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John Altschuler Talks 'The Goode Family'

With tonight's premiere of The Goode Family, one of its creators discusses how the series is a counter balance to King of the Hill.

The Goode Family is the flipside of King of the Hill:

John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky are a couple of busy guys. King of the Hill's show runners for the last seven seasons, they've joined forces with Mike Judge to create the new ABC series The Goode Family (premiering tonight at 9:00 p.m. and subsequently airing on Tuesdays). If Hill poked fun at an honest, God-fearing Texas Republican clan, Family travels to the other end of the political rainbow, examining the travails of Gerald and Helen Goode, an ultra-liberal husband and wife who tie themselves in knots (and drive their kids crazy), trying to be as politically correct and environmentally conscious as possible. (Their credo: WWAGD, or "what would Al Gore do?")

A friendly, fun-filled poke at people trying a little too hard to do the right thing, or a no-holds-barred send up of stereotypes that would have a committed FOX News viewer cheering? Perhaps it's a balancing act that will have both groups watching the show, not to mention the great middle ground of folks for whom politics isn't Issue Number One on their agenda.

I chatted on the phone with Altschuler briefly last week about how the series came about and its potential impact.

Joe Strike: What's happening?

John Altschuler: We're just busy. We're premiering the pilot in a week, we're producing Mike Judge's next movie [the workplace comedy Extract], we have to lock that -- there's a lot going on at once. My partner Dave and I, we had to split jobs -- he's in the editing room right now.

JS: OK, where did you get the idea for the show?

JA: I was talking to friend of mine a few years ago. Her husband had bought a hybrid and they discovered it didn't get as good gas mileage as they thought, they didn't know what to do with the batteries. She just looked crushed; she looked up and said, "It's so hard to be good." I just started thinking about that. I went and talked to Dave and then we talked to Mike Judge and we all had the same feeling: we're trying every day to do everything right, and it's never enough.

JS: This woman's distress was the catalyst for the idea.

JA: Yeah, we sort of realized we're all in the same boat, we're trying, but the criteria keeps changing and the one thing we know, you're never good enough.

JS: I know you're going to get a good deal of static for being politically incorrect top to bottom. Are you prepared for what people are going to shoot at you over this?

JA: You know, I, umm… I'd be somewhat, not really surprised over it, Dave and I have run King of the Hill for seven years; we've been on it for 12. I don't think anybody ever thought we were taking cheap shots at white Republican middle-Americans; in the same way I don't think people will think we're taking shots at the Goode family. We're not saying people shouldn't try to be good, we're saying that it's hard, and it's funny the predicaments we keep finding ourselves in. We're making more fun of ourselves in this show, and sometimes people find it easier to make fun of others and not look at themselves. You may be right, I don't know.

Right from the start, they wanted to get an underground comic look to it: bright colors mixed with a little R. Crumb.

JS: It's obviously deliberately taken to extremes. The family is trying waaay too hard.

JA: Yeah, it's interesting, though, that it's all based on stuff that we've done. I mean, we know somebody with a vegan dog. [In the show, the Goode's pet Che devours every cat and bird in sight in search of a square meal.] We're not making this stuff up.

JS: Do you know anybody who adopted an Afrikaner child? [In their quest to do good the couple adopted Ubuntu, an African infant who turned out to be white.]

JA: Actually not an Afrikaner, but we know somebody who was tied in knots about adopting: you know, "Oh, what race of child, is it wrong?" [You felt like yelling:] "No, it's a good thing, just adopt the kid!" So it's nothing that's alien. I hope this isn't the case. Somebody told me: "Be careful because liberals take themselves real seriously." Look at King of the Hill: Was that a conservative show or a liberal show? Is this a conservative show or a liberal show? It's not like "is it going to be good for us or is it going to be bad for us?" What we like to do is try to look from the middle at the extremes.

JS: So this is a counterbalance to King of the Hill?

JA: That's a good way to put it. It's the other side of the coin, like All in the Family and Maude. Maude was super-liberal, Archie was super-right wing. What are you making fun of? If you're doing a good job, you're making fun of everything.

JS: How did you wind up on ABC? They haven't had much luck with primetime animation since The Flintstones.

JA: To be honest, every network wanted it. We were in a good position but ABC had the clearest sense of what the show was, how they would market and support it. They've ordered 13 episodes. I have to admit the ads were fantastic, the promos are great. If people don't like the show, unfortunately, we can't blame the network.

John Altschuler is once again partnered with Dave Krinsky and Mike Judge (voice of Gerald Goode), and emphasizes that their humor is not

JS: If it flies, you'll be back in the fall or in 2010?

JA: You're from AWN, right? [Animation] takes a long time. If it works, we'll have to expedite the schedule and really kick in. They'll try to hold back a few episodes so that we can get a run-up to new episodes. We've prepared as well as we can. The nice thing about failure is you don't have to prepare, you can just burn off the episodes.

JS: Mike Judge is exec-producing and he's voicing the dad, but I guess the [created by] credit goes to you and Dave.

JA: No, it's really collaborative just like everything we do. Dave Krinsky, Mike Judge and I have a company. I came up with an idea and we just started batting it around. You see, the thing about animated shows is that you have to have an animator at its inception. Right when you start pushing it forward, the animation informs the show. Mike Judge bringing his animation style -- and also he's actually a good writer -- and ideas to what we're doing helps fill out the show.

I don't know if you've noticed this, whenever there's been a show that was just writer-driven, then they try to hire an animator -- it fails. Every single success has been an animator and a writer working together, from The Flintstones to The Simpsons to Family Guy to King of the Hill. That's the partnership. We all worked out the idea and then we integrated Mike's animation style to make it a show.

JS: Did Mike do the character design?

JA: Yeah. Right from the beginning we wanted to get an underground comic look to it. It's a beautiful looking show with bright colors but it has a lot of cross-hatching, kind of like R. Crumb, so there's a little bit of a depth to it. We don't know if people will notice it, but we're hoping they'll feel it.

JS: Do you think the show is going to encourage people to keep up [their progressive/environmental efforts] or make them say, "Oh my God, this is ridiculous, what were we thinking -- let's go get a steak"?

JA: I -- I can't imagine -- you look at the show, the fact is they're the heroes of the show; the fact is there's nothing ridiculous about people trying to do good. What's interesting is people really do seem to get this show. The overarching response we get is relief. It's like somebody understands, because it is hard and you can't say, "I don't always have my freaking reusable carry bag with me!" and that's a palpable relief. People are like: "Ohmigod, this is me!" But they're not angry; they're kind of delighted it's being brought out into the open.

Gerald and Helen's kids Bliss and Ubuntu find their parent's

JS: If the show clicks, where do you see it going? Do you think the Goode family will visit Arlen, Texas [where King of the Hill is set] at some point?

JA: They'll never do that because this is ABC and that show is on FOX. There was interest in bringing King of the Hill over to ABC, but FOX wouldn't let go of the episodes we needed to do that, which is kind of a shame because it would have been a neat hour; like Maude and All in the Family, there would have been a flip side -- they share a similar, non-mocking view of sort of the extremes in our society. I think what's nice about this show is that people are not going to stop trying to be good. Wherever the world goes our characters will be able to comment on it and try to live it.

JS: Are you going to have someone from the opposite side of the political fence being as silly as the Goodes are?

JA: Well, I think Charlie [Helen's SUV-driving, meat-eating dad] is that person.

JS: In the pilot, he seems to be deliberately acting "politically incorrect" [in order to annoy his daughter and son-in-law, as opposed to acting on his own convictions].

JA: Oh, he is, you got it exactly right. That's the point, though. He's doing it deliberately, which is over the top and annoying. You see that's the other end: Why does it bother him so much that they're trying to be good? He just can't stand it --that's his thing. That's what we're trying to do -- it's just that we're not snide. Part of the problem with a lot of shows out there is that they're snide and snarky. We're not trying to attack people. We're not mocking abstinence because we think it's a good thing, but a Purity Ball where you go with your dad is funny.

JS: Creepy, actually.

JA: Exactly. This is very genuine -- everybody believes what they're selling, and I think people will think they're sweet. Sometimes Helen is a little too driven, but you know what? So was Lucy… We do think this is a beautifully animated show and we hope people appreciate the god-awful hard work that went into it!

Joe Strike is a regular contributor to AWN. His animation articles also appear in the NY Daily News and the New York Press.

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Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.