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Empathy and Dark Humor Collide in ‘Carol & The End of the World’

Dan Guterman’s adult animated comedy series about a meek, introverted woman who prefers mundane daily rituals rather than hedonistic excess in the face of humanity’s impending extinction, employs a carefully crafted visual language, literally guided by the eyes are windows into the soul, to provide its emotion and laughs; now streaming on Netflix.

It’s the end of the world. Now is the time to finally do whatever you want. Get married, rob a store, repent for robbing said store and seek salvation, quit your job, burn money, or get in line to climb Everest. 

With 17 months and 13 days remaining, Carol Kohl is…cooking eggs. Watching TV. And setting up teeth cleaning appointments. You know, savoring life, while trying not to dwell on the fact that her parents aren’t wearing any clothes and are having a threesome with their care provider.

“One night, while I was drifting off to sleep, I had this realization where I knew that if the world was ending, I wouldn't want to go skydiving or traveling or running naked through the streets,” shares Dan Guterman, creator of Netflix’s 2D-animated adult miniseries Carol & the End of the World, who’s also known for his work on Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty. “What I really would want to do is continue working and to continue to be preoccupied by work so I wouldn’t have to think about the end and all that entails. I’m also pretty introspective and quiet, the same way Carol is, and potentially a little bit on the spectrum as well. All that took root and became this show that was very instinct-driven.”

With a mysterious planet hurtling towards Earth, extinction is imminent for all people in Carol’s vibrantly colored but otherwise pretty typical world. While most feel liberated to pursue their wildest dreams, one quiet and always uncomfortable woman stands alone, lost among the hedonistic masses. The Netflix series, produced by Bardel Entertainment, is up for Emmy voting happening right now, ending Thursday, June 27. 

The series’ cast includes Martha Kelly (Euphoria, Baskets) as the titular character Carol, alongside Beth Grant (No Country For Old Men, The Mindy Project), Lawrence Pressman (Reboot, Magnum PI, Modern Family), Kimberly Hébert Gregory (Craig of the Greek, Vice Principals), Mel Rodriguez (Onward, Last Man On Earth, Getting On), Bridget Everett (Somebody Somewhere, Patti Cake$), Michael Chernus (Severance, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Dead Ringers), and Delbert Hunt (Monster High, Super Giant Robot Brothers, Justice League: Cosmic Chaos).

“I was already a fan of Dan’s when he sent me that message on Twitter saying, ‘I want to write an animated show with you as the lead,’” remembers Kelly. “This show may not be for everyone, especially if you don’t like monotone voices like mine. But I was blown away when I first saw the pilot. It’s such a beautiful project and so wonderfully written. My overriding concern the whole time was, ‘I don't want to mess this up.’ But Dan is a very kind and generous person. He made it so that I didn't just quit out of terror.”

When Guterman reached out to Kelly in 2019, neither anticipated there being an actual global crisis during the course of production on a show about a woman grappling with the end of the world. 

“There's never been a bad time for end-of-the-world stories, because humans historically seem to always think we're on the verge of the end of the world,” says Kelly. “In many ways we are, because life is pretty fragile. But I definitely feel like the pandemic changed things and we can’t totally go back to normal. I forget sometimes that there were two weeks where everyone was in lockdown and had to stay home, or that there was a point where only a certain amount of people could be in a grocery store at one time. I never thought anything like that would happen. I don't think anybody did. But this series is about how someone deals with the unfathomable and the response has been incredible.”

Though Kelly and Guterman say they see themselves in Carol’s character, they both acknowledge that her character would be hard to swallow, appearing to have no motivation or interest in life, if it wasn’t for the massive and expressive eyes. 

“We needed a visual language that matched our show’s written tone,” notes Guterman. “I wanted the style to feel it had a soul and for the animation to carry a lot of humanity. That was really important for planning our emotional beats.”

As they say, the eyes are the windows into the soul, and those big brown eyes made Carol someone to empathize with and root for, rather than a source for constant viewer frustration.

 “I do feel like her having these giant eyes really transmits her vulnerability,” notes Kelly. 

Elle Michalka, who served as art director with Allison Perry on the show, adds, “The eyes started out as us just trying to get a caricature of Martha. But it became a way for us to communicate character personalities and even ethnicities. There’s a lot going on with those eyes and we needed the space to include it all.”

The character design, led by Brendan Merien, looked very different when Michalka first joined Guterman’s production team. 

“When I first was talking to Dan about the art design, he had something similar to a Bob’s Burgers concept art,” shares Michalka. “But we vetoed that pretty quickly and ended up brainstorming ways to find a halfway point between anime and Family Guy. Netflix wanted a really refined adult animation and, when we were looking for more leads on this project, we really fell in love with Allison’s artwork, which had realism but also had this punchy, cartoony quality.”

It was exactly what Guterman was going for. 

“We wanted to mix naturalism with surrealism to create tone poems, these quiet ruminations on life and living,” he explains. “We want to make something atmospheric, something mood-driven. We just wanted to make something that was not out there already, something inventive and honest. And I feel like we succeeded in doing that.”

Perry, who had previously worked on Netflix’s Back to the Outback, was initially hired as a background painter but later took over for Michalka when the work became too much for just one art director. 

“It was a big project, so we needed a lot of leads,” says Michalka.

Perry adds, “And our production heads would often push back deadlines because they didn’t want to kill us on this project. I’ve had other experiences that were definitely not like that, and it was nice to be on a show where you’re treated like a person.”

For a show that reflects so much on mental health, it’s only fitting that it would be produced in a healthy atmosphere. “Enjoy the show, but also watch the credits,” advises Perry. “Because there are a lot of incredible artists who made this show possible and enjoyable. And we credited them all.”

One of the biggest assets on this series, most of which was animated in Harmony with some work done in Photoshop and Procreate, was the character generator technology used to help create a large bunch of characters, then mix and match features to diversify the group. 

“The character generator is something that was used a lot on Rick and Morty,” explains Perry. “And we did use it, but more as a starting point and then we’d go back in and work on the characters to make them look better. There are some great crowd shots in this show with wide beach shots and big parties where we were planning to solely use the character generator. But we ended up customizing each person. Everyone on the team really loved the show, so the biggest challenge was keeping ourselves accountable in knowing what we could and could not get away with and what we did and did not have time to create.”

“Pastel pops,” as Michalka puts it, were another tedious part of the show that the team could have easily spent days and days obsessing over, especially when Perry was working as a background painter, but for which they had to maintain realistic expectations. 

“If you check out Allison’s Instagram page, you’ll see she has such a cool way of interpreting nature,” says Michalka. “She did a great job establishing this ‘Rule of Cool.’”

Episode 4, “Sisters,” where Carol goes on a hiking trip with her sister, is one of the more nature-heavy episodes that features pastel-saturated fungi and forestry. 

“Elle actually brought in a lot of cool pastel choices for that one, too,” says Perry. “Some of the paintings she did involve choices in color and lighting that I wouldn’t have innately made or thought of but really loved.”

Purple mushrooms on rotten logs, baby blue and yellow sunrises over lakes, and pink cathedrals serving as the background for ostrich stampedes were a few of the unique choices that made the whole episode feel like a dream, even when the whole story took place behind a camcorder. 

“Hot take: when people like what they work on, they make really cool things,” states Perry. “The big challenge was learning to delegate and share work that you wanted to do entirely yourself. We all had to learn to rely and lean on each other on this show.”

It’s not a profound concept in animation, which is naturally a heavily collaborative medium, but it certainly adds a lot of flavor to an existential comedy show about a woman who’s learning how to be vulnerable and rely on the friends and family around her while also finding her own voice. 

“It can be fun to self-express in your art,” shares Michalka. “But it’s not a complete picture unless you’re using that to build something with other people.”

Even for Guterman, who created this show out of a desire to share his own life experiences, found the creation process to be richer and more fruitful when he looped in those around him. 

“When I would be writing the scripts, I would sometimes get emotional because they were touching on things that were personal for me,” shares Guterman. “The ‘Sisters’ episode is about me and my sister. Episode 8 has a lot to do with me and my father. But my co-writers, Kevin Arrieta, Donick Cary, and Noah Prestwich, also brought in a lot of their own energy and their own life experience and that made it a very personal show for everyone.”

Carol & the End of the World has received positive reviews from critics, who call the show “meditative” as well as “comedic.” 

“The response has been really kind of incredible,” notes Kelly. “It's really spoken to people and hit them deeply. And it's been lovely to see people feel close to the show and close to the characters. I wasn't expecting anything like that, to be honest. We just did it out of like a labor of love and for our sakes, but to see how it connected with people out there has been really nice and a pleasant surprise.”

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at