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The Quiet, Uncomfortable, and Darkly Funny ‘Carol & The End of The World’

Debuting December 15 on Netflix, Dan Guterman’s new adult animated limited series, which he calls ‘a meditative, character-driven dramedy,’ follows a woman who can’t shake her meek, depressed existence, though surrounded by hedonistic excess, in the face of humanity’s impending extinction from a mysterious planet hurtling towards earth.

In Dan Guterman’s new adult animated limited series, Carol & The End of The World, as a mysterious planet hurtles towards earth, promising humanity’s immediate extinction, while most people go nuts fulfilling their wildest dreams, one woman, Carol, can’t seem to shake her meek, uncomfortable existence in the midst of the hedonistic masses.

For Guterman (Community, Rick and Morty), the show stands as a “love letter to routine,” offering a completely fresh, often bleak, and uniquely droll take on the daily rituals and adherence to habits that shape our lives, even in the face of impending mortality.

The show, created, written, and showrun / EPd by Guterman, debuts Friday, December 15, on Netflix. It stars Martha Kelly (Euphoria, Baskets) as Carol, with Shelby Young, Megan Mullally, Laurie Metcalf, and James Urbaniak among the numerous guest stars. The animation is produced at Bardel.

“With Carol & The End of The World, we wanted to do something different,” Guterman shares. “We wanted to mix different textures and weights. Wanted to create an existential dramedy. Wanted to treat animation as a medium and not just a genre. Wanted to make a serialized show that had more in common with film than TV. Carol & The End of The World is a dark, deadpan, heartfelt miniseries. It’s emotional and warm and bittersweet and kind. Almost all at once.”

An avowed workaholic, Guterman found the seeds of the show in his own routine. “My entire life, I’ve used work as a distraction,” he says. “Something to preoccupy myself with. Something to keep myself from having to answer certain questions in life. One night, while drifting off, I realized that if I knew the world was coming to an end – I wouldn’t spend that time traveling, skydiving, or running naked through the streets. I would just want to continue working. To continue being distracted. To continue being preoccupied. To keep myself from thinking about the end and what it meant. And so, the world of Carol was born.”

Carol isn’t modeled after any one person. While Guterman created her as quiet, anxious, shy, and unassuming, he claims, “No one writes a show about a character like Carol, a short, pear-shaped, lovable lump of a woman who spends evenings eating frozen dinners on her own. And yet, she is compelling to watch. Carol is a mail-in warranty. A reminder on a post-it note. A dependable metronome.”

Guterman met the actor behind Carol, Martha Kelly, in the summer of 2002 at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. They hung out, “two uncomfortable people,” awaiting the end of the evening at an industry party. He was struck by the way she thought, the way she spoke of life’s detours. So much so, 15 years later, halfway through writing the pilot, he sent her a few pages and asked her to play the lead. She said yes.

Noting his deft balancing of Carol’s feelings of despair, depression, and anxiety with the realities of crafting an entertaining show people will enjoy, Guterman says, “This is not a rapid-fire, joke-driven comedy. It’s a meditative, character-driven dramedy. So, there was more we were able to do with emotion. More we could do with tone. With pacing. We had more elements to play with. Different flavors. It was okay for us to be sad or contemplative or surreal or melancholy between moments of funny. And, as long as you’re dealing with these emotions and issues in a truthful way, in a way that is honest to you and what you believe in, I don’t think you can really go wrong. Quite the opposite, in fact. The opportunity to talk about the things that scare you, the things that scar you, the things that keep you up at night is liberating.”

The show’s animation style, more than on many shows, provides critical support for the narrative, especially the humor, because there’s considerably less dialogue than on most adult series, which tend to be incredibly talky. According to Guterman, “Carol’s design is especially interesting. So much of what Carol experiences and expresses falls between the lines. It’s based on non-verbal cues. Much is communicated through long stretches of silence; we gave her these immense eyes with which to emote, eyes we – and she – could use to get across a particular feeling or even a line of dialogue without ever having to say a word. There’s so much in a Carol look, a Carol glance, a Carol glare. And none of these micro-expressions would’ve been possible without the incredible design work of our artists.”

“Our artists, animators, directors – they all just nailed it,” Guterman continues. “We maybe had one of the most talented groups of artists working on this show that’s ever been assembled. From character designers to painters to background designers, art directors, color and prop designers, to multi-hyphenate crew members, everyone on the show was a superstar. And even without my direction, I feel very confident in saying that they would have been able to find the style of the show on their own. They were just that good.”

Asked about his time working with Dan Harmon on both Community and Rick and Morty, Guterman shares that in some ways, those four years were the highlight of his career… not including time spent on his own show. “Dan taught me everything I know about story, narrative, and character, and perhaps even more importantly, he put me in touch with a group of peers I still look up to and learn from, even to this day. It was on Dan’s shows that I came to know Ryan Ridley, Alex Rubens, Matt Roller, Carol Kolb, Erica Rosbe, Sarah Carbiener, and Chris Mckenna, and working with them, collaborating with them, even competing with them, made me the producer and writer and showrunner I am today. Dan put me side by side with the best of the best, and I will always be grateful to him for that.”

“What’s the expression?” he asks. “’Iron sharpens iron?’ That was my experience working on Rick and Morty and Community.”

Asked about the production’s biggest challenges, Guterman says, “Everything to do with animation is challenging. It’s not an easy medium, not in the slightest. Animation is both a marathon and a sprint, often simultaneously. It will and does take every ounce of creativity, stamina, and determination to pull it off. Most people aren’t aware of this, but making an animated show, from the very start to the very finish, takes about two, two and a half, sometimes even three years to complete. And you have to maintain laser focus throughout those 24 to 36 months. You relax, even for a second, and things can go off the rails.”

“You have to make a great episode not just once but five to six times over,” he adds. “You have to write a great episode. Then, you have to design a great episode. Then you have to cast and voice a great episode, direct a great episode, score and edit a great episode, and finally, animate a great episode. Only then do you have the chance to come out the other side with something special.”

Because of scheduling and production cycles, Guterman notes he’s usually working on up to five or six different episodes at once, each at a different stage in the process. “All of them needing your attention and care, all at the same time,” he reveals. “You have to be able to hold a half dozen episodes in your head at once. It’s all extremely challenging. On the plus side, you are in charge of – you are overseeing – every stage of the creation of 30 minutes of television. And that allows you, if you’re up for it, to really home in and really make something exactly the way you want it, from the macro to the incredible micro of it. That kind of control appeals to people like me. People with extreme OCD. People with a clear vision of what they’re after. People really shooting for the moon.”

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