Earth gets rebooted after a foiled alien attack leads to a second chance for humanity — if new President Matty Mulligan (Nat Faxon) can get out of his own way on Netflix’s new adult animated comedy, “Mulligan.” It’s from the creative minds behind “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “30 Rock” — co-showrunners Robert Carlock and Sam Means and executive producer Tina Fey — who are well-versed in strange second chances and unpredictable relationships.
“Mulligan” concerns a group of rag-tag survivors, including Mulligan (Nat Faxon), a dopey everyman from Boston; beauty queen Lucy (Chrissy Teigen), who has a mid-invasion fling with Matty and becomes First Lady; conniving Vice President Cartwright Lamarr (Dana Carvey); historian Simon Prioleu (Sam Richardson); military super scientist Dr. Farrah Braun (Fey); and imprisoned alien general Axatrax (Phil Lamarr).
The mission statement was: Everything gets destroyed, but humanity has a chance to learn from the mistakes of the past. “So it ends up being fun to watch these characters struggle against the old systems to make something new,” supervising director Colin Heck (“Harley Quinn”) told IndieWire. “And, ultimately, I think it’s just whatever was funniest wins.”
The challenge was translating the dynamic live-action sitcom vision of Carlock, Means, and Fey into 2D animation (handled by half a dozen studios, but principally Bento Box Atlanta). There’s a lot going on with this eclectic ensemble and it moves quickly. There are even breaks for musical numbers by Jeff Richmond, such as the hilarious torch song from “X-Men: The Musical,” in which an imprisoned Magneto in a glass chamber proclaims his unrequited love for Professor X.
“This is a heavy premise for a show… it’s the apocalypse,” Heck said. “And there’s a lot of moving parts. The thing we spent a lot of energy on was trying to make it feel like one of their shows, and that’s not easy in animation.”
Heck’s first task was to streamline the look of the character design. “Robert and Sam wanted to get everything they could on the show,” he said. “And so we go to a lot of places and we’re doing flashbacks, and the look they settled on before they hired me was very realistic, and that gets complicated.
With so much juggling, there was continuity to track as well. A joke set up in the first episode is paid off in the episode 10 finale. “If there’s an episode where a monster destroys the White House, then we have to track the damage going forward,” Heck added. “There’s no construction crews, we’re not rebuilding DC yet. That was another that we had to track a lot and it was difficult. For humor, it’s great.”
Humor also came into play in terms of the difference between editing an animated series and a live-action one. “I think it was definitely an adjustment for them, but they learned they had a lot more control than they do in live-action,” Heck said. “And so a lot of our challenge was we’re using so many cuts and we’re trying to keep pace. We’d be editing and I’d ask if they want to hold for a laugh here, and they said, ‘Absolutely not. We’re going to the next joke, keep moving.’ We have to get into the groove. But we also need to maintain a level of quality in these shots and episodes.”
Humanizing the characters was a challenge, too. Matty plays the jerk throughout but still has moments of vulnerability. “We were finding the balance between turning the knife and being super funny,” Heck said. “Is this character too mean now? That was something we talked about a lot. This show has very little stasis in it — it’s all about emotion.”