Does a comedy about a government’s Big Brother-like surveillance trivialize the issue — or can deft satire raise awareness of abuses of power?
Either way, Condé Nast is hoping people click on Wired magazine’s first scripted series, “Codefellas,” a 12-segment short-form animated comedy portraying National Security Agency agents as literally cartoonish figures engaged in ludicrous acts of domestic spying.
In a statement, Condé Nast said the show provides “comedic relief in light of current events dominating the national news cycle.”
Earlier this month, a former NSA contractor disclosed details on the agency’s secret electronic-surveillance program, which monitors phone calls and email communications in the U.S. to identify potential terrorist threats. Officials have defended the program as having helped stop multiple terror attacks.
It’s hard to judge at this point whether “Codefellas” is exploiting the situation for quick humor or trying to make a larger political statement, said Sherwin Siy, VP of legal affairs for consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.
“It’d be a shame if people started to view pervasive government surveillance as another laughable daily chore, like traffic or boring meetings,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s entirely possible for good comedy to poke at and explore sensitive and enraging issues.”
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In premiere episode, Special Agent Henry Topple (voiced by John Hodgman) gleefully tells protégé hacker Nicole Winters (Emily Heller), “You and I are going to spy on a lot of innocent people together… We get to watch their lives 24 hours a day — you can’t beat that kind of intimacy.”
“Codefellas” is animated by Flat Black Films, which created the animation for Richard Linklater’s animated films “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly.” Skein is scripted by David Rees (creator of cult comic “Get Your War On”) and producing partner Brian Spinks.
Show is part of a broader push into video by the publishing company’s Condé Nast Entertainment arm, which plans to launch 30 new shows this year across properties including Wired, Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Teen Vogue, Epicurious and Style.com.