Duncanville, premiering this Sunday night on FOX, reunites Parks and Recreation alums Amy Poehler, Mike Scully and Julie Thacker Scully in an all-new animated series about a completely average 15-year-old boy, Duncan (voiced by Poehler), who’s nothing short of amazing… inside his own fantasy life. In addition to Poehler, the cast also includes Ty Burrell (Jack), Riki Lindhome (Kimberly), Joy Osmanski (Jing), Betsy Sodaro (Bex), Yassir Lester (Yangzi) and Zach Cherry (Wolf), as well as guest stars Rashida Jones (Mia) and Wiz Khalifa (Mr. Mitch).
The show was announced with considerable fanfare back in October 2018; at that time, Michael Thorn, President, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company, stated “Duncanville is one of the freshest animated concepts we’ve seen, and has an insane pedigree of comedic talent across the board. We’ve enjoyed a long, incredible run with Mike and Julie, and everything Amy does is pure genius. Having the voice talents of Rashida and Wiz join her makes this show the complete package. I can’t wait to have them all together when we add Duncanville to our growing animated slate.”
To learn more about the highly touted new comedy, we spoke with Mike (Emmy Award-winning executive producer and showrunner on The Simpsons) and Julie (Emmy Award-winning writer and producer on The Simpsons), the show’s husband and wife co-creators and executive producing team.
According to the Scullys, the idea to produce an animated show began with a call from Poehler four years ago. “Amy contacted us in 2016 to see if we were interested in creating an animated series together,” they share. “We immediately said ‘Yes!’ and just four short years later, here we are! We wanted to do a show that fits in with the FOX Sunday night line-up, but is different enough to have an identity of its own. That’s why we centered it on a 15-year-old boy, his family, and friends. There aren’t a lot of teen characters on the other FOX animated shows, so it felt like a fresh area.”
On the show, Poehler voices not only Duncan but his mother, Annie, a parking enforcement officer with dreams of making detective. Burrell voices Duncan’s dad, a classic rock-loving plumber who can’t understand why his kids won’t “friend” him on Facebook. Both want a happy, safe and stable life for their son, but aren’t sure he understands how to get there.
Duncanville reunites the Scullys with Poehler, whom they previously worked with on the multiple-award-winning NBC hit comedy, Parks and Recreation. “Amy’s a blast to work with,” they reveal. “She’s a total team player with tons of great ideas. We’ve known each other for about ten years, going back to Parks and Recreation, where we hit it off pretty quickly. She comes at everything from a character angle instead of a joke angle, and it’s a better way to develop the show. She’s involved in all the stories, and comes up with a lot of funny stuff during recording that makes it into the show. We’ve even stolen stories she’s told us about her kids and put them in scripts. We couldn’t ask for a better partner!
Though the series joins a resoundingly “adult” block of Sunday night animated programming, the creators consider theirs a family show. “We don’t look at Duncanville as adult animation,” the Scullys say. “It’s meant for families in the same way The Simpsons is. Obviously, having teenage characters might draw more teens to the show, which would be great because they are always a receptive audience for animation.”
The show is produced by Bento Box, the animation studio behind Fox TV’s long-running Sunday night hit, Bob’s Burgers, as well The Great North, an Alaskan family adventure series from Emmy and Annie Award-winning Bob’s Burgers executive producers Loren Bouchard, Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux, which will also join the network’s Sunday night lineup this spring. Bento Box, if you recall, was purchased last August by Fox Entertainment, though it continues to operate independently, producing animated content for other platforms such as Netflix, Apple TV+ and Hulu.
The animation studio proved instrumental in helping develop the show’s overall look and visual style, as well as character designs. “The hardest part of launching any new animated series is designing the characters,” the Scullys explain. “We’re not artists like Matt Groening, Seth MacFarlane, or Mike Judge, so we were depending on our animators to come up with a look. There was a lot of trial and error, but one day a design came in that we all liked, and then a few days later we saw a couple more that we really liked. We realized that these were all from the same animator, Hans Ranum from Bento Box Animation. We laid out our characters’ qualities and, because we can’t draw, we looked up different people online that we felt conveyed those traits—some famous and some unknown. For example, one of Amy’s characters, Annie Harris, is a parking enforcement officer, so we took Chief Wiggum’s image from The Simpsons and pasted Amy’s face on his body…without telling Amy. And she saw that for the first time in the pitch.”
“The process from writing to air takes about nine months,” they continue. “We give ourselves two or three days to develop the initial idea. If it’s not coming together at that point, it usually means there’s something wrong with the story, so we move onto something else. Certain story ideas you love but can never crack for one reason or another.”
One of the biggest challenges all new series face is finding out what the show is really about, made even more difficult with increasingly skittish, ratings-obsessed executives all too eager to give it the early axe before it finds its narrative footing. Duncanville is no exception. “The first year of any series, animated or live-action, is figuring out what the show really is: the tone, the look, the stories you want to tell, what character dynamics and conflicts will be the most fun to explore,” the showrunners note. “Most shows are constantly evolving for the first few seasons, if they’re lucky enough to be on the air that long. If you think about some of your favorite shows, most of them didn’t come out of the game fully formed. They took time to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Because of the amount of content out there now, you don’t get the time you used to get, so there’s extra pressure to figure it out faster. It’s tough, because some shows that might have been great don’t always get the chance to find themselves.”
But with impressive, well-respected and proven creative and production teams in place, the new show starts its inaugural 13-episode season on solid ground. “We hope audiences love the characters, laugh, and want to see more,” the Scullys conclude. “We also want them to buy lots of cheaply-made merchandise, and who knows—maybe even see a Duncanville movie!”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.