Season 2 of Mark Little’s adult animated series finally arrives four years after the show’s debut; back from the brink with an unexpected pickup – but only six months to produce – that reversed a disappointing funding loss, the show about a burdened ‘Chosen One’ hoping to retire is now streaming on Prime Video Canada.
When crediting the success of his cult classic adult animation series Gary and His Demons, actor and producer Mark Little claims it was the combination of “one stubborn mule and as many giving partners as possible.”
“I care about the rules so much and I don’t know why,” says Little, whose series recently started streaming on Prime Video Canada. “Many ideas for the show got pitched to me and my response was, ‘No! No! That’s too complicated.’ But eventually, I’d get won over, thank God.”
In fact, Little – an award-winning member of the Halifax-based sketch comedy group Picnicface, a voice actor on shows like Ollie’s Pack and Doomlands, and writer for series like Doomsday Brothers and Cupcake & Dino – says it was the versatility that comes with marrying animation and comedy that first attracted him when Josh Bowen at Blue Ant reached out about creating an animated TV series.
“I'd always wanted to do an animated show and I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, because I had just broken my ankle, and just rattled off five quick ideas to Josh,” says Little. “One of them was about a demon hunter who was supposed to be allowed to retire, but then he can’t because the company hasn’t found a replacement.”
Little continues, “To me, it was less about the demon hunter part and was more just about feeling trapped. It was a small, silly idea that grew through the help of many others.”
First released in 2018, Gary and His Demons features an eager-to-retire Gary who has been burdened by his "Chosen One" status for 30 years, backed by a team of specialists he can't relate to. Gary, a demon hunter, struggles to keep interest in the Earth-saving duty he never asked for and doesn't want while grieving the death of his fiancé and trying desperately to distinguish orphaned children from disguised demons.
Check out the first episode of Season 1:
“Yeah, that was our first scene,” says Little, referring to the first episode of Season 1, where Gary nearly slices off the arm of an orphan boy he highly suspects is a demon. “And just from that you should know where the story is headed. Tim Gilbert was so brilliant in that scene. Actually, that was the first thing we ever did for the show. It was just Tim and me in a broom closet at the old Solace Animation Studio, nose to nose with a two-sided microphone between us while we just riffed, and Tim said a lot of sad orphan things.”
The series has made its way around the world via various networks. The first season streamed weekly on VRV in the U.S. in summer 2018, then debuted on Syfy in 2019 and aired on El Rey Network as part of the Mondo Animation Hour. In Canada, the series was streamed on CBC Gem; Comedy Central began airing it in the United Kingdom and, in Australia, Gary and His Demons was added to ABC iView and premiered on ABC Comedy. But getting to release on its first major streaming platform brings the possibility of a larger audience, which Little is thrilled to reach.
“The main thing I'm excited for, in terms of people seeing all of it, is the growth from one season to the next,” he says. “It's such a rare thing in my life to get to make a Season 2. I’m famously canceled after one season in all my endeavors, and it was really fun to be able to explore the next stage of this story. Now, we get to play with this different dimension of Gary. It's exciting, and it's fun, and I hope people like it.”
The second season, Little notes, takes a slightly more lighthearted and optimistic approach to Gary’s journey, which was somewhat influenced by the endearing fan messages received after the release of the first season.
“Through VRV, we accumulated a lot of anime fans, which was a very specific kind of fandom that I wasn't used to,” he explains. “But they’ve all been really cute and sweet, and I cherish a lot of screenshotted conversations I have with them, talking about how they are hoping for different characters to have good lives. Honestly, some of those conversations probably affected the direction of Season 2, because Season 1 was so cynical and so dark.”
Another exciting perk of adding Season 2 was Little getting the chance to work with his Doomlands friend, Josh O’Keefe, a director and art director at Look Mom! Productions. O’Keefe created Doomlands – a beer-soaked, high-octane cartoon on The Roku Channel where Little served as one of the show’s main writers – and joined the Gary and His Demons team as a director for the new season.
“I love what [Louis] Solis did with Season 1, but the thing I really love about what we were able to do with Gary and the visuals in Season 2 was breathe new life into the show to open up the world-building as well,” explains O’Keefe. “And we had a bit of a bigger team for the background designs. But we're working on the shoulders of giants, for sure.”
One of the distinguishing features of the show that has remained the same, even though the second season released four years after the first, is the use of “almost janky” line work, as O’Keefe says, with the character design. While the first season’s animation director, Solis, used Flash to capture the improvisational spirit of the show, O’Keefe had to figure out how to capture that same style using Toon Boom.
“At our studio, we use Toon Boom, which is a little bit more superior in terms of managing things and getting things done on time,” explains O’Keefe. “But I totally get working in Flash, and it was interesting to try and capture the magic that comes with that wiggly little Flash pen.”
The design of the series was intended to reflect the spontaneity of its narrative, which was a hybrid between a written script and an improved sketch. “I think lots of shows do it,” says Little, referring to the show’s improv. “We're just the only show savvy enough to brag about it.”
He continues, “It was always going to be part of the strategy and part of the approach because that's always how I've done comedy. Going back to my sketch comedy days, and then pretty much everything I've ever done since, has been writing to the best of my ability, and then leaving room for funny people to improve on it in the moment. The energy of people coming up with stuff that makes them laugh and makes each other laugh is usually pretty good.”
Unlike many animated series these days, Gary and His Demons’ voice recording sessions were done with an ensemble cast, so that the actors could feed off each other's energy in the booth.
“There's actually one part in this second season where two jokes happen right on top of each other and you can’t really hear either of them,” says Little. “So, my character has to ask, ‘Wait. What did you say?’ It’s this hiccup in the scene that’s kind of a mistake, but it also feels very true to a conversation, and is very fun in the moment.”
Season 2 continued with this method, the only post-COVID difference being that the recordings were done over group Zoom calls.
“The ensemble recordings provide this energy that really feels special, because it's live,” says O’Keefe. “It's everyone, the characters behind the mic, riffing off each other. That's the stuff that turns animation real. It's the same when you're jamming in a band in a rehearsal space. You get into the pocket with each other, and you feel it.”
Little chimes in, “Yeah, Josh is right. We're like a band. We’re definitely just as cool as that.”
So, when it came time to animate the riff battles in the recording booth with Toon Boom rather than Flash, O’Keefe’s philosophy for the design was the same as Little’s for writing – leave room for individual creativity.
“We normally have rigs set up for each character, but we had to take out all the bells and whistles to give animators just the bare essentials to force them to have to redraw stuff,” explains O’Keefe. “We also added a little bit of a wobble to our line work as well to embrace that looser hands look. If we get the opportunity to do a Season 3, I want to lean more into having lines crossover and all the imperfections that make things perfect.”
Little adds, “Season 3 is already written in my head. I already know exactly what I want to do… which I’m sure will change four times in the next six months.”
The show's creator speaks from experience. The crew had six months between the announcement of the second season and its release to pull the show together. It was then that Little made the decision to rewrite the entire script already written two years prior.
“I’m always changing my philosophy,” says Little. “It’s my most annoying trait. I’m like Gary at the end of Season 1, so certain that if I live in Italy, I’ll be happy, and then swinging to being certain that if I have my job back, I’ll be happy. Rewriting those scripts was our biggest hurdle in making Season 2 happen.”
Season 2 has been, in Little’s words, “an interesting odyssey.” The new season was in the works two years ago with another company “when the funding fell through, but not until after Blue Ant had put a decent amount of their own money into the writers’ room.”
“So, we had scripts for the whole season, had done a few voice recordings, and then it all died, and we didn't know what was going to happen,” Little notes. “And then Josh Bowen got this connection with Prime Video. And so, it was back. That was all in the last year. And then I decided we needed to change all the scripts.”
He continues, “It was this long, protracted argument to try and redo the episodes because budgets are not big and Blue Ant had put a lot of money into it. So, we had to renegotiate some things to make this happen. But we were able to rewrite almost every episode. One of the great things about doing animated comedy versus live-action is that you can truly change things dramatically. You can follow your whims, invent a whole side story, and go to a different location. And if it's funny, and it feels like you can make it work in the story, then the visual side can just catch up to that.”
It’s all in an effort to authentically capture real adult struggles, like becoming the father to the clone of your nemesis. “It’s something more men deal with than we realize,” says Little. “We’re trying to bring attention to our cause.”
Of course, the rewrites also gave O’Keefe his own interesting odyssey in scheduling animation and compiling storyboards.
“It was madness,” he says. “There’s a point where you're working on every episode at once, and it is wild. You're looking at character designs from one episode, background designs from another episode, storyboards from another one, and you're trying to put the finishing touches on another episode. I feel like other shows have multiple directors, but it was just me and Mark together chipping away at it all.”
But, in the director’s opinion, the stress was well worth it.
“I’m just stoked we know where Gary’s sword is summoned from now,” he says. “I think people will enjoy it.”