‘Our Cartoon President’ Showrunner R.J. Fried on Season 2 and New Political Players

     May 10, 2019

our-cartoon-president-season-2-interview-rj-friedThe Season 2 premiere of Showtime’s animated satire series Our Cartoon President is just around the corner, arriving on Sunday, May 12th at 8 p.m. ET/PT. This season, which continues the hilarious fictional exploits of not-so-hilarious real-life members of the Trump administration and other political players, consists of 10 half-hour episodes and will feature newcomers Tim Robinson (Detroiters, Saturday Night Live) as Justice Brett Kavanaugh; Ziwe Fumudoh (Desus & Mero) as Kamala Harris; and comedians Matt Rogers as Bill Shine and Alise Morales as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In anticipation of this weekend’s premiere, I had a chance to chat with showrunner R.J. Fried about Season 2. We talked about the strange reality of getting a Season 2 renewal but also witnessing the continuing circus in the White House, the show’s coverage of not just the Trump family but of the power players in Washington D.C., new characters and cast members who will be joining the show this season, getting to satirize the Democrats, and the possibilities of a Season 3. There’s a lot coming to the show this year and Fried shows why he’s the right person to oversee the whole thing, as evidenced by his answers in this candid conversation.

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Image via Showtime

I had a chance to chat with animator Tim Luecke about a year ago, so I’ll ask you a similar question: Are you excited to get a second season or are you ready for this long national nightmare to be over?

R.J. Fried: Oh, we’re super ready for this nightmare to be over. That said, I trust Washington’s ability to attract future bad-faith actors worthy of animated parody. We thought it couldn’t get worse than Bush-Cheney and here we are. By the way, real life Donald Trump Jr. says he’s not ruling out a run for president.

What can you tell us about the new yet familiar faces we’ll be meeting in Season 2?

Fried: The biggest change in season two is we evolve beyond a satire of the Trump family to a satire of Washington. You’ll meet the new cabinet members, but also the freshman Democratic candidates, the spritely Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, drunk Brett Kavanaugh, weird billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, and maybe my new favorite character, crack addict-turned-Trump friend My Pillow Guy Mike Lindell.

What was your casting process like to find the right voices and performances for the big personalities you’re adding this season?

Fried: We cast a few performers this season we’re so excited about. For Justice Brett Kavanaugh, we all really wanted Tim Robinson, who’s one of the funniest people out there right now. We got him and his take is so friggin’ funny. For Senator Lindsey Graham, the first performer we thought of was Jack McBrayer and he came through with a fantastic take. Then, of course, Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness plays himself in the first episode — he is so much larger than life.

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Image via Showtime

But I should mention: we’ll have these big casting calls and, 95% of the time, the funniest, most grounded takes come from someone already on the cast — Jeff Bergman, James Adomian, Emily Lynne, Thomas Whittington, William Sadler, the list goes on. Some performers just ‘get it’ and can easily adapt to other characters.

What were some big lessons from the first season that have made production on Season 2 a little easier on your team?

Fried: So many. Because this type of animation — topical animation that looks like traditional animation — has never been done before, we had to engineer a production pipeline that’s never been done before. That’s true for every television show — all have their own unique pipeline that, each season, hopefully, becomes more and more efficient. Saturday Night Live’s pipeline, for example, is incredibly specific to that environment, has been perfected over decades, and would never apply to any other show. Same goes with “Our Cartoon President”.  Co-creator and lead animator Tim Luecke and his team have done such an incredible job refining this innovative pipeline so that season two is far more efficient than season one, and season three will be even more so. Oddly enough, a highly mathematical process creates this artistic product.

What are the biggest challenges you face in Season 2?

Fried: People are surprised to hear this, but Donald Trump is *really* hard to write for. Here is a guy who is causing a lot of pain to a lot of people and you have to really think through what you’re saying about him, if the satire is sharp enough. Jokes that were okay in season one feel toothless now — especially after Charlottesville and forced family separation — so we’ve made sharp adjustments in season two. The hardest part is being funny in a way that rises to the level of seriousness of the issues.

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Image via Showtime

Are there any politicians or personalities out there that you’d like to have on the show, but maybe you just don’t have room for them yet?

Fried: We were obsessed with including former Starbucks CEO and current presidential candidate Howard Schultz — it’s just so funny how he doesn’t understand why he’s not already president — and couldn’t find a place for him, but then finally, in the last episode, we found a spot for him. One of his lines is: “Americans are readier than ever to get behind something that sucks. They’re ready for Howard Schultz.”

Who do you think will be the first character, new or returning, whose assets you’ll have to “retire” due to Trump firing a cabinet member or them falling out of the zeitgeist?

Fried: Trump’s really pruned his tree and now finds himself almost entirely surrounded by human shrugs (Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney), rich men in on the grift (Wilbur Ross), true believers (Stephen Miller), and then there’s Kellyanne Conway, who’s an incredibly adept administration survivor. Unfortunately, I think we’re stuck with them for the foreseeable future.

2020 promises to be an absolute circus, politically speaking. Can you talk about how Season 2 will act as a sort of Round 1 for the eventual run-up to the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election?

Fried: It’s been really fun to write the Democratic presidential candidates, whose flaws are way more forgivable than Trump’s. There’s a lot to work with there. Rumored presidential candidate Mayor Bill DeBlasio once said he’s “not a morning person.” So he can’t be president. Senator Cory Booker’s campaign is so sweaty. In one episode, Schumer tells Booker: “Cory, you know when someone wants something so bad so that’s the only reason you don’t give it to them?”

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Image via Showtime

Are you prepared for Season 3 to tackle the elections in earnest?

Fried: American politics is a constant campaign so no season will not have elections in the air. That said, this presidential election, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Trump — since the Department of Justice refuses to indict a sitting president, if he’s re-elected, he’ll likely outlast the statute of limitations on any criminal activity. So he’s running to stay out of prison.

Any future Election Specials or other specials planned at the moment?

Fried: Yes! We have an extended episode later in the season called “Save the Right” featuring Donald Trump and Ben Shapiro leading a civil rights movement for conservatives. One of our story editors, Gabriel Gundacker of “Zendaya is Meechee” fame, wrote an amazing song featuring Tony Award-winner James Monroe Iglehart. It just floored me when I first heard it. I cannot wait for people to see that episode.

Our Cartoon President returns to Showtime for Season 2 on Sunday, May 12th at 8pm ET/PT.

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