×

‘Weird City’ Boss Breaks Down ‘Meta’ Dystopian Anthology Series

Welcome to “Weird City,” the futuristic metropolis where citizens either live “above” or “below” the line, dating apps dictate your total happiness, and Levar Burton is a seemingly all-knowing being. The YouTube sci-fi series, which hails from co-creators Jordan Peele and Charlie Sanders, kicks off its original six-episode run on Feb. 13 to put a comedic twist on the current anthology series trend.

Each standalone episode features a unique story within the framework of the city itself, with certain characters (like Burton) popping up throughout to thread the narratives together. Meanwhile a slew of guest stars including Ed O’Neill, Mark Hamill, Awkwafina, Laverne Cox and Sara Gilbert help bring the stories to life.

“There are definitely a lot of meta layers going on,” says Sanders, who notes he was largely inspired by Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” from the mid-1980s. “In each story the main characters are going to have standalone stories, but viewers will be rewarded with a lot of Easter eggs. Since it all takes place in the same city, some characters cross over; there are references to some of the same things. It really rewards a binge watch.”

Here, Variety catches up with Sanders to discuss the series’ long gestational period (it was originally developed for Hulu), the challenges of crafting episodic anthologies and the importance of attracting notable guest stars to the format.

This series was developed over half a dozen years — how do you evolve the stories to remain relevant to your original concept while maintaining relevancy?

Some of the issues are evergreen and some are very particular to the time. … Dating and services that say they can have the perfect person for you, that’s evergreen. That’s always interesting. But the specifics we can litter in later. We use the specifics to poke fun at the more immediate stuff.

What has been the biggest challenge in doing an episodic anthology?

The main challenge was getting anyone to do it because most places weren’t interested in doing an anthology. But once we were there, the writing is a little different because it’s almost a little bit more like writing a movie. You’re going to introduce he characters at the beginning and at the end their stories wrap up. So you have to pack in a little more information like that. I had fun doing that. Later in the end, the connective tissue is also a challenging but fun thing to do.

Creatively how do you plot and plan that connective tissue?

I had written four of the scripts before we got picked up at YouTube, so I had already put that in and that was just me cracking myself up. Like, “Oh it would be funny to see this security guard we saw last episode,” or to hear a reference to that business we’d heard of. And when we wrote the last two episodes in the writers’ room, we first came up with the plots of what the episodes would be, explored them, came up with those plot points, and then layered the references in.

How are you hoping audiences consume this?

The first episode sets up the world the most of any of the episodes, so it is helpful to watch the first episode first. But you could really jump in with any of them and you’d probably enjoy the story. I think any way people enjoy the story is fine — if they watch one a week or one a night. But I think the most rewarding way would be to binge watch all six of them. That’s when you’re going to really immerse yourself in this world and really see all of these references and this connective tissue.

What was your pitch for getting these actors on board?

We went to them, and we had specific people in mind to play specific parts. That is where Monkey Paw and Jordan were absolutely enormously helpful, because everybody is interested in a Jordan Peele project. So Jordan would go to them and say hey, “Would you read the script?” and then almost every actor told me the same thing, which was they were interested because Jordan was involved and they loved the material so much that they wanted to do it.

Does having a notable guest star become important in attracting attention?

I feel like every single guest star we have on the show has their own group of fans. So I guess my hope is that their fans will tune in to see them and then the world will be intriguing enough that they go, “Even though that person’s not going to be back, I want to see what happens in this world.” And for people that do that there are a lot of rewards.

Were there any specific sci-fi tropes you enjoyed poking fun at?

We talked about some of the TV sci-fi. My favorite movies of all time — I like the new “Planet of the Apes” a lot — but my favorite movies of all time were the five original “Planet of the Apes.” I’ve always enjoyed dystopian future stuff. That’s a trope I really like. Although I’m kind of an optimistic person. Our episodes are set in a dystopian future, but not everything is bad. There’s good stuff and bad stuff. There’s a lot of optimism in the show. So that was my twist on one of the tropes I liked.

“Weird City” premieres Feb. 13 on YouTube.

More TV

  • Name Of The Rose

    Germany's Tele München Group Sold to Investment Firm KKR

    Global investment firm KKR has acquired Tele München Group, one of Germany’s largest television businesses. The surprise deal was announced Thursday. New York-based global investor KKR has holdings in multiple sectors, including infrastructure, energy and real estate. Tele München Group, or TMG, is active in both production and distribution; its projects include the highly anticipated [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

  • 60 Minutes" reporter Lara Logan takes

    Lara Logan Says She's Been 'Targeted' for Her Claims of Liberal Media Bias

    Former CBS News foreign correspondent Lara Logan appeared on “Hannity” Wednesday evening to expand on her recent remarks characterizing the media as “mostly liberal.” “It’s obvious, right, because you get targeted,” she said, explaining her earlier comments that she was committing “professional suicide” by criticizing the media. “It’s the same group of people, they’re already [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    'Empire' Producers Consider Suspending Jussie Smollett (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fox is considering removing Jussie Smollett from production on “Empire.” Sources close to the production told Variety that producers are weighing whether to suspend the actor after he was charged Wednesday in Chicago with filing a false police report. A spokesperson for 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the series, declined to comment. Smollett’s status on [...]

  • Game of Thrones Final Season: Best

    The Best 'Game of Thrones' Merch to Get You Ready for the New Season

    We’re just weeks away from the premiere of the final season of “Game of Thrones,” and whether you’re a die-hard fan, on the hunt for a novelty gift, or a serious collector hoping to nab some memorabilia before the series signs off for good, we’ve found 10 pieces of merch that pay tribute to one [...]

  • Ryan KadroPaleyLive NY: The News Is

    Ryan Kadro Will Join Quibi to Oversee News Programming (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Kadro left CBS News several weeks ago, but he isn’t leaving the news business. Kadro, the former executive producer of “CBS This Morning” is set to join Quibi, the company led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman that is devoted to short-form  content. Kadro is expected to oversee news programming for the subscription-based service, [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Charged With Filing False Police Report

    “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has been charged with filing a false police report, the Chicago police said Wednesday. “Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Twitter. Smollett is due to appear in court for a bond hearing at 1:30 p.m. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content