Executive producer Gabe Liedman's new animated superspy series may have begun life with the phrase ‘Gay James Bond,’ but it quickly blossomed into so much more - a fun, unabashedly ‘queer’ workplace ensemble comedy about a group of loveably annoying misfit LGBTQ+ geniuses.
Q-Force, Gabe Liedman’s raucous new animated comedy, premieres today on Netflix. The all-new 10-episode series boasts an all-star cast including Sean Hayes as Agent Mary; Gary Cole as Director Chunley; David Harbour as Agent Buck; Patti Harrison as Stat; Laurie Metcalf as V; Matt Rogers as Twink; and Wanda Sykes as Deb.
Created and executive produced by Liedman, previously an executive producer on the hit Hulu show PEN15, Q-Force centers around Steve Maryweather, AKA Agent Mary, golden boy of the American Intelligence Agency, destined for a life of globe-trotting clandestine heroics, until he came out as gay. Unable to fire him, the Agency instead shipped him off to disappear in the obscurity of… West Hollywood. But he ably assembles a misfit squad of LGBTQ+ geniuses who together, form Q-Force.
Take a look at the trailer:
Though much of Liedman’s work has been in live-action, including Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Inside Amy Schumer and The Kroll Show, he also worked on Netflix’s hugely popular adult animated comedy, Big Mouth. Speaking with AWN, he shares, “I worked on a couple seasons of Big Mouth, which was my entree into the world of animation. I’ve always been a fan and a viewer of animated series. But Big Mouth was my first opportunity to write for animation.”
Speaking about how animation differs from live-action, he says, “My biggest takeaway is the freedom and creativity you have as a writer to really do anything. In live-action, you’re working with actual live-bodied actors, and lighting, and sets, and locations, and all the budgetary restrictions that go with a show. In animation, the world is truly your oyster. You can get incredibly imaginative and weird, which appeals to me as a comedy writer.”
At the same time, Liedman reveals that he had to learn, and remember, that animation is all about the details, requiring patience and understanding that episodic work requires a long, exacting process. “I could never have anticipated how many tiny micro decisions go into making an animated show, from the very first designs to the final edit,” he says. “There are just millions of micro decisions. The biggest challenge for me was not to miss the forest for the trees. To not lose sight of the greater picture. A season of Q-Force took 18 months to make. And along the way, so much happened. So many choices were made. I always had to remember at the end of the day, we were creating five hours of animation. And to not get too hung up or lost along the way.”
When he began work on Q-Force, Liedman was coming off PEN15, “this little, small budget live-action show.” “With Q-Force,” he continues, “in the pilot, we have a guy jump out of a plane, land on a car, punch out the windshield… this is the stuff we could never do on my show. So, moving to animation was really awe-inspiring, what an artist can pull off.”
The genesis of the show was a three-word phrase. According to Liedman, “The show began with the very tiny seed of an idea that Sean Hayes and his producing partner Todd Milliner had, several years ago, which was just… quote unquote ‘Gay James Bond.’ Basically, a character that they thought Sean would have a fun time playing. They were meeting with writers to get their take on the idea of a gay James Bond. Sean was a fan of my standup, and called me in for a meeting, which absolutely blew my mind. I’m a such a huge fan of Sean’s work. He gave me three words, ‘Gay James Bond.’ So, I went away for a few weeks, came back, and shared what I thought.”
What Liedman came back with was Q-Force. “I didn’t think there would be a gay James Bond,” he explains. “I figured that if you had all the trappings of James Bond, in that super hetero world, if he was gay, he might not get the same opportunities. It would be an uphill battle. It felt true to me and a richer starting place for a comedy.”
“It was also important for me to make the show an ensemble,” he continues. “Who’s his squad? Make it more of a Mission Impossible. That was important to me because so often, between a gay man, or a trans woman, or a lesbian, or a bi person, the gay man gets the opportunity first, so this was a chance to include the whole community and tell a bigger story.”
Liedman was also determined to produce a show that didn’t traffic in stereotypical caricatures for laughs. While an unabashedly “queer” show from the very beginning, Q-Force is far deeper than you might expect. “In some parallel universe, there is a version of gay James Bond who has sex with Octopenis and Gold Dick or whatever,” he laughs. “But that didn’t appeal to me. It didn't feel like anything I would watch. It felt like the sketch comedy version of the idea. That's the Ambiguously Gay Duo version, which is so funny in its way, but doesn’t have series legs to me. It didn’t seem like something you could get 50 episodes out of.”
“You have to think about human relationships,” he adds. “The ensemble works for this show, not just on a representation level, but also because it's a workplace comedy with this group of people thrown together, that love each other, and also annoy each other. These are real human relationships. This isn't just a list of references or topics that we're going to quickly run through for jokes.”
It was important for Liedman that audiences would learn about characters’ lives, their backgrounds, and families. “We see characters fall in love,” he says. “We have people reckoning with their past. I knew that for the show to have any future, it couldn’t just live on the surface. It would have to go a little deeper.”
The show’s animation is produced at Emmy Award-winning Titmouse; Liedman is effusive in his praise of the studio, particularly art director Michelle Rhee, who joined the production in its infancy. “When we started writing, we hired our art director, Michelle Rhee, and began working with Titmouse Los Angeles and Vancouver,” he describes. “She was on board from the very beginning of the writing. I chose her because she and I really saw the show in the same way. Very realistic locations. A sort of anime meets Disney meets action aesthetic. She was just absolutely brilliant. What was really important to me, because the writing and story is [so steeped in] comedy, was that the visual art and music would always ground the show in our genre. Our feet would always be in the action-adventure superspy world. And Michelle really, really got that.”
“She also got the sex appeal thing,” he adds. “We have all different types of people who identify in all different ways, different races, different ages, different waists… fat, skinny, everything. She really got it, that everyone should be sexy in their own way. And that was so important to me because I think a lot of queer media gets de-sexed to be a little bit more palatable to straight audiences, whereas that's not true of James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Mission Impossible. Those all run right towards the sexy, in a way that, as an audience member, I love. Just because our characters are queer and their partners are not who your partners are, and their bodies are not like your body, I didn’t want to shy away from that at all.”
Noting that Rhee became an art director “by working her way up the ranks in a million different positions,” Liedman says he relied on her expertise and artistic sensibilities to craft the look of the show. “Her touch, with background designs and locations, her color work, her eye for lighting, just elevated the show to a totally different level. The show looks so lush to me, which lends it credibility. I really owe it all to her.”
“The Titmouse team in Vancouver is just incredible,” he also says. “When I first started to see animation come back, I had to pinch myself. And Antonio Canobbio was with us every step of the way.”
Regarding the opportunity to create his “queer” show without compromise, Liedman says, “Netflix gave us 10 episodes. Let’s not make a show where we’re fighting for the queer space. Let's start at stage two and make the jokes that queer people are going to get. Let’s make the art that's going to turn queer people on, with references that make us laugh. This is a golden opportunity that not a lot of sub-cultures get in storytelling. We don't have to be educational right now. We don't have to catch the audience up to what we're thinking. If they're tuning in, it’s gay from the very first second.”
Reflecting on how the show may eventually lands with audiences, Liedman reveals, “I hope people laugh. I hope they enjoy themselves. I hope they feel they've been on an adventure. I hope they walk away with all the feelings that I love having when I watch a James Bond or Jason Bourne movie. I want them to have that thrill. But it was really important to me, from the very early stages, the building blocks of the show’s DNA, to base the politics and representation in a queer sensibility. The first sentence I ever said to Netflix about this show was it was a queer show. That is always going to be true. It has a queer cast, queer writer, queer artists… because there hasn't been gay James Bond before. So, let’s try it. This has been baked in from the beginning. And Netflix said yes. And I hope audiences say yes too!”
Keywords: More than a Gay James Bond, Saving the World From West Hollywood, Q-Force, Sean Hayes, Gary Cole, David Harbour, Patti Harrison, Laurie Metcalf, Matt Rogers, Wanda Sykes, Gabe Liedman, Todd Milliner, Ben Heins, Mike Schur, David Miner, Titmouse Michelle Rhee, Antonio Canobbio, Netflix, SVOD, VOD, streaming entertainment, Streaming Media, streaming platforms, streaming, Animated TV Series, TV series animation, TV Animation, TV, Television, LGBTQ+, gay, queer, 2D, 2D animation, PEN15, Big Mouth, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Inside Amy Schumer, The Kroll Show
Q-Force is now streaming on Netflix. Liedman, Hayes, Milliner, Ben Heins, Mike Schur, and David Miner serve as executive producers.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.