In their first public appearance since WarnerMedia merged the two development divisions this past April, execs from HBO Max and Adult Swim previewed their upcoming slates, releasing new footage from adult-skewing offerings “10-Year-Old-Tom” and “Smiling Friends,” while talking up several more.
Created by Michael Cusack (“YOLO: Crystal Fantasy”) and Zack Hadel (of the popular YouTube channel “psychicpebbles”), “Smiling Friends” picks up where the viral 2020 short left off, following the lives of two hapless cheer merchants sent to make their clients smile. Mixing 2D, primitive character designs with candy colors and the winking edge of an online forum, the series is due out later this year.
“[Though they’re both well known independently,] combined, Hadel and Cusack are doing something really special,” said Walter Newman, senior VP comedy development at Adult Swim. “From the character designs to the voice work, it represents a lot of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
Adult Swim is also ready to launch the half-hour comedy series “Teenage Euthanasia” (pictured above) from creators Alyson Levy (“The Heart, She Holler”) and Alissa Nutting (“Made for Love”). Boasting a voice cast that includes comedians Maria Bamford, Jo Firestone and Tim Robinson, the comedy follows a hard-partying mother brought back from the grave by her daughter’s tears, all set in a dystopian vision of Florida.
For its part, HBO Max released a sneak peek at the upcoming series “10-Year-Old-Tom.” Created by Steve Dildarian (“The Life and Times of Tim”), the show follows a young boy doing what he can to avoid the world’s more sordid elements.
In the clip presented, a bewildered Tom sits with his mother in church. Unsure just what they’re doing there, he looks to his mother, who explains: “Ever since your dad ran off with the floozy this is our PR move. A single mom with her son – it’s a classic.”
As in Dildarian’s previous work, rough, MS Paint-like character designs work to further the creator’s deadpan comic voice.
“HBO Max is a place where creators know they can take risks,” said HBO Max senior VP of comedy and animation Billy Wee. “We want to showcase a broad range of styles and looks, and make shows that leap off the screen whether you’re watching on a big screen or cracked iPhone.”
Wee also touted the yuletide themed dark comedy “Santa Inc.” Created by Alexandra Rushfield (“Shrill”) and voiced by Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen, the stop-motion series tracks an ambitious young elf trying to crack the glass ceiling in Santa’s workshop, with the exec describing the series as “‘Succession’ set in the North Pole.” As should come with little surprise, the title is due in late 2021.
With “Young Love,” writer and director Matthew Cherry will return to the characters from his Oscar-winning short “Hair Love” for a heartfelt family comedy, while the Pete Davidson-led “Fired on Mars” takes a workplace comedy format and sends it into space. “It really captures the existential dread of today’s corporate culture in a similar way that ‘Office Space’ did for Gen-X-ers,” said Wee.
Reflecting on recent industry changes, the speakers noted that the joint ascendance of streaming platforms alongside a generation of viewers and creators raised on animated comedy has given their output pride of place in premium content. “Animation has now become this crown jewel,” said Newman. “When I got to Adult Swim ten years ago, it wasn’t seen as high end… Now everyone else is playing catch-up to what we’ve done.”
Speaking at a different panel earlier this week, WarnerMedia content acquisitions and co-productions exec Adina Pitt laid out the label’s kids and family strategy, explaining that under the new structure Warner Bros. would handle legacy brands and existing IP, while Cartoon Network would look to launch new titles.
Explaining WarnerMedia’s strategy to develop titles that can work across linear and nonlinear platforms, Pitt noted: “The whole idea is to be as ambidextrous as possible.” The sentiment was shared by her colleagues in Warner’s adult animation divisions as well.