Sunday marks the launch of FOX's first new animated comedy in over four years: "Sit Down, Shut Up." Featuring the voice talents of Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Kristin Chenoweth, Will Forte, Tom Kenny, Nick Kroll, Cheri Oteri, Kenan Thompson and Henry Winkler, the series revolves around the lives of staff members at a high school in a small Florida fishing town "who never lose sight of the fact that the children must always come second." Executive produced by Mitch Hurwitz ("Arrested Development"), Josh Weinstein ("The Simpsons") and Eric Tannenbaum & Kim Tannenbaum ("Two and a Half Men"), the series is the first output of the white hot Tantamount Studios - which already has a record seven pilots under consideration for the 2009-10 season. The cast and crew recently got together at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills for its world premiere, where they chatted with us about the show.
So what's it like making the transition from live-action to animation? "Unbelievably slow," admits Hurwitz. "It's like one frame at a time. It is the thing that I did not know about animation. It's like a pregnancy. You can't ever get excited about it because even like at like seven months, it's like, 'We're going to have a baby... in two months.' You can't sustain that kind of enthusiasm. And it is a slow, slow process but a lot of writing, a lot of writing. And I do kind of love that you get a lot of bites at the apple as we say. I was always trying to squeeze in jokes at the last minute on 'Arrested'... this you really do get [a few] chances at it. You get to see a black and white version, you get to throw in things; you get to see a color version, you just keep revisiting it. That's been the fun part for me."
"Sit Down" also marks a reunion of sorts for Hurwitz and several "Arrested Development" alums. Henry Winkler, who voices sad sack Willard Deutschebog, sings his praises: "I'm not kidding, if Mitch Hurwitz is doing something it is really important that you be in it because he's brilliant. That's it. He is, it's amazing, he's an amazing mind." Co-star Cheri Oteri, who plays Helen Klench, shares his view: "I read the script and I said, 'This is absolutely hysterical.' And I realized it was Mitch that wrote it and he was just fun even in the audition. It's one of those things, you walk into a room, there's so many wonderful people auditioning and it's like, I couldn't believe I got it."
Winkler however admits the show wasn't envisioned as an "Arrested" reunion from the get go: "I went to audition like everybody else, I sat in a room like everybody else and I got the call that I got it and it was thrilling to me."
"Somebody like Mitch Hurwitz always writes from a character standpoint," notes animated veteran Tom Kenny, who voices the incomprehensible janitor Happy. "The scripts are always funny, they're always full of jokes that make sense. His team of James Vallely and guys like that who I've known for years, they're the best in the business."
Nick Kroll, who plays bisexual drama teacher Andrew Legustambos, points out that there's a great collaborative aspect to the show as well: "The writers do give us room to find [the character, like] I think Andrew would say it like this. You try to, as you're moving along, he would pronounce things like this. And that's the beauty of being on a new show, is you are literally trying to build this character with them and so Mitch and Josh [Weinstein] are really great about our input as far as what they sound like, how they work and what kind of jokes they would make."
Kroll's no stranger to animation either, having worked on HBO's "The Life and Times of Tim." "They couldn't be both more joyful and more different from one another," Kroll says about his experiences. "We're doing season two right now by the way. You know, 'Tim' is very improvised, very heavily. We're all in a room together, recording together and it's, you know, we create these events but then within that event, the storyline, it's totally different each time. And 'Sit Down, Shut Up' is very, you know, pretty tightly scripted because... [spots him passing by] Mitch Hurwitz is a control freak and a maniac. And you can quote me on that. It's very tightly scripted, it moves very fast, it's thick with jokes. Both couldn't be more different but to be honest more joyful, funny. I think they're both super funny just in very different ways."
Everyone's equally fond of their sometimes outlandish characters. "He is so out there," Winkler says about Willard. "In my wildest imagination, in my wildest improv, I don't know that I could develop this guy. The writers, we have this army of writers, some are animated writers and some are live-action writers and they meld together to come up with these crazy, funny ideas."
"Happy's fun because he's such a mystery," Kenny notes. "He's from an undetermined point on the globe, nobody really knows where he's from. He's definitely not from Florida where the show takes place. And he speaks this kind of bizarre non-descript language and he always seems furtive and sneaky like he may be plotting a terrorist attack or he may just be putting the pink sawdust on the barf in the school hallway. He always seems like he's pulling off some kind of nefarious act. It's fun."
"I'm telling you when I'm doing this character I have more fun because the more I do her, the more you get to know [the character], the more you find nuances and then you try them out at the table [read]," adds Oteri. "And then you look up and they're laughing, then you know that they like it so you can bring stuff to the character that's a little bit so well developed. So I just go off on her, exaggerating and just being so harsh."
Kroll however has a more unique take. "My character is bisexual, it's based on Mitch Hurwitz," he quips as the man himself passes by once again. "And he didn't hear that so we're going to let that one go... In 'Life & Times of Tim' I play Stu, who's basically my voice, a very close version of me. He's a more pathetic version of me whereas Andrew is this very large, larger than life bisexual character, which is me just at night... I'm still in the closet, so it's not based on that. I guess when I come out I could say that Andrew is based partly on me but I'm still very much in the closet. You got me, Henry Winkler and I are dating pretty seriously right now, that's what I want to talk about is, what I want out there is there's a pretty steamy love affair between me and Henry Winkler. And that it's an issue for us professionally."
Not surprisingly, everyone is equally enthusiastic about the much-discussed "Arrested Development" movie. "I have to write the script," Hurwitz says about its status. "Unless I can just repurpose maybe some old movie, you know? [Laughs.] It's not a bad idea. Just see if anybody catches us."
He's not tired about being asked about it either: "I think it's so unbelievably flattering, I can't even tell you. Because when we did the show we were completely in a vacuum. We never got an audience reaction. I used to go on vacation, I would wear my little 'Arrested Development' hat hoping somebody would say, 'Oh, I know that show!' Nope, never, never once. It really is like a... you know, a fight every day making that show because it wasn't getting numbers, nobody knew quite what the problem was so there were a lot of notes. We really just kind of all stuck it out and said, 'Let's just do the highest quality thing or just the funniest thing we can do.' And so it's just very, very touching to me. Like when young people are enthusiastic about it, it's really a great feeling. And then you immediately jump to, 'Oh, it's too much pressure. They're going to be horribly disappointed in the movie.' Oh well, that's part of their learning experience too."
Check out "Sit Down, Shut Up" when it premieres this Sunday at 8:30/7:30c after "The Simpsons." As for the "Arrested Development" movie, we'll just have to keep on asking.