'SuperMansion's Heroes Wage a 'War on Christmas' in New Crackle Special
While the current spate of comic-based TV shows and movies show that, whether they're from Earth or some far-away planet, superheroes are human. But in SuperMansion, Crackle's animated series from the team that created Robot Chicken, the heroes' foibles are somewhat less than dramatic. One hero, a wealthy trust-fund brat, laments accidentally sitting on his testicles; a robot finds out he was assembled by a Jewish designer and has a spiritual awakening, and yet another is a genetically-modified cat who can kick ass but still gets distracted by lasers.
The leader of this group, The League of Freedom, is Titanium Rex (Bryan Cranston), who is struggling to be relevant as he ages and the world changes around him. In contrast is his friend American Ranger (Keegan-Michael Key), who fought alongside Rex in the '40s but was frozen in a time pod for 70 years. He's young, but everyone he loved is either old or dead, and the world has changed drastically.
"I would say the big thing with American Ranger that was interesting to me to play was it's fun to actually play a character who lives in a flipped reality" Key tells TV Insider. "People of color and people of other cultures, we've had to live in a place where people say, 'This is the real America that we live in.' Now I've had this opportunity to play a character which juxtaposed for him. He's going, 'What? What has happened?'"
After a successful first season, the streaming service will debut the special SuperMansion: War on Christmas on Dec. 8. In the special, the League encounter an evil puppet named Mr. Skibumpers (Jim Parsons), who brings Santa Claus (Gary Anthony Williams) to life. Santa, though, comes with all the baggage you'd expect from him, like figuring out how to deliver 900 million presents in 24 hours, which is how the war in the title starts.
"Everybody has their own personal holidays, everybody has their own mythology for Santa Claus, for Jesus, and just trying to tie them all together," says co-creator Matthew Senreich. "Even with this one, it all started with the simplicity of Santa's job, how does he get it done? How does this man deliver those presents in that short amount of time? What pressure is this man under? Again, it's just leading into the very simplistic nature of 'it's a job.' Imagine your deadline for all your articles was in one night. It just wouldn't happen.
True to his not-from-this-time character, American Ranger spends the special defending Christmas against Hanukkah and Kwanzaa as the "best" holiday, a conviction that gets tested when Santa goes rogue. It's part of an evolution that developed over the show's first season. "Everybody is younger than him in age, but they're all more mature than him culturally," says Key. "I believe that there's some part of him that does thirst to learn. He's just in this constant state of new stimuli all the time. It's a tough thing."
Parsons is at his manic best as Mr. Skibumpers, who is brought back to life by Cooch (Heidi Gardner), the aforementioned cat-person whose childlike curiosity and general DGAF attitude get her in trouble. "When we wrote this character we had his voice in mind and we really didn't think he would do it," says Senreich. "We were pleasantly surprised when we went out, that he was excited. When he came in, there's a reason he's the highest-paid actor on television. You're like, 'Holy cow, you are overly talented.' He can do whatever you want, you can make adjustments on the fly, he can improv in ways that you don't even expect. It's a wonderful experience. It just makes you want to think of more things to do with him."
The ability for all the voice actors, whether they're superstars like Cranston and Key or veteran voice actors like Gardner or Tucker Gilmore, who plays the bratty Black Saturn, to improvise is key to the creative team, according to Senreich. "It's amazing to see the talent of some of these people, come into the booth who do this professionally and you can see why they do what they do. It's a sound effect that you're not expecting in the middle of the sentence. It's a sigh here or there. That's what voice talent does that has been in this business."
For those who've never seen SuperMansion before, both Key and Senriech think that the War on Christmas special is a good way to get started. "It's funny that we've never seen a special like this," says Key. "There's all the wacky stuff like people saying 'Yep, I sat on my balls.' There's all that in there. There's also this great, kind of fun dark, existential comedy too, like Santa Claus coming out of nowhere and going 'I have to do WHAT tonight? That's impossible!' That concept is amazing. I think the Christmas special itself is enough of a delivery system to make me want to watch the rest of the season."
It's also a good way for people to discover that Crackle's original programming slate is growing far beyond just Jerry Seinfeld driving around comedians and drinking coffee. "They really let you explore and go in any direction that you want. They're holding your hands but their notes are actually very sound. Our executive on the project, it feels like he's part of the writers room," says Senreich about the network. "It lets you play a little more serialized [with the show], which on Adult Swim doesn't necessarily work. I think that's probably the biggest difference between the two is that we can have these characters grow at a quicker rate than if we would on either network or cable network like Adult Swim."
Even the very busy Key, who was seen just about everywhere in 2016, got hooked. "I was in my apartment one night, just by myself, and I said 'I'm going to put on Crackle and see what the show looks like because I would love to see how they put together the stop motion.' Then I got into a vortex. Not because I'm a part of the show, but because I was like 'This is hilarious.' A lot of the timing is really great, the way that they're editing the timing, and the fact that they're getting looks from small, inanimate objects that are conveying a message. It's really amazing. There's a vaudevillian feel about it, they're definitely true to the superhero archetypes and putting a nice twist on them."
SuperMansion: War on Christmas, Premieres Thursday, Dec. 8, Crackle
SuperMansion, Season 1, Now streaming, Crackle