappers and everybody in between — and all the hypebeast stuff — and it just felt like a world to us in the same way that South Park or Springfield [The Simpsons] felt like a world.”
“We have lived with the block in our lives for so long that it really came to us,” says Buchsbaum.
Animation was part of the conception of the show from the start. Having grown up watching animated 1990s Nickelodeon shows, Beavis and Butt-Head and South Park, animation was the only choice for how to make the show, Hausfater says. “We just wanted to tell off-the-wall stories and be able to pay homage to our favorite genres, whether that’s Die Hard or Apocalypse Now. We wanted to be able to go to crazy places and not spend a billion dollars to do it,”
“Also, seeing animated kids chasing after this stuff just felt funnier than the live-action version of it,” adds Riley. “The thing we loved about 13-year olds is that when you’re that age, everything is life or death. Your best friend, you’d take a bullet for; your worst enemy, you’d push in front of a bus … It led to funnier stories because they could take something like a t-shirt as seriously as you would take a storyline from a mobster show.”
The quartet at the heart of the show is comprised of: Dale (voiced by Gisondo), an outdoorsy kid from Oregon who loves his dad and is new to L.A.; Derica (Clemons), whose aspirations to become a model and a world-changing activist often collide; Benny (Kim), who brings a cunning edge to his search for clout but still has to practice playing the cello and walking the dog; and Truman (Young-White), who plans to be a filmmaking auteur and fancies himself a lady’s man.
Throwing four such diverse characters together into genre bending satirical stories that heighten the contradictions inherent in modern life results in some fearlessly rapid-fire comedy that takes no prisoners.
Capturing the Right Look for 2021
Incorporating the heart of the Fairfax culture into the show also was an important element. Visually, the art of Somehoodlum captured the feel the creators were going for. “They’re already in this world, and they have a great style,” says Hausfater.
The same was true with fashion creators Pizzaslime. “ We wanted to bring in Pizzaslime as people who were from the world, know the world of fashion really well and could execute that stuff,” says Riley.
The merchandise angle also made Amazon an obvious place to pitch the show. “We knew that there was an extra joke to make with the merchandising component to the show,” Riley says. “There was something that, obviously, only Amazon could do to help us execute that, that the other streamers aren’t able to, and it really was a perfect match.”
Bringing on Zimelis and Nader from Serious Business, the pitch landed so well with Amazon execs they got a call back within an hour, Hausfater says. The trio brought in a team of writers to add some new perspectives to the scripts, and got a crash course in animation working with L.A.-based Titmouse.
“Everybody at Titmouse, top down, was so generous in their teaching us about the process,” says Riley. “Seeing how much work goes into making a 24-minute comedy really blew us away, and we truly just have endless appreciation for the painstaking attention to detail that artists and animators have.”
With COVID-19, the crew worked remotely through all eight episodes of season one, as well as season two, for which production is expected to be completed by early November. With the first season about to drop — featuring guest voices from Pamela Adlon, Jeff Bottoms, Yvette Nicole Brown, Rob Delaney, Zoey Deutch, Colton Dunn, John Leguizamo, Camila Mendes, Larry Owens, Linda Park, Billy Porter, Ben Schwartz, Tim Simons, and JB Smoove — the creators see Fairfax as a portrayal of a generation that has not yet had its TV moment.
“We celebrate them as much as we want to satirize them,” says Buchsbaum. ”We always say we think this is a generation that is most definitely going to save the world — if they don’t die from eating Tide pods first. We really think they are fantastic.”
“They’re the most inclusive generation but they also are the only generation that thinks it’s a good idea to get face tattoos,” adds Hausfater.
The first season of Fairfax premieres Friday, October 29 on Amazon Prime Video.