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Detective Noir Spoof Animation Has a New Name: ‘Grimsburg’

Jon Hamm executive produces and stars in the newest member of FOX’s Sunday Animation Domination lineup, featuring the greatest detective to ever catch a cannibal clown or identify a mid-century modern armoire… who still can’t crack the mystery of his own life; series premieres with preview episode on January 7.

From Don Draper, a 1960s hard-drinking and womanizing advertising executive (Mad Men), to an amnesiac Archangel Gabriel (Good Omens), Emmy Award winner Jon Hamm has played numerous dramatic and comedic roles in a long, award-filled career. And this Sunday, January 7, on FOX (the next day on Hulu), he can notch another hole on his rather large and storied credit belt: detective Marvin Flute, the central character in the all-new animated comedy, Grimsburg.

The show, already renewed for Season 2 prior to its Season 1 debut, stars and is executive-produced by Hamm alongside Erinn Hayes, Rachel Dratsch, Alan Tudyk, Kevin Michael Richardson, and Greg Chun.  Season 1 guest stars include Rosie Perez, Kaniehtiio Horn, Wendi Mclendon-Covey, Jaime Camil, Christina Hendricks, Amy Sedaris, and Patton Oswalt.

Grimsburg is an in-house production from FOX Entertainment’s Emmy-winning animation studio, Bento Box Entertainment. Catlan McClelland and Matthew Schlissel created the series and serve as co-executive producers alongside showrunner Chadd Gindin. Hamm serves as executive producer alongside Gail Berman, Hend Baghdady of The Jackal Group, and Connie Tavel.

The series centers on Flute, who may be the greatest detective ever to catch a cannibal clown and correctly identify a mid-century modern armoire. But there’s one mystery he still can’t crack — himself. To do that he must return to Grimsburg, a town where everyone has a secret or three, and redeem himself in the eyes of his fellow detectives, his ferocious ex-wife, and his lovably unstable son.

According to Gindin, was never meant to be animated. “The show was originally written by Matthew Schlissel and Catlan McClelland as a live-action, single-camera spoof of Nordic noir dramas. So, it was really written in the style of a Naked Gun-type parody. FOX liked it, but they wanted to do it in animation. So, I was brought in to help turn it from single cam into animation, which was a pretty sizable change from that point. It still had a detective, and it still had an ex-wife and a kid… then things like robots and imaginary friends and some other stuff got added.”

Gindin and show producers then considered who should star in the revamped series, asking themselves, “Who can we attach to play the lead and help make this thing a little bit better and a little bit more appetizing for the FOX folks?” Berman, it turns out, is friends with Tavel, who is Hamm’s manager. A script was shared... “and Jon said he was very interested,” Gindin reveals. “I remember we were having this meeting with Jon. I got very nervous, started putting all my talking points together, how I was going to sell him on the show, how I was going to make sure he knew what we were doing and how we were going to do it. Anything I could do to ensnare him into this world. And we get on Zoom and Jon's like, ‘Hey, just real quick before we say anything here, I just want you guys to know, I'm doing this. I know I'm probably not supposed to say that, but I love it. I'm doing it. I'm in. Now what did you want to say?’ And I was like, ‘Nothing. I want to say nothing.’”

With Hamm enthusiastically on board, work began shaping the show’s story, tone, and design style. “Look, defective detective was your trope-y style here,” Gindin shares. “The guy who can solve everything but himself. So, we knew that going in. We had this idea. Once it was Jon, honestly, we started animating the designs and went down a road at first where it was like, ‘Well, what if he was a handsome detective?’ But the FOX style is always the big dad or whomever kind of falling apart. So, we thought, ‘Nobody wants to see a handsome detective on Sunday night.’ It felt too easy for him. So we thought, ‘Well, what if he once was handsome and, in his head, he still thinks he's handsome?’ That was based on Jon, his appearance, and everything. So, that was the start.”

“Then, from an acting perspective, knowing he's done all those dramas, and knowing how great of an actor Jon is, we went down the road of what they did in the Airplane and Naked Gun movies,” he continues, explaining that actors like Robert Stack and Peter Graves weren’t necessarily into comedy, but trusted those films’ directors to turn their serious acting into comedy gold. “They didn't play it for laughs. The directors went out and got all these guys who played serious parts in movies and had them play characters as seriously as possible, then let the words do the work for them. But we’re lucky. Jon actually knows what's funny. He knows what we're doing. He knows about Airplane. He knows that's what we're angling for. So, he can help set things up. He can play it straight, but when we need Flute to go a little bit weird, or wacky, or detour a little bit from the character template, he can pull that off. He's really incredible. I recommend everybody come in and watch him record if they can.”

From a design standpoint, Gindin speaks highly of the folks at Bento Box, where the show and animation are produced. “They know what they're doing over there,” he says. “I've got to say, Jack Perkins, our supervising director, was huge on this, and Hend Baghdady, another executive producer, was so helpful along the way. There are other names I'm forgetting.”

He adds, “The design choice we went with was that this is a darker show, set in a darker town, so we didn't want to go real bright. And I think you can see that. You’ll notice a lot of the backgrounds are a little darker, a little moodier. We're trying to play up, again, to the genre. We’ve always wanted a cartoonish town where Twin Peaks meets Springfield, then take a bit of the zing and bright colors out of it. We wanted the town to also feel like a character.”

As far as character designs, the show went for what Gindin calls "long, skinny legs.” “We tried to find a shape for everyone. Where it's something just for them. So, for Marvin Flute, it's his belly. It's bowling ball-esque; it sort of pokes out of him, which he's trying to hide. There's Kang, who has this big, round puffy jacket. How can we design each person so when you see even just the silhouette, you know who's coming? And what does that say about them? He's got this big puffy jacket on. He's about comfort, he's about keeping it the same.”

With a Season 2 pickup in hand even before Season 1 debuts, Gindin explains that everything he learned his first time out as a showrunner isn’t making things any easier as he enters the show’s sophomore outing. In fact, confidence gained producing the first season has translated into a desire to expand the storytelling scope, which brought with it another set of problems. “Season 1’s difficulties were just that it was my first season running a show, and I had to learn to trust myself. And it's hard. You can read any book or go to any article about a showrunner, and they'll say, ‘Trust yourself and trust your instincts. That's what you've got to do.’ But then when you get in that seat, it's very easy to not do that because somebody calls and says, ‘Why is this jacket so dark? Shouldn't it be tan?’ And you’re like, ‘Maybe it should be tan. What do I know? Tan might be better.’ And then, at a certain point, you go, ‘No, it should be dark. He's dark and it'll look ridiculous if he's in tan. He'll look like Colombo.’ And then they'll go, ‘Oh yeah, it'd look like Colombo. All right, thanks.’ And then you go, ‘Oh my God, my decision was right. I knew the answer.’’

“You start to trust yourself and trust the people around you,” he adds. “And you trust that if those people push back, then, ‘Okay, yeah, maybe you're right on this and maybe I'm wrong.’ And by the end, you get to this point where you're like, ‘We did 13 episodes. I felt like they were getting better and better as we went along. We started to find our groove.’ All this stuff comes together. Now, we go into the second season and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, the second season's going to be so much easier! I can tell my wife and child I'm going to see them again because I'll now have time.’ Yeah… I saw them less this season than I saw them the first season. Our ambitions got bigger. We knew we liked these types of stories, so in Season 2, we’re starting to tell bigger stories, but those require more work in the writing and in the design process. And then people were saying, ‘We have to reuse backgrounds. You're killing us.’ And they were right. We had bigger ideas in the second season that made it just as hard to produce as in the first season, because you're trying to live up to those things that you did well and that becomes a problem.”

Asked what he can share about the show’s inaugural season, Gindin says, “Marvin Flute is a very complicated man. There's a lot of backstory that gets pulled out of him. You'll find out that he might be missing a body part. We've found that what we do best is take genres that work within the framework of a show that's spoofing the detective genre, and in those episodes, I think that's when we're really clicking. We go to camp for a summer camp slasher episode. We have an episode where we take on the idea of murder mysteries set on trains and in mansions, but ours is a mansion that is also a train, or a train-sion. And then there's a lot of great guest stars that are coming on the show, people who are really funny. What else should people be looking forward to? A lot. But I don't want to spoil anything!”

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.