Robot Chicken returns to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim for its 10th season–and the stop-motion show’s 200th episode in its season finale–Sunday, September 29th at 12am and 12:15am (ET/PT). I recently had a chance to chat with co-creator Seth Green about the upcoming season, which we featured in the latest episode of our animation podcast, Saturday Mourning Cartoons. Robot Chicken is created and executive produced by Green and Matthew Senreich, and their Stoopid Buddy Stoodios partners John Harvatine IV and Eric Towner also serve as executive producers. Green and Senreich also write, voice and, with Tom Sheppard, direct the award-winning series.
But Green talked about much more than the stop-motion sensation. He also offered updates on Star Wars: Detours, what’s up with SuperMansion, his in-the-works Hulu series Crossing Swords, and insight into his live-action feature directorial debut in Changeland. You can find all of that and much, much more below:
It’s been a little while since we’ve seen a new episode so you know what have you and the team been up to since last we saw the show on TV?
Green: Gosh, a lot. It takes us a long time to make a season and so we’ve been working on it for quite some time. We started last year writing the new season and we’re just finishing up the post on our 200th episode. And we’ve been writing some other stuff out. There’s a special we’re putting together that I don’t think has been announced yet.
How has it been kind of managing pre-production and your schedule when you guys maybe don’t know during the course of a season if you’re going to get a chance to do another one?
Green: I don’t really think about it to tell you the truth. The schedule is usually exactly what we have in front of us and with each season it’s a 20 episode commitment, and so we’ll just manage that schedule as efficiently as we can. But we really focus on making each episode making each season good. So that’s what we concentrate on.
What would you say is your favorite part of pre-production before you get a chance to get in there and literally get your hands on the materials?
Green: I do enjoy writing, especially when we get new writers in the room or we get people returning. Just seeing where everybody has been thinking, or what in pop culture has stuck to them, or what questions about the pop they watched when they were kids. Like what has raised questions for them. We love getting all of that creativity percolating, you know? And then once we’ve got those ideas written up into sketches, it becomes about how to produce them.
Do you have any new writers or any new talent that came on board for this season that you were particularly impressed with?
Green: Every season we have returning cast that does … if we’ve established a specific character, then some people come back for that. Like if we have a Bitch Pudding sketch, we’ll bring Katee Sackhoff back for that. But then we also try and get anybody that we’ve never worked with or anybody that’s interested in doing the show, an opportunity to do something fun.
For returning voice actors that get to come back and do a character, do they ever get any kind of input? Or do they just trust you guys and just go with what’s on the page?
Green: I guess it just depends. When you have an actor like Breckin Meyer or Katee Sackhoff, and especially with a character that they’ve helped originate, then we always allow for a bit of improvisation. It’s one of the things I like the most about the format. Is we can let an actor play around in the booth if there’s something to expand on, or an idea that they have, or a voice they wanted to explore. We love to get people a chance to do that. But sometimes the jokes are so specifically written that they really just need to be well executed, you know?
Getting into Season 10 a little bit, first of all, congratulations for surviving another season.
I guess I can kind of say the same for The Nerd, even though he’s had a rough go between the seasons. Can you talk about crafting this new intro for this season and coming up with a framing story that kind of … we’re going to get into some spoiler territory, but it swaps with The Nerd and for the original Robot Chicken.
Green: Yeah. We always like expanding the mythology of the show, or sort of implying a behind the scenes of the show. There’s a quasi-reality to the cast putting on a play every week, you know? And so even though there is a context within the show itself, we like to wink a little bit that they’re performing something. I always loved the original Muppets show and the way they would have the things on stage. And that was the show that the audience saw. But then you were also given access to the behind the scenes of it. And we never really get too deep into the behind the scenes production except as a like a behind the scenes feature. But having the characters imply that they’re performing is just funny to me.
And so we ended last season with The Nerd exploding and being unceremoniously buried, or at least having all of his parts buried. So we didn’t want to just snap our fingers and bring everybody back to life. And it also gave us a new opportunity to do a new opening. And so that’s really where that came from was okay, well we’ve got the … when last we saw The Nerd, he was blown into pieces and buried underground and how better to revive him than by the scientist’s hand.
And it also gave you guys an opportunity to put a Robot Chicken spin on one of my all time favorite scenes from cinematic history, which is Frankenstein’s monster throwing the little girl into a pond, which always makes me laugh, whether it should or not.
Green: Right. Probably not the most appropriate laugh, but it’s easy to manipulate for comedy.
Exactly, and I mean, that’s kind of a Robot Chicken brand right there, too, is when you laugh but then also feel bad for laughing or the same time.
Green: Yeah, I have that realization that a lot of times we just wind up killing our most beloved characters, whether it’s pop characters that we grew up with or whether it’s original characters. There’s something about laughing at death or creating some resurrection opportunity, that is always interesting to me.
Now, speaking about the scientist really quickly, who kind of literally put The Nerd back together and brought him to life, am I crazy or was there a Rick Sanchez nod or reference in there?
Green: We make a joke about Rick Sanchez being incredibly similar physically to our scientist. But the original genesis of the scientist, was both anime inspired and also a little bit of Doc Brown, like he’s got a bit of Einstein in him. We love the idea of an amalgam of all these popular or famous scientists.
And I love that because the theory that this unnamed scientist was a Rick from one of the many Ricks that are out there, that has been on the internet for five or six years now. With this new season, maybe that’s going to rekindle that idea and people are going to make that logical leap of asking if Morty is somehow the Robot Chicken.
Green: Oh, that’s funny. I guess you’d have to ask Justin if he took any inspiration from our show for either of those characters, but I think it’s just sort of a happy coincidence. And then from my perspective, it’s just funny the more any of these universes feel shared, I think the more satisfying it is to fans.
This season features a great combination of plays on nostalgia and a parody of current events, current shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, and then obviously Trump, who’s an easy target commentary. Because of how long it takes to animate your show, how sparing are you with current events and contemporary stuff?
Green: We really stay away from anything that feels of the moment, but we try to predict what is going to stick, you know? What people are going to remember two years later, five years later. We like the idea that we’re an aggregator of nostalgia and therefore sort of share that secret conversation that fans are having about pop itself. That was the thing that we found the very first season that we brought to San Diego Comic Con was all this stuff that we thought was exclusive to our water cooler conversations, was actually widely discussed. And so it gave us an odd sense of community that thousands, if not millions of people were influenced by the same pop culture and had similar questions about the inherent ironies or silliness of it. And so we come from that place, like what has broken through so completely that people are still going to recognize this icon years later? Or what kind of joke is still going to be relevant even if the thing itself isn’t as popular anymore?
And that usually comes down to how much time we spend on any given sketch. If we’ve got something that we know is an easy memory, like Infinity War and we can spend, 30 seconds to a minute. Or if we’ve got a real sketch that’s deconstructive, even two minutes on that single thing. But if it’s something that one person is going to remember or two people, then we’re typically not too indulgent. And then there’s also exemptions of that, where it’s like the Stone Protectors, we just find that very funny. We just find them very funny and so we’ll play on stuff that is visually or comedically interesting even if no one knows what we’re talking about. If something can play, even if you don’t know the base reference of it, then then that’s a really good joke. And that’s where we’ll spend extra time on something that people don’t know about.
Well you made at least one viewer out there very happy to see that, so I hope that helps.
Green: We keep bringing the Stone Protectors, back and we’re starting to evolve our own internal mythology about them. And I don’t know if anyone else is finding this funny besides you and me, but we still find it very funny.
I feel like once you have to track down those old figures, which can’t be easy, but once you have them, you’re like, “Well, we kind of need to use them.”
Green: Well, and just also the idea of this troll band that has special space powers, there’s something so ridiculous about it that their own mythology is so dumb. We just like following the thread of it. As all of these older bands that are fighting the gravity of obscurity are going back out on the road and trying to reestablish themselves. Where did the Stone Protectors fit in? Are they equally as enthusiastic about trying to get on one of these festival tours?
I love that you guys have put more thought into Stone Protectors lore than the original creators of the toys ever did, which is great.
Green: Clearly, yeah. If you’ve read the actual existing mythology, The Stone Protectors, you can tell that we’ve put way more thought into it.
Speaking of fun and nostalgia and things that remind me of my childhood, I was very pleased to hear Mark Hamill as the Joker, this season. Are there any other guest stars including Hamill that you’re particularly proud of in Season 10?
Green: We had Susan Sarandon on this year. It was awesome. And D’Arcy Carden, who I just I think is so funny and talented. Let’s see, Anna Camp did something, and Ross Marquand.
Is that something that you guys go out to a specific person for a specific character, or do they come to you and ask if you have anything, if they’d like to get involved? How does that usually work?
Green: It’s a little bit of both. If we’ve got a specific character that someone originated that they’re not currently playing then we’ll usually go after them. But then there’s also situations where we’re going to do a Deadpool sketch, and somebody like Ryan Reynolds can’t legally perform that outside of Fox, and so it’s almost better in that instance, to get a parody interpretation. Or we had Chris Pine on this season and he did a Venom sketch. So he’s doing a Tom Hardy impersonation and it’s almost funnier than getting actual Tom Hardy to do it.
And Pine you’ve worked with for SuperMansion, too. He’s incredible and I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit for his performance because he disappears into these roles.
Green: I agree. I think he’s just brilliant. We met him maybe in the seventh season. He came in to do a Star Trek gag, and he was just so good in the booth, and so versatile and I didn’t even know he could sing at the time. And he just had a lot of great ideas and was really game to be silly, which is my favorite kind of performer. Someone who is both able to do impressive dramatic work but also fearlessly silly. I love to bring him in anytime we can. He got nominated for an Emmy for his SuperMansion work one year.
Oh, that’s crazy, but well deserved.
Green: Yeah, I agree. And then I had that great conversation with one of the governors where they were like, “I just couldn’t even believe it.” And you’re almost mad at him for being so handsome and talented at the same time.
It’s really not fair, is it? The rest of us poor schlubs, will have to just eke it out as best we can.
Green: Well, he should have some weaknesses, but I also, because I’ve spent my life, never in competition with leading men, but more in like an ensemble or supporting capacity. I usually just, I delight in other people’s abilities, and I look for our opportunities to collaborate, rather than feeling some sort of envy or like I should be doing that.
I feel like the recording booth gives you some of that freedom, lets you relax a little bit and just be silly and explore and play. Has that been your experience at all?
Green: I definitely feel like as a voiceover performer you get the opportunity to play roles that you can’t physically play. And that’s something that I offered to anybody, whether it’s Chris Pine or Scarlett Johansson, there are things that actors can physically play, and that usually limits the types of things that we cast in. And what we like to offer on this show is that chance to do something totally different. Something that is only defined by your voice and your versatility of performance. And I enjoy the same thing. I love getting … like you’re not going to cast me as somebody’s grandma, but I can play a funny grandma on our show.
Robot Chicken remains one of the very few examples today of parodies, and we don’t really have to do those today.
Green: Yeah, it’s us, and SNL and then the internet, you know? That’s really the truth is that the internet is, it’s both a blessing and a curse that there are so many people able to have an immediate response to pop culture or create a parody. And obviously, we’ve got a slightly better budget than the average person in Minnesota making something in their backyard. But it is exciting to see how many people are creative out there. But as far as parody goes, we try to have an original point of view, or we try and do something where say something that you’re not going to hear on SNL, and you’re not going to see on YouTube.
And with politics, that’s never really felt like our lane. We don’t want to make the same kind of jokes that John Oliver or Trevor Noah are going to make. We’re not, I don’t think people look to us to be politically dissective. We like the silliness of it. That’s why we have Trump talking about the purge, you know? We’re not trying to take Trump down a peg for things he’s actually doing. It’s just clear his persona is ripe for parody. So that’s where we’ll live.
Since Robot Chicken has been on the air well over 10 years now, have you seen kind of a shift in how people respond to your kind of humor? It feels like lately there’s just more of that knee-jerk reactionary response rather than any kind of like thoughtful appreciation or taking a breath to understand what the content is. What’s your perspective on that?
Green: I do think that culture has become very quick to make a pronouncement about some things offense, or I do see people taking offense on behalf of other people that are not necessarily them. And so there’s a lot of implied offense or critique. But for the most part, we don’t make those kinds of jokes, you know? We really don’t come from a mean spirited place when we’re making jokes. And even though comedy has evolved over the last 10 years and the audience is both more bold and more sensitive at the same time. We just try and make stuff that makes us laugh, and that tends to be our safest space.
Robot Chicken is known for poking fun at pop culture. I also love that you guys are one of the few who actually kind of take aim at Star Wars every once in a while, and it comes from a loving place, obviously. Do you have any updates on the state of Star Wars: Detours? Is there anything you can talk about, or is it still kind of status quo from where it’s been for the last few years?
Green: It’s still pretty status quo. My understanding is that the Lucasfilm plan is rooted in new movies and expansive television for the Disney+ platform. And it doesn’t seem right now that they’re pursuing this kind of comedy. It’s a tough thing because the show was created before the sale to Disney, before the plan to make new movies, before the plan to develop a theme park environment, before the concept of a subscriptions streaming service that housed several offshoots, including an Obi Wan show or a Mandalorian show. It’s like all of that came post us making these 40 episodes. And so I guess I really don’t know. I think there would have to be such a clear and vocal fan demand to make anybody want to shift their plan. Because right now it doesn’t seem like the company plan includes this kind of deconstructive comedy coexisting with these sincere interpretations of the characters.
Well, I imagine if it’s just a Robot Chicken special, it lives in a slightly different world than something that was produced by Lucasfilm and created by George Lucas. It’s a little easier for the company to have external parodies than it is for them to present their own characters in a deconstructive way.
On that note, are there any brands or titles that are completely off the table for you guys?
Green: Well, we don’t have any sacred cows, if that’s what you mean. There’s stuff that … like we’re not trying to take personal digs that individual people. And again, we really only chase what makes us laugh. And so as something feels mean spirited, or if somebody’s having a sour moment, we don’t really try to go after them like that. But no, there’s nothing that’s like off the table. If there’s a great joke that isn’t just shitting on somebody for the sake of shitting on them, we’ll usually make it.
I was just wondering if maybe there was an end-around with what you’ve done with Star Wars: Detours, if there’s any kind of like Spaceballs expanded universe possibly in the future. I don’t know.
Green: Yeah. Well the trick about something like Detours, is not actually a parody. It really was conceived to be a Simpsons-style narrative within the Star Wars universe. And so all of the characters are just different interpretations of the characters. So it’s not the same as taking something that everyone’s aware of and sort of twisting it and offering it from a different perspective. But we don’t have a plan to make a Spaceballs type project. All of the other stuff that we’re considering as a company, the other kind of projects that we’re developing, we’re less focused on parody things and more focused on original ideas.
You’ve got Season 10 coming up, featuring your 200th episode, so congratulations on that. You said you’re finishing up production on that, is that correct?
Green: Yeah, we still have another couple months, but we’re powering it out.
What can you tease about the behind-the-scenes discussions that led to that?
Green: We write the show in block cycles. So we’ll write four to five episodes at a time with a group of writers and then we’ll get a different group of writers to write another four or five episodes. And that that’s how we produce the show. We block produce it, multiples at a time. And so each of those cycles, we sit with the writers and we ask for what their original ideas are, and try and get everybody creatively thinking about the pop that has influenced them, or the stuff that they want to talk about. And we’ll push them in different directions if we’ve got some areas or properties that we want them to explore, stuff that we know is going to be a big deal and we want them to make jokes about that.
And then with the 200th episode because it’s also the end of the season, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to do something more in line with our 100th episode that featured, a little bit of extra mythology with the chicken escaping from the scientists’ layer. And then having to fight his way through the scientist’s castle past all of the stars of previous seasons to rescue his beloved that the scientists had entrapped.
I can give a hint of something without actually talking in detail about it. But so to that end, we wanted to make something that was unique, something that was bigger and different than us just getting canceled. We wanted to do something that felt this fitting of this milestone. And so I’m really excited about the episode. I’m really happy with the narrative that we constructed with the shape of it with the guest stars that we got. And especially how it ends.
Was the 200th episode, was that maybe a bigger production push? Did you have to divert kind of any more resources towards any special things you wanted to do?
Green: Nah, it just doesn’t work that way. We don’t get any extra allocation for anything. It was really just in the construction of it. Just in the writing of it. We still have to adhere to the same limitation of the budget, but that’s something that I think we’re good at is stretching our dollars to be able to achieve, stylistically or aesthetically what something that’s worth its while.
You’ve mentioned that you’re also working on a special; is there anything you can tease about that as far as theme, when fans should keep an eye out for it?
Green: I think I can and it won’t be until next year.
So we can look for that in 2020?
Green: Yeah, we’ll make some kind of announcement, I’m sure about what it is. But it’s good. We just finished writing it, and so I’m pretty excited and it’s a pretty big brand, and I don’t think anyone’s expecting us to do this.
So it’s going to be kind of in the vein of like The Walking Dead special, where it’s a separate entity from Robot Chicken for the most part.
Green: Yeah. Yeah, it’s its own half hour that we’re working with the parent company to make, and it’ll be really fun. Is that vague enough?
It’s vague enough for the lawyers. When it comes to Robot Chicken and having to go through this seasonal production, do you and the team have any kind of endgame in mind, or are you happy to just kind of continue the ride as long as you’re able to?
Green: We love making the show and it’s always … As long as pop continues to exist, and as long as we’re always able to employ younger writers and get their perspective on the pop that influenced them, I think we’ve got a shot at continuing to make this thing. My partner Matt Senreich had said at one point that he started to see our show as like an animated SNL. As a a parody spot and a comedy stop for fans of all ages. And to that end, our hope is to continue it into perpetuity. I think we’d make it as long as they let us. And we have a great relationship with Adult Swim and there’s certain finite realities to what it costs to make, and how much money it can make. And balancing that out. But we really enjoy it and we love the fan response. It’s such a privilege to be allowed to entertain people. And so we’ll do it as long as you can.
I would personally love to be talking with you about the premiere of Season 75, but I don’t know if I’ll live that long.
Green: Me neither man. It’s been near 15 years of making it at this point. I’ve never had a job that lasted this long, so. Well, I guess Family Guy, but we had gaps, gaps in production. And I’m only responsible for my performance. It’s a lot. It’s a much easier job.
What’s up next for you?
Green: Well, I got to direct a movie called Changeland, which is coming out on, I think it’s out on DVD this week. That was a really exciting and new experience. I got to make a very independent film with a bunch of friends of mine and I’m really happy with it. It is probably a departure from what anybody expects of me. But that was really the fun of it was tackling a new challenge. It’s less comedic than Robot Chicken. But it’s an adventure story about friendship and relationships, and growing up and all the things that you faced along the way.
Fantastic. And for our animation fans out there, is there more SuperMansion on the way? I remember something about the Sony/Crackle shift and wasn’t sure where SuperMansion landed with all of that.
Green: We’re in the middle of exploring those options. There are a couple of options and we’re hopeful that we’ll make a new season of it at some point. And then, I think it’s been announced, but we’re making an animated show for Hulu, Crossing Swords, a stop-motion show that’s kind of like a Game of Thrones, but acted out with incredibly rudimentary children’s toy characters. And so it’s hyper-sexualized and violent, but it also looks aesthetically unique and almost like a kid’s property. But that’s not coming out till next year either.
Robot Chicken Season 10 arrives on Adult Swim this Sunday, September 29th at midnight. Keep an eye out for more on SuperMansion, Star Wars: Detours, and Crossing Swords!