Earth is being rebooted after a botched and thwarted alien attack leads to a second chance for Earth – if new president Matty Mulligan (Nat Faxon) can get out of the way in Netflix’s new animated adult comedy, “Mulligan.” He comes from the creative minds behind “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “30 Rock” — co-showrunners Robert Carlock and Sam Means and executive producer Tina Fey — who are experts at weird second chances and unpredictable relationships.
“Mulligan” is about a group of ragtag survivors, including Mulligan (Nat Faxon), a Boston junkie everyman; beauty queen Lucy (Chrissy Teigen), who has a mid-invasion fling with Matty and becomes First Lady; conniving Vice President Cartwright Lamarr (Dana Carvey); historian Simon Prioleu (Sam Richardson); military super scientist Dr. Farrah Braun (Fey); and imprisoned alien general Axatrax (Phil Lamarr).
The mission statement was: everything is destroyed, but humanity has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past. “So it ends up being fun to see these characters struggle against the old systems to create something new,” supervising director Colin Heck (“Harley Quinn”) told IndieWire. “And, in the end, I think it’s only what was the funniest that wins.”
The challenge was translating the dynamic vision of the live-action sitcom of Carlock, Means and Fey into 2D animation (handled by half a dozen studios, but mostly Bento Box Atlanta). There’s a lot going on with this eclectic ensemble, and it moves quickly. There are also breaks for music by Jeff Richmond, such as the hilarious torch song from “X-Men: The Musical,” in which a Magneto imprisoned in a glass chamber proclaims his unrequited love for Professor x.
“That’s a heavy premise for a show…it’s the apocalypse,” Heck said. “And there are a lot of moving parts. The thing that we spent a lot of energy on was trying to make it look like one of their shows, and that’s not easy in animation.
Heck’s first task was to streamline the look of the character design. “Robert and Sam wanted to get everything they could on the show,” he said. “And so we go to a lot of places and we’re doing flashbacks, and the look they settled on before they hired me was very realistic, and that gets more complicated.
With so many jugglers, there was also continuity to be drawn. A staged prank in the first episode pays off in the episode 10 finale. “If there’s an episode where a monster destroys the White House, then we have to track the damage in the future,” Heck added. “There are no construction crews, we are not rebuilding DC yet. That was another one that we had to follow a lot and it was tough. For humor, that’s great.
Humor also came into play in terms of the difference between editing an animated series and a live-action one. “I think it was definitely an adjustment for them, but they learned that they had a lot more control than they have in live-action,” Heck said. “And so a big part of our challenge has been we’re using so many cuts and trying to keep up. We were setting up and I’d ask if they’d like to wait for a laugh here, and they were like, “No way.” Let’s go to the next joke, keep moving.’ We have to get into the rut. But we also have to maintain a level of quality in these shots and episodes.”
Humanizing the characters was also a challenge. Matty’s being a jerk all the time, but he still has moments of vulnerability. “We were finding the balance between twisting the knife and being super fun,” said Heck. “Is this character too bad now? It was something we talked about a lot. This show has very little stasis – it’s all about emotion.