HBO toons up ‘Life and Times of Tim’

New series charms with amateur feel

There’s more than enough strangeness to go around on HBO’s new cartoon laffer, “The Life and Times of Tim.”

Debuting on Sept. 28, the skein’s plotlines are rife with one-in-a-million misunderstandings and snafus that leave its eponymous nice-guy protagonist menaced by a disgruntled prostitute and her pimp; pressured into fronting as his employer’s new Hispanic VP (he’s as white as Wonder Bread); and snookered into lodging a phony rape claim against a homeless “bum.”  

But the show’s very history is a tale of profound unlikelihood. For one thing, “Tim” marks HBO’s first foray into animation since “Spawn” shuffled off its quasi-mortal coil in 1999.

Second, how odd that after nearly a decade away from the cartoon biz, the premium cabler with a rep for being the gold standard of the smallscreen settled on a property that is so crudely drawn, deadpan, and static as to almost defy the term “animated.”

And oh yeah: It was created by and stars a guy who’d never done series animation before in his life. Steve Dildarian is a former copywriter who made his name as the creator of the wildly popular “Budweiser Lizards” campaign. Burned out by the ad biz, he began doing “silly” acrylic paintings and provided the illustrations and voiceover for a handful of parodic online spots for the mega-brewer.

Still, explaining why “Tim” began as a live-action vehicle, he unhesitatingly says: “I’m not really an animation guy; I don’t get into it that much, I don’t know a whole lot about it.” 

“Tim,” which Dildarian describes as “a slight underdog story” about “a guy who can’t catch a break in life” began as a clutch of stills that he scrawled in Bic pen and colored in with markers. His girlfriend and fellow ad vet Luynette Cariapa sharpened them up via Photoshop.

But not too much. “The drawings were as crude as the voice tracks, which were as crude as the stories themselves,” he recalls. That “organic feel” remained in the finished version. “Most of the animation is just people talking and their eyes looking around,” Dildarian says. “It’s through the editing that we hopefully make it feel like there’s more action than there really is.” 

There was apparently enough for the folks at the 2006 Aspen Comedy Arts Festival, where “Angry Unpaid Hooker” snagged the animated short prize.  

That led to the production of three more shorts comprising a pilot, produced by comedy vets Jimmy Miller (“Get Smart,” “Semi-Pro”) and Tom Werner (“The Brothers Solomon,” “That ’70s Show”) at which point Dildarian’s reps at Endeavor hooked him up with 20th Century Fox, but a disagreement over the show’s rights nixed the deal. He later sold the show to the Fox net, which backed out on the eve of the ’07 upfronts.  

Enter Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel, who shopped it around town, and Media Rights Capital, which ponied up financing sans network attachment.

“Two things were evident immediately,” MRC head Morti Wiczyk recalls. “One, that this was a completely unique and original voice, and two, that he was surrounded by these titans of kind of comedy.” Besides, Wiczyk notes, “If it works, animated half-hour comedy is a great investment.” 

Dildarian and Co. met with HBO, still under then-prexy Carolyn Strauss, which bought it the next day.  

Casey Bloys, entertainment veep in charge of comedy, was in the room. He adds that what distinguished “Tim” (which will be paired with the revamped Brit sitcom “Little Britain” until November, and then with Aussie import “Summer Heights High”) and put it in HBO’s wheelhouse was a certain auteurish quality.

“It’s so writer-performer-driven, and we’ve had a lot of success with that — whether it’s Larry David or ‘Extras’ or ‘Flight of the Conchords.’ ” 

Still, Bloys goes so far as to refer to “Tim” as “charming,” not an adjective that gets a lot of play in describing HBO fare. Sure, there are some mildly perverse scenarios, but where’s the edge? “Sometimes the edge is what feels different, and this time it’s the voice and the tone of it that seems different. I don’t see anything else like it out there.”