‘Happyish’ Director Ken Kwapis Tells Truth Through Toons

Happyish animation
Courtesy of Showtime

Showtime’s mordant comedy series “Happyish” has drawn praise for its offbeat blend of animation and live action. The program, created by Shalom Auslander, utilizes animation by Vadim Turchin as a means of expanding upon and, at times, exploding elements within each episode.

When lead Steve Coogan frets that the new bosses at his ad agency may fire him, his concerns materialize as a dream involving his client — Keebler Cookies — and benevolent elf mascot Ernie Keebler, who goes postal over his own impending dismissal. The result is anarchic and altogether unique, which satisfies the goal of director-executive producer Ken Kwapis (“The Office”) to use animation as a means of expressing ideas in a manner that may elude dialogue.

“(Animation) gives us more room to tackle weighty issues if we include fantastical elements,” Kwapis says.

Though the scene in which Kathryn Hahn addresses her mother issues with a talking Amazon package is rooted in fantasy, Kwapis says that its success depends on an organic approach to their construction. In the case of Ernie Keebler and the Amazon box, Kwapis had the actors voicing both characters.

“I was eager to not have our actors play to a mark,” he explains. “That may be different for how other people approach it, but for me, it makes something fantastical human.”

The scenes also require more time for the production.

“We find that these sequences are best when they’re pungent to a point. Brevity is the soul of levity.”

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