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.

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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

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