Kyle Stegina and Josh Lehrman’s new Nickelodeon animated comedy, developed from the first short in Nick’s Intergalactic Shorts Program ever picked up for series, follows best friend and roommate trio Rock, Paper and Scissors, who compete over everything in hilarious and wildly absurd ways; series premieres on Nickelodeon February 12.
For Kyle Stegina and Josh Lehrman, the idea for their first animated kids’ series came to Lehrman, as many great ideas do, in the shower.
“I wish I had a smarter answer than that,” admits Lehrman, who has been writing comedy with Stegina for over a decade, both serving as supervising producers on the animated series Farzar, producers on Paradise P.D., and writers on Brickleberry, Momma Named Me Sheriff, and Robot Chicken.
Lehrman continues, “But the shower is where a lot of good ideas come from. And a lot of bad ones. Being a writer is having to separate which ones are terrible from ones that could actually work.”
Luckily, Lehrman’s idea about rock, paper, and scissors characters who are roommates and highly competitive best friends was one that Nickelodeon Animation Studios could get behind. In the Rock Paper Scissors premiere episode, “Scissors Gets a Job,” Scissors tries to become a janitor when he runs out of money. However, he later discovers that the job requires way more skill than he initially thought. Meanwhile, Rock and Paper try to motivate Scissors in an unusual way.
“It’s such a simple setup, but it leads to so much freedom in storytelling,” says Lehrman. “And wacky adventures.”
Premiering Monday, February 12, Season 1 of Rock Paper Scissors features the trio going to extremes: playing hide-and-seek around the world, running from the birthday police, defending the world from an alien invasion, going head-to-head with the Rat Bros, and more. Carlos Alazraqui voices “Scissors,” while Ron Funches plays “Rock,” and Thomas Lennon stars as “Paper,” with Melissa Villaseñor voicing “Pencil,” Paper’s romantic interest.
Who saw that one coming?
“I like money and I love Nickelodeon cartoons,” states Funches. “So when they were like, ‘Do you want to be in a Nickelodeon cartoon for money?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Lennon interjects, “This makes me very worried that Ron is getting paid way more than me.”
Funches continues, “Seriously though, this is a great show, and this is a great cast of friends. I love these people. And I enjoyed that, even though my character was a rock and he could have been anything, the animators gave him arms and legs and showed some fun representation in making him a Black character.”
And Rock isn’t the only character serving as a pillar of representation.
“Pencil made me feel seen and feel good to be a nerdy spirit and, hopefully, she will be a comfort to little girls and help them embrace that part of themselves that enjoys just nerding out over stuff,” shares Villaseñor.
“I did love that about your character, Melissa,” agrees Funches. “Especially when we see you play that smart girl song that celebrates and romanticizes intelligent women.”
Ben Giroux, one of the stars of Nickelodeon’s animated series Big Nate, said during an interview with AWN last year that, for 40 years, the Nickelodeon ethos has always been “equal parts hearts, farts, and smarts,” and, like Big Nate, Rock Paper Scissors continues the tradition with humor that, as Stegina says, is “one part intelligent, one part dumb, with heart.”
“That is the DNA of Rock Paper Scissors,” explains Stegina. “It’s a little bit of a unique friendship for kids TV, because it's got both loving and bickering. Rock, Paper, and Scissors can turn on a dime so quickly from loving each other to hating each other. With the friendships that we had growing up, that is very realistic. We've seen kid shows and movies that are so gooey and lovey-dovey all the time. And that's totally fine. But we wanted to show a little bit of a different dynamic. You want kids to know that you can be best friends and also fight sometimes, or fight quite often.”
The roller coaster ride dynamic played into the art style, which reflects Rock Paper Scissors' casual and eccentric bits.
“In Nick’s Intergalactic Shorts program, we worked with two amazingly talented people – Amanda Qian Li, who was the art director on our pilot short, and Paul Watling, who also worked with her on the art – and they came up with this wonderfully charming blend of semi-realistic backgrounds with these silly, 2D cartoon characters on top,” shares Stegina. “It’s really pleasing to look at, but it’s also indicative of the tone of the show because the art style, while beautiful, is also a little janky. And our show is a little janky. It doesn't take itself too seriously. So, it all blends really well together.”
Eventually, Bob Boyle, executive producer on the series, and John Won, art director, took over and perfected the style Li and Watling had conjured up. Though Stegina and Lehrman both say they typically aren’t stingy with their notes for visuals, in this particular case, they had no requests for adjustments to the art style. Not once.
“I say this as a total compliment,” starts Lehrman. “As a comedy writer, what you want is to look at your show and go, ‘Ha! Dumb.’ And this show does that. Not to say no work went into it. Obviously, a lot did. But the look matches the tone of the script, which can be pretty dumb.”
Lennon adds, “Sometimes you'll do a voice for something that feels like it's going to be funny or you think it's a funny concept, but things will get a little bit lost in translation. And a lot of that is timing. This show is like a rocket ride. It is so fast, so funny, and so tight. There's nothing lost in translation between the recordings of the show and the animation. It only gets funnier. It's always stunningly better than even I thought it was going to be, to be honest.”
Rather than assuming a more “Beauty and the Beast” character style, where inanimate objects come to life with only the appendages they’re fashioned with in real life, Rock Paper Scissors has no qualms about giving its characters muscular, human legs and arms, slick greaser hair to match sporting leather jackets, and glasses that fit securely on faces, despite the lack of ears.
“The characters are drawn very simply, and for kids who watch the show and want to draw them, it makes it easier for them to engage with the show that way,” says Lehrman. “We have some fan art going up on Twitter/X already and it brings me so much joy.”
Sometimes, the best characters to draw are the ones whose features defy logic and the basic laws of gravity. What’s holding up Paper’s glasses? It really doesn’t matter, especially not when Scissors also has an elusive tail that makes itself known at random times of unrelated conversation.
“I’ve never gotten to play a character that looked that cool but is still so desperate,’ shares Alazraqui. “I loved everything about his design.”
“The visuals add so much to the show,” agrees Funches. “The photorealism and the collages… I think it's so unique and fun. I think you can see Josh and Kyle’s previous work in Robot Chicken and the fact that there are so many visual jokes that take place outside of even what we're talking about in the script. Like Scissors’ tail that pops out and then goes away. It’s one little visual joke that had nothing to do with the plot but added so much to the comedy. I was also thrilled Rock had a great butt.”
Lennon says, “Ron speaks for all of us on that one.”
“Especially in the fart joke episode,” teases Alazraqui.
In addition to the free-for-all character design, the semi-real backgrounds also meant the show would have few limits on locations and places where the main characters could travel.
“We go to 15 locations – from the moon to the desert – and really play with the freedom that this simple premise and design allow,” says Stegina. “We have an episode that takes place over the course of 20 years, and we have an episode that takes place entirely in Scissors’ head. Honestly, I'm so proud of the show. We were able to make 99 percent of the show that we wanted to make, which is a miracle nowadays.”
Aside from putting a smile on audiences faces while enjoying the mix of shenanigans, life lessons, toned tushies, and realistic friendship interactions, Rock Paper Scissors creators harbor hope that their show can be one kids look back on as teens and adults with the nostalgia many of us feel toward series like SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats, and The Fairly Odd Parents, just to name a few. Note that those fan favorite shows also made the most of visual comedy, didn’t hold back on friendship conflicts, and took viewers on both fun and frightening trips around the world.
“The thing I'll leave you with is, with some of my favorite shows of all time, I get this feeling of excitement, where before every episode I go, ‘I have no idea where they're about to go,’ says Lehrman. “And I hope that you have this feeling when you watch our show.”