Matt Groening’s next move
ALMOST 30 YEARS AFTER THE SIMPSONS FIRST AIRED, AND FOUR MONTHS AFTER IT BECAME THE LONGEST-RUNNING PRIMETIME SERIES EVER, ITS CREATOR IS BACK WITH A NEW SHOW.
For his new series Disenchantment Matt Groening, went back to the beginning – before Futurama, The Simpsons, even before his long-running comic strip ‘Life in Hell’. He went back to childhood. “I’ve always loved children’s literature, particularly fairytales, folktales, fables and that kind of thing,” he says, also citing the neuroticism and introspection of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts as inspiration. “It’s always been in the back of my head.” “I’ve always loved weird, little creatures,” he adds. “When I was growing up, my older sister Patty showed me a door in the back of the closet, and warned me there was a monster in there who loved to eat little boys. He had traps baited with custard. And this was how bad it was – I loved custard so much that I was willing to risk it. It took a few weeks to get up my nerve, but of course, when I opened the door there was nothing in there.” This sweetness with a dark undertone, the sweetly-baited death traps, will be familiar to even a casual fan of Groening’s work. From the tumultuous relationship between Bart and Homer Simpson, to the dystopian preserved heads of various cultural icons in Futurama. But they’re perhaps no more evident in Disenchantment. Best described as a cross-over between Game of Thrones and The Simpsons, the series follows the misadventures of the harddrinking and rebellious Princess Bean, voiced by Abbi Jacobson of Broad City, (who was “able to take what we thought was really funny writing and make it even funnier”), her personal demon Luci (Eric André), and the naive Elfo (Nat Faxon). It’s distinctly less family-friendly than The Simpsons – a topic Groening’s rep hastily informs us is off limits today, for whatever reason. Still, while Disenchantment packs more sex, nudity, and violence than Groening’s
previous work, he says that’s all part of the inspiration. “People think of fairytales as entertainment for children,” he says. “If you think about what fairytales used to be, the women sort of ran the show, for good or ill. There were wicked women and there were good women, and then there were children, or the equivalent of children in the forms of dwarves and elves who really changed things. “They took risks, they talked back. I’ve been thinking for a long time, ‘Is it possible to get that kind of idea into something that is really funny for all ages?’ It’s a secret feminist critique,” he laughs. It’s the fifirst original series in nearly 20 years for Groening and it feels like he’s come full-circle – with writers and actors from both The Simpsons and Futurama (including John Dimaggio, who voiced robot Bender in the latter) on board. Disenchantment also brings a different format for the animation maverick. Netflflix sees him working with longer episodes that can be bingewatched instead of aired in weekly instalments, allowing for more developed storylines. Groening hopes Disenchantment stands up to repeat viewing (“I’ve watched them hundreds of times!” he laughs), full of easter eggs for both fans new and old to discover again and again. “We’re trying to cram so many things into these episodes that you’ll be able to watch them more than once,” he says. “Because things will flfly by, and I think they’ll sustain repeated watching.” But after over 30 years in the business, producing what is one of the most popular shows in TV history, how does Groening keep the fresh ideas that continue to propel him to the forefront of the pop-culture conversation? Hasn’t he mined every cultural reference, and imagined (and even predicted, in the case of Donald Trump’s presidency) the full spectrum of world events? To Groening, it’s all about that same slightly dark childlike imagination that had him believing in the cupboard monsters. “I don’t mean to sound blasé, but the whole thing is just fun,” he says. “It’s always fun to see if you can do it again. In a very mechanical way it’s like solving a puzzle, but you just use everything that comes across your desk, things you see on TV, encounters you have with people on the street, past experiences, aggravations.” Starting with a blank canvas is indeed what keeps Disenchantment from feeling like a high-rotation spinoff episode of The Simpsons. “The fun part is creating a universe,” he says. “This is a brand-new medieval fantasy world with a twist that we get to think up new stuff for. “And it’s amazing, whenever we come up with a joke we go: ‘Not only have we never done this joke before on the other shows, no one in history has done this joke before’. It’s hard to explain, but I’m telling you, there are jokes no one else has done before,” says Groening. “And ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to surprise ourselves, make ourselves laugh – and we just hope the audience is just as perverse as we are.” Disenchantment is on Netflflix now
FROM FAR LEFT Broad City’s Abbi Jacobsen voices the heavy-drinking Princess Bean; Groening during the 2018 Comic-con in San Diego. TELEVISION