By Stacey Harrison
There is a lot of talk about how todayâ€™s kids are too protected, hampered in their path to maturity by so-called helicopter parents who hover around every second of their precious little onesâ€™ lives, making sure they never feel a momentâ€™s discomfort and that they know they are special.
The characters in Unsupervised are not those kids.
The animated FX comedy, which premieres tonight at 10:30, follows the exploits of Gary and Joel, two best friends who must forge through adolescence and the snake pit that is high-school society almost completely without parental guidance. Yet despite their bleak circumstances â€” Garyâ€™s father deserted him years ago, leaving him with a stepmom who couldnâ€™t care less about him, and Joelâ€™s elderly parents have pretty much checked out on his life â€” the duo remain eternally optimistic. Itâ€™s that contrast between their attitude and the harsh reality of the world around them that creates the showâ€™s humor and heart, says creator/executive producer David Hornsby.
â€śAll their adventures start from a very earnest place,â€ť says Hornsby, who also voices Joel. â€śWe see how they take care of themselves, how they learn how to behave, and learn about the world without any adult supervision. They have to deal with some big issues on their own, and usually theyâ€™re trying to â€” just like any teenager â€” either be cool or be more adult while doing it.â€ť
Donâ€™t expect the humor to shy away from sensitive areas. Hornsby, along with co-creators and executive producers Rob Rosell and Scott Marder, are also writers on Itâ€™s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is known for poking fun at taboo subjects and pushing the boundaries of what can be done on television.
But Hornsby says while the two shows share some DNA, they branch out in very different directions.
â€śYou canâ€™t help but bring over some qualities of writing that you love, but itâ€™s a very different show, just in the nature of who the characters are,â€ť he says. â€ś[Gary and Joel] are very earnest and upbeat and always stay positive. The Always Sunny characters are the complete opposite. Theyâ€™re all very active in pursuing what they want, but each works from a very different place. That leads us to a very different type of humor.â€ť
Itâ€™s Always Sunny fans will, however, be happy to know that the stars of that series, Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton, also serve as executive producers on Unsupervised, and Sweet Dee herself, Kaitlin Olson, provides the voice of two characters on the show.
Other voices include Justin Long as Gary, Kristen Bell as Megan â€” whom Hornsby characterizes as â€ślike the girl from Election, but just not as smartâ€ť â€” Romany Malco (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) as Gary and Joelâ€™s friend Darius, SNLâ€™s Fred Armisen as the helpful neighbor Martin, Alexa Vega (Spy Kids) as Martinâ€™s wild-child daughter Christina, and Sally Kellerman as the stern leader of the high school, Principal Stark.
And as if Hornsby isnâ€™t doing enough on the show, he also draws the characters before handing them over to the animators. That way he gets to design Unsupervisedâ€™s particular look, which he describes as â€śtrying to show as real a world as we can. Thatâ€™s why all the sets feel dark â€¦ to make the world be contrasted with these characters.â€ť
The animation also allows more freedom for Hornsby and company to deliver the kind of edgy content they want.
â€śThis is the perfect way to do it,â€ť he says. â€śThe show fits in an animated world because you can get away with more things with kid characters that you couldnâ€™t do [if it were live action]. Itâ€™s funnier animated, and you can do some larger than life things.â€ť
Photo: Credit: FX