Creator/executive Jason Ruiz and executive producer Seth Cohen share the recipe for their all-new 2D animated comedy series, premiering April 2 on Adult Swim and April 3 globally on HBO Max.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Once the king of snacks, Royal Crackers has fallen on hard times, and the Bakersfield-based family business is in disarray. The family patriarch, tyrannical company founder Theodore Hornsby Sr., is in a “super coma,” and his sons – mild-mannered Stebe (Jason Ruiz) and nu metal rocker Theo (Andrew Santino) – are locked in a struggle to succeed their father and take over the crumbling Royal Crackers dynasty. Armed with a distinct lack of talent, and even worse business acumen, the two warring siblings – along with Stebe’s wife Deb (Jessica St. Clair) – will do whatever it takes to win control and restore Royal Crackers to its former (mediocre) glory.
Created by and starring Ruiz, the half-hour 2D series also stars David Gborie (Exploding Kittens), Emmy winner Maile Flanagan (Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks) and Fred Tatasciore (Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal). Ruiz serves as executive producer, along with Seth Cohen (The Last Man on Earth). The series is produced by Titmouse. The first three episodes of Royal Crackers debuts on Sunday, April 2, on Adult Swim, with new episodes premiering weekly each Sunday at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT. The series will debut globally April 3 on HBO Max.
Also of note, the show was just renewed for a second season before Season 1 has even aired. Confidence is high…
We spoke with Ruiz and Cohen about the rutted road to Royal Crackers (spoiler alert: Succession may have been an influence) and about the joys of ragged lines and garish colors.
Check out the trailer before reading more about the show:
AWN: Comedy is difficult in any medium, but because in animation so much depends on timing, and the look and the tone and the style all coming together, you often don't know whether something's really funny until it’s too late to change much of it. How did you determine what the tone was going to be for the show and how did you plan to drive the comedy?
Jason Ruiz: It evolved. It was a matter of just feeling it out from moment to moment and realizing, “Oh, that's not working” or “Hey, that's really working. We should lean more into that.” It was really finding it along the way and testing things out. Sometimes things would fall flat and really would not work, and then it was a matter of reconfiguring. It was a process of letting the show develop a voice.
I remember, when we were heading into the writers’ room for the first time, I had cranked out the cold open of the pilot and animated it the night before. Not the final version, of course, which was done by Titmouse, but I did a very raw Flash animation version of it just so everybody could see how this character feels, and how that character sounds. Again, it wasn't the final product by a long shot, but it was a step in the process.
AWN: Coming into that meeting with some actual animation is more than most creators do. A lot of them come from the writing side, and it takes longer to really develop things from a visual standpoint. So, taking a step back, how did this all come together?
JR: I had done a show for Fox called Murder Police, and it got canceled before it aired. Following that was years of just pitching shows and then not selling them. I was really down and out and I was starting to be like, “I think it's time for me to cut my losses here.” I truly didn’t know what to do. I sat down at my computer one Monday to start coming up with a new idea and I just couldn't do it. That's when I called Seth, and I was like, “I don't know what to do. I’ve got to find something.” And Seth said, “Why don't you come into this office where I'm working? We're doing an animated show here. You shouldn't be working from home. That's not going to help you. Come work out of here.”
I did that and I treated it like a job. And even though I wasn't getting paid, I just went in there and I started drawing, and started coming up with characters. Pretty soon, it started to gel, and Seth called me into the conference room, and he goes, “Three weeks.” I go, “What?” He goes, “Three weeks. We're going to get you a show. We're going to go around, we're going to pitch it, so you’ve got three weeks to come up with something new.”
AWN: That's tough love.
JR: Yeah, but I just need to get my ass kicked sometimes. Then it just became a matter of scrambling. What do we want to do here? Succession Season 2 was on TV at the time, and I was in love with it. And then it was like, “Okay, what if you had a family company in which the people were totally invested, and where they all wanted the top seat, but it was just this crap company that made saltine crackers. This coveted position they all wanted wasn’t really a big deal.”
That was the impetus originally – Succession, but with really misguided stakes. Then, after that, it was asking myself, what are you really loving right now beyond Succession? I was really into nu metal. I was really enjoying the nostalgic value of it, and I was starting to see nu metal memes taking off and starting to really make the rounds. So that became Theo, and then my own efforts with assertiveness and stuff became Stebe. It just started to jell.
AWN: Seth, what did you see in this fine artist here that led to this?
Seth Cohen: Jason and I have known each other for a long time, going back to my Comedy Central days. When you’re a producer, you're always on the lookout for talented people that you really want to work with. Jason and I would check in every year, because, again, my job is to be on the hunt. Jason's just an incredibly talented guy. I always knew it was going to happen. Whether or not it would happen with me was a different question.
In animation, there are the people on Mount Rushmore. It's Mike Judge, it's Matt Stone and Trey Parker, it's Seth MacFarlane. They're a rare breed. I think Jason does more than those guys, even though that's incredible company. He draws, he voices, he can direct, he voice directs, he edits. He can do everything. That's very rare. I think Jason and I like each other personally, but professionally, even if he doesn’t like me, I'm like, that guy's going to get it. How can I be part of it?
AWN: You guys are working with Titmouse, which is a phenomenal studio. Tell me a little bit about what inspired the design choices, and how decisions on animation style.
JR: The style of the show just came from where I was creatively. That's the style I was drawing in, that ragged line and that color palette. When Titmouse got involved, their job essentially was to retain this style, I think. I'm speaking about Adult Swim's conversation with them, which was like, retain this guy's style, but also make it professional and something easy to look at. So clean it up essentially. They did an amazing job. When I watched the show, there was nothing I would have done differently. They are such great collaborators and creative people. I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.
SC: I think it speaks volumes about Titmouse, because they fill in all of these missing pieces – directors, storyboard artists – and the environment that they create makes artists want to work there. They're passionate about it. Also, Jason is very open, there's a very flat hierarchy. You have a good idea, we will listen to it. The artists that Titmouse attracts want to be part of the show, and they absolutely are part of the fabric of the show.
AWN: What has been the most difficult thing for you in doing the show?
JR: Well, we're working on the second season right now. The first season ended and it was right into the second season. It's been a hustle to just keep up with the schedule. Creatively, I had ideas saved up for the first season. When the show got picked up, it was like, “Oh, I'd like to do an episode about this. I'd like to do an episode about that.” And we did those ideas and then it was, “Hey, you're picked up for a second season,” and it was like, “Oh shit. I burned all the ideas.” It’s been a mad dash to make the second season great.
In terms of the first season, it took a while for us to figure out how we would present this family in the big picture sense of things. Specifically, how do you sympathize or empathize with these characters, or root for them. We didn't know their level of wealth, how much we should lean into it or not lean into it. We didn't want to make them broke, but we didn't want to make them so lavish that they felt alien to us. I remember saying in the pitch, “I don't want to see them riding in a private jet. Nothing like that. I don't want them to be that extravagant.” It was a matter of where do we find this struggle for this family? What we found, after some time, was that it was their own ambitions that were the struggle they would go through. Their ambitions were their own worst enemy to some degree.
It was the idea of, “We need to get there. We're here and we should be totally content with here, but we want more.” I think that's something we all just have naturally built into us. It's something that's very relatable. There's an episode in the first season where they sneak onto a lavish billionaire yacht party. The idea being that this is the crowd they belong in and this is the crowd they should be part of, and they're just not. They're millionaires, which doesn't gain you respect amongst the billionaires. Finding that was a key point – they’re striving for something that they are not part of, and stupidly and misguidedly think that they should be part of. We didn't find that until well into the first season. Once we did, we were able to iron it out throughout the entire season, but it took some time.
SC: I think the writing is the biggest challenge. No matter what, there's never going to be enough time. That's what I think producers especially have to be mindful of – you'd love for there to be as much time as it would take for a writer to be satisfied, but the truth is that, by virtue of being a writer, they’re never satisfied. You're never going to satisfy them. The question is, when do you beg them to put the pencils down so that you can do the other parts of the show?
That is a high-wire act. It's always a crapshoot to say, “Okay, we can't write this anymore, we have to move on.” But, obviously, the magic is in the writing. So, knowing when to step in, or when to say, “We need more time. We haven't figured it out.” Because, whether it’s live-action or animated, if you go in with a bad script, you're going to get something bad out. There's a joke about, “Oh, we'll find it on the day.” It's a joke because it doesn't work. You're not going to find it on the day. You're not going to solve it there. So that's a challenge.
I appreciate what you said at the top about how hard it is to make comedy. It is hard, and we appreciate that too.
JR: Although the comment sections on various social media sites will tell you otherwise. Writing comedy is super easy and everybody can do it.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.