Dan Harmon began playing Dungeons & Dragons with his pals as a kid. Now he’s turned a life-long affinity for role-playing games into a full-fledged TV show.
“HarmonQuest,” which premieres July 14 on Seeso, features Harmon and pals on stage as they improvise through the Pathfinder Roleplaying World, with much of their interaction and gameplay then set to animation.
Harmon told IndieWire that he was inspired by HBO’s “The Ricky Gervais Show,” which took Gervais’ podcast with Karl Pilkington and animated their conversations. “I was endlessly entertained by impromptu audio coupled with animation, with the animation bringing what was being said to life, especially when what was being said was absurd,” Harmon said.
“In TV or all things creative, it’s your job to follow your own laughter,” he added. “When I was watching that show I’d be laughing so hard my sides would hurt, which is a rare thing.”
The producer, who’s also behind Adult Swim’s animated hit “Rick and Morty,” soon discovered that fans were animating audio from his podcast anyway. “That was confirmation for me that this might work.”
Harmon pitched the idea to Universal Cable Productions before Seeso had even been created. The idea at first was to produce “HarmonQuest” on a shoestring budget strictly for online distribution. But then Evan Shapiro, who joined NBC Universal a year and a half ago as executive vice president of digital enterprises, began developing the digital comedy network and approached Harmon about spending a little more money and bringing on big-name guests.
“It’s ‘Dinner for Five,’ ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Rick and Morty’ in one big mash-up,” Shapiro said.
Harmon began playing D&D on his podcast off-the-cuff, led by Spencer Crittenden, the Dungeon Master who began as a “Harmontown” fan, but is now a part of Harmon’s inner circle. Crittenden is the driving force behind “HarmonQuest,” and even has an executive producer credit.
Crittenden wrote out the story arc for the entire 10-episode season and steers the show’s improvised narrative.
“I made sure he didn’t get paid a penny less than I did because all I’m doing is showing up and playing,” Harmon said. “He has to write all those things, and then sit on camera and improvise. As time went on I loosened my grip with editing [the show] and let him step into the role.”
Joining Crittenden and Harmon were “HarmonQuest” regulars Jeff B. Davis and Erin McGathy (who also happens to be Harmon’s ex-wife).
Tapings of the show usually take an hour, which is then edited into a half-hour format. That’s when about 75 percent of it is animated. Guests for Season 1 include Paul F. Tompkins, Chelsea Peretti, Steve Agee, Ron Funches, Aubrey Plaza, John Hodgman, Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, Rhea Butcher, Matt Gourley and Nathan Fillion.
While D&D became a part of “Harmontown,” his life-long love of the role-playing games also inspired several memorable “Community” episodes.
“One of the funniest things to me about D&D growing up, while your parents thought you were doing some satanic thing, the truth of it is more awkward and funny,” Harmon said. “You might have a 20-minute argument about who’s going to get a door open, which reminds me a lot of ‘Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.'”
Here’s a first look at Plaza’s episode: