"Keep it weird," is one of the rules producer Aaron Horvath uses to create the comedy flowing at Teen Titans Go! central. If you've caught any of the first 18 episodes that have aired on the Cartoon Network on Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings, then you'll know just how far that mantra can go. From the Wonder Twins appearing to Robin helping the bad guy get away, anything can go in this version of Teen Titans. Well that isn't exactly true.
"There are a couple of episodes where we had a few regrets," Horvath divulged. "We tend to kill the characters a lot, which most of the time they're okay with, but there were a few deaths where we had to pull back a bit."
Teen Titans Go! was originally conceived as a premise-driven show, but because of the schedule and the pipelines, looser scripts were required. So when the script simply says, "Titans Dance" It's up to the individual director or storyboard artists to drive the show to those specifically strange places, like Robin breakdancing. That partially explains the origins of the oddity, other times it's just the time of day.
"Many stories this season draw from having the story meetings scheduled around lunchtime, which has served for a great deal of inspiration for the episodes."Horvath revealed. "I get very hungry around that time and that's why there's preponderance of food jokes on the show. We've had sandwiches, burritos, and we're in a good taco place towards the end of the season."
Any chance for desserts? "I'm not a fan of the desserts," Horvath said jokingly. "It's kind of an extravagance. The Teen Titans are about just focusing on the meal."
The show's lack of structure and spastic format has left many fans either laughing, puzzled, irked, or split on whether to embrace it. Horvath has been monitoring the response online and was frustrated at first, "Before it came out, I was super sad, [Laughs] because I thought, 'why do they hate us already? Don't hate me, man.' At first it was 100% hate, maybe with the one dude was like, 'Give it a chance.' Rarely was there that guy. Then when it started airing, it was divided into people who still didn't like it and people who found it funny. Now whenever I see someone say, 'This is crap!' there's someone who defends it. So there's people who like it, who defend it and still people who don't like it. I'm just glad people are watching it, honestly."
Khary Payton, who voices Cyborg said that when the comic first started out all serious in the 1960s and there was no Beast Boy or Cyborg; a decade later it changed. "In the 2000s, with the first cartoon, we did something that was totally divergent from the comic books. It's innate to what Teen Titans is. Teenagers look at the past and say, 'screw that, we'll do our own thing!' That's the essence of the Teen Titans show, it's about changing it up, it's about pushing the boundaries. Now it's practically a Food Network show. We got a meatball episode coming up, pizza, pies and rhubarb–"
Because it is a comedy and the actors record together, all of the actors have to bring their levels up to Greg Cipes, voice of Beast Boy who was the comic relief in the original series. "It's the highlight of every week," Cipes shared. "It's Southpark meets Tiny Titans; how are they able to get that wild and crazy with it? I love having no limits. I had an idea during the original Teen Titans show that they should have a Beast Boy comedy half hour and it should only be 10 minutes. It manifested in its own way and Teen Titans Go! a personification of Beast Boy's energy." Payton feels that his increased exuberance in this version of Cyborg is an extension of himself.
Playing the leader of the team, Scott Menville had the most adjustment swinging his straight-laced Robin to the comedic spectrum. Cipes believes the writers did an amazing job flipping the character on its head and that Robin is the star of the show. "It was definitely an adjustment the first two or three episodes," Menville shared. "Finally I just jumped on board and committed. It's still coming from the same truthful place, you just get to see these different sides of him that you wouldn't normally see. He's kind of letting his guard down. He does have a trouble not going on a mission, staying home and relaxing."
There's still the hurt and pain in these characters, as well as a surprising source of laughs. For instance in the episode, "Relax" Robin is so high-strung that he struggles with staying home on a mission and relaxing. But longtime fans will know that he's never had the chance to calm down. He's been trained by Batman since being taken away from his personal tragedy. And the last time he relaxed was when he was with the circus. Robin mentions that first memory is of the circus, when his parents died. He relives that all the time and all of that has an cumulative effect on Robin but this is a comedic spin on that.
"He's still an overachiever," Menville added. "It's interesting to see him take his driver's license, or to stand in line with common people for a loaf of bread. You don't see a lot of the darkness, which the original show had a lot of, and I love the darkness. But it's great to see the brighter, more lighter stuff; I'm having a blast on this show!"
There's so much fun that Mixmaster Mike got involved with remixing the theme song, as well as songs sung by the cast on the show. Passion Pit was originally set to do the theme song but when schedules conflicted, Mixmaster Mike's name came up and there was mutual interest because the show is a remix of existing material. Horvath revealed that "He initially wanted to be credited, 'The Legendary Master Mike of the Beastie Boys,' but we didn't have room on his credit card." The hip hop legend appeared at the Titans' panel at Comic-Con, and did an impromptu scratch session at Menville's request who did an impression of the Beasties, which got everyone on the stage and audience standing up and dancing. "Beast Boy meets Beastie Boy" Cipes described the event. "How crazy is that?"
"Initially I was nervous about because I know how voracious the fans were," said Tara Strong, voice of Raven. "As was I, but it's so good, and so funny that you have to like it even if you don't want to like it. We were all devastated as much as the fans were, so to get another opportunity to be together is extraordinary. I've had a lot of fun with Raven in all of these boring situations, she's such a departure from any character I voice, she's so interesting and dark." Strong notes that the three-to-four-hour recording sessions every Friday morning are crazier than ever. "We all make out a lot more and have this thing called Fondle Friday, which fans will know what that is if they follow me on Twitter. We all just love each other."
As a voice actor, Menville is excited for the episode, "Puppets, What?" where he would only tease that he gets to do things that would be fun as a voice actor. "There's also lots of characters coming back that were used in the original Teen Titans cartoon, voiced by the same people. I just can't say who." Payton, Cipes, and Strong all agree that their favorite episodes have yet to air, and involve some, if not all of them singing or improving a tune in the session whether it's ultimately used or not.
"I'm glad to see some people turned around on it," Horvath explained. "It's really tough, we did a complete reset on a beloved universe and that's a tough thing, especially for those people with unanswered questions from the old series and they want to know what happened. That's not the story we were tasked with telling. It was a difficult thing for us to do, but we're having a lot of fun doing it and it's showing. I'm glad with people are starting to respond to it."
New episodes of Teen Titans Go! airs on the Cartoon Network Tuesday nights at 7:30pm with replays on Wednesday mornings at 10am and Saturday mornings at 10:30am.