Animated Shorts: Inside Fox's Sit Down, Shut Up

Animated Shorts: Sit Down, Shut Up

The Cast of Sit Down, Shut Up

Starting Sunday, the 19th, Fox will be shaking up its Sunday Animation Domination block with a new show. Created by Arrested Development’s Mitchell Hurwitz and Two and A Half Men’s Kim & Eric Tannenbaum. It will actually be show run by The Simpsons’ Josh Weinstein. Entitled Sit Down, Shut Up!, it’s based on a short-lived comedy that originally aired in Australia.

Besides completely replacing the cast, the other key difference between the Oz original and the Yank retcon is the original was completely live action. Hurwitz’s new incarnation swipes an old Max Fleischer/Ralph Bakshi technique of using photos for backdrops and animating the characters. Hurwitz did it for more than having to purchase elaborate sets.

“Why did we decide it? Oh, money,” Hurwitz starts humorously at a recent press conference. “Not that we are worried about the state of broadcast television. We are feeling good about that. I think we felt like it was actually it was a very daft kind of original show. The show was very broad. There was a character that grew breasts in their pilot that we used a part of as well. We tried a couple of different ways of rewriting it to be contemporary. It did occur to us that it might be the answer to what else can you program as an animated show that isn't a family, which is obviously what's been so successful in animation.”

One thing Hurwitz and company did keep though was the main subject, which is about a group of ne’er-do-well high school teachers and their associates.

“We thought, maybe the idea of teachers would appeal to that same audience,” he continued. “It's something kids can enjoy. It's something adults can enjoy. It's something we are all familiar with. So I don't know. It just seemed like a natural. I will say, with Arrested Development, we did try to do a lot of kind of multimedia things, and it's very challenging to do that in live action, and it's much more liberating and fun to do it in animation. So along with Josh Weinstein, who ran The Simpsons for many years, it just feels like a good fit.”

As for those live action backdrops?

“We are using these live-action backdrops and animated characters in front of them, and in a way, our writing staff kind of reflects that as well,” says Hurwitz “We are kind of half people who have done live action and half people who have done animation. So it is kind of, hopefully, a mix of sensibilities.”

“It's a crazy combination,” adds Weinstein. “We've seen very small snippets of the combination of live-action background, animation that's really cool. It really hangs together. We are also the only animated show, I think, in history to have a location manager where we actually send animators. There are animators right now in Oxnard photographing the beach just to do live sets.”

“You do stop noticing it after a while,” continues Hurwitz, “and it allows us to do those kind of dull, oppressive school backdrops, and it becomes interesting as opposed to just looking like gray walls. I mean, you get to see the detail there.”

Countering these intentionally dreary backdrops is a wide cast that includes:

• Will Arnett as Ennis Hofftard – Probably the only capable teacher in the school.

• Jason Bateman as gym teacher Larry Littlejunk – Suffers from a serious superiority issue.

• Kristin Chenoweth as science teacher Miracle Grohe – Trying to resolve creationism with the big bang isn’t enough for her. The best name she could come up for her baby is “Baby.”

• Will Forte as V. Principal Stuart Prozackian – Loves his job because he loves raiding the students’ lockers. Why? The lockers keep this character very happy.

• Tom Kenny as janitor Mr. Happy – Who’s anything but. Kenny also voices about 20 others on the show.

• Nick Kroll the Drama teacher Andrew Legustambos – His name means ‘he likes both.’ Leave it at that.

• Cheri Oteri as librarian Helen Klench – A woman with serious issues, such as Google is a sign of the apocalypse. She’s also mistaken for stiff-faced cleaning instruments like brooms or toilet brushes.

• Kenan Thompson as teacher Sue Sezno and Henry Winkler as Willard Deutchbag – Look at both their last names. ‘Nuff said.

“There are little sprinklings of students throughout it,” says Hurwitz, “but part of the initial concept was to kind of be a little like the opposite of Peanuts where they are indifferent to the students. So we as an audience are somewhat indifferent to the students. They are really pretty self-absorbed.”

They are also not the most “likeable” members of the profession, either.

“It's a funny word, ‘unlikable,’” says Hurwitz. “If you were to look at the characters on Seinfeld. You would say Julia Louis-Dreyfus was unlikable, and yet she was the most likable person on TV in a way. I could simplify it and say unlikable and do the same thing with this, but hopefully it's human. It's flawed.”

“Like Helen and Andrew,” adds Weinstein, “appearing with them is a perfect example because they're both really flawed and you could say despicable, but they have each other, and there's a huge amount of honesty between them.”

As for working in animation? Hurwitz and his fellow live action compadres are finding things they both like and dislike about the process.

“It's different than I'm used to certainly,” says Hurwitz. “The production takes a year, and working with the actors takes a day. The writing is fairly similar to the kind of writing that I've been involved in where you've got a week per episode. Although I will say the other surprise is that the episode keeps coming back.”

“Yeah, that's something in animation,” Weinstein chimes. “It takes a year for an episode. So there's endless tinkering that you can do and that we do do.”

“And re-recording and that kind of thing,” continues Hurwitz. “I guess that's the surprise of animation for everybody. I saw Jack Black in Cannes for Kung Fu Panda, the best afternoon of his life. There's a giant movie that everyone's been working on for six years.

“I have to say, the voices are really exciting. This is kind of a new idea, I think, having people that are kind of known and their comic styles are known, playing these parts. If you look at the way these other shows started, the animated shows, a lot of them--we'd known Dan Castellaneta for years and that kind of--Julie Kavner, but they really weren't known quantities the way these guys are. This really was cast in a certain respect the way you would cast a live-action show.”

Now how will animation fans take to the show? We will find out starting Sunday, April 19.

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