Robot Chicken has parodied virtually every pop-culture property under the sun, and notably took aim at Star Wars and DC Comics in well-received full-length episodes. The show’s next target is anybody’s guess, but a looming guest appearance by Joss Whedon provides at least one clue.
“Joss is doing something for us this season,” Robot Chicken co-creator Seth Green told reporters at New York Comic con. “He’s going to be in the season finale — there’s a Cabin in the Woods spoof.”
“Hasn’t he been in your season finale for the past several seasons?” interjected voice actor Clare Grant, Green’s wife and a member of the multimedia production group Team Unicorn. “I remember zombie Joss Whedon.”
“That’s this season,” Green replied.
The two can be viewed as one of geekdom’s major power couples, with Green known for his roles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Mass Effect video game series, and Grant for the award-winning “Saber” parody videos. While the two have diverse individual interests, they do enjoy going toy-hunting together.
“I’m the gamer, so he’s really nice and lets me play video games whenever I want,” Grant said. “He just sits and watches.”
“I really enjoy watching the storylines unfold without having to provide any of the competitive dexterity,” Green said. “I just get to sit there and go, ‘Oh, that’s awesome! Go up there, go up there!'”
“We’re both into collectibles, so we do toy hunting together,” Grant added. “I love statues, maquettes –”
“I know a lot of people that make that stuff,” Green said.
Indeed, Green does know a lot of people who make toys. In his role as executive producer of Robot Chicken, he’s had ample opportunity to work with an array of properties and actors for the stop-motion animated series. He enjoys the entire process of putting together the show from start to finish.
“The whole process is what I’m most addicted to,” he said. “From somebody coming up with something to sitting and writing something to figuring out what it looks like and what puppets we’re going to use and deciding what the set’s going to be and how it’s going to work. Then you get the final thing and you show it to people and you wait for that exact reaction you’re scientifically trying to mix.”
Grant observed the actor has the most fun as a director during voice-recording sessions. “Even if he passes off the work to somebody else to handle, he’s like, ‘I’ve got to be there for the voice recording,'” she said.
However, the show didn’t always run as smoothly as it does now. The Emmy award-winning Robot Chicken is on its sixth season, and shows no sign of slowing down, but Green recalled a time during the first season that presented a major challenge and, in many ways, a wake-up call.
“First season, Episode 7, we had something like 240 storyboard frames and our animators were like, ‘You can’t physically do this,'” Green said. “And poor Matt [Senreich, the show’s co-creator], I was in Hungary making a movie and doing all my work in my other hours. It was crazy — the time just worked out that way where L.A. woke up while I was supposed to be sleeping, but instead I just worked through the night on Robot. Matt called me right when I was supposed to go to bed and said, ‘We are in the thick of it and the animators are revolting. We have to figure out how to solve this because I don’t think we’re going to be able to make the show any more.’ You figure it out. We didn’t know anything about stop-motion when we started this; we learned on the job. You don’t realize how important communication is and how important somebody just saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know if that’s possible’ early on so everyone can go, ‘Oh, well, we don’t have to do that. Let’s figure out a productive way to solve that problem.'”
That learning experience has been valuable throughout the show’s run, and it’s still something that comes into play four years later.
“Now that we’ve made a hundred episodes and a couple specials, now we all really understand how important all those things are,” Green said. “I think that’s why this season has been the best we’ve ever had. It’s just sort of been good on the inside. I feel like anyone who watches it can tell that it’s made with love.”
However, Robot Chicken isn’t Green’s only project: He, Senreich and a number of Robot Chicken alums are working on Star Wars: Detours, an animated sketch show for an all-ages audience. Plus, there are a number of other projects on Green’s plate that aren’t ready to be announced.
“My time split is crazy. It’s metric. I can’t really speak to how much time Detours takes, I guess,” he said. “We’re busy on a lot of stuff, we’re developing a lot of stuff, [we’ve] sold a couple pilots to a few studios. We’re working in a couple of different directions. We’re developing some live-action stuff. It’s a good time. We realized that if you just get your friends together and continue to push each other to become more excellent and always make stuff that that’s satisfying. You don’t have to be chasing someone else’s thing or be competing with anybody else in the marketplace. Just make the stuff that means something to you and get all the people that feel the same way and you’ll put something out there that people enjoy watching.”
Part of that process for Robot Chicken involves looking to the show’s capable writing staff to come up with new ideas or touch on properties that haven’t been covered by the show.
“We throw out to the writers every season to throw out a property that we haven’t touched on, even some that we have,” Green said. “When we get new writers, they have different experiences, different interpretations of the same stuff.”
While Robot Chicken has tackled a number of properties, including video games like the classic Final Fantasy VII, the show has yet to target Mass Effect, for which Green voices the character Jeff “Joker” Moreau.
“Gosh, I wish somebody would come in and have played that game enough that they would write a sketch about it, but nobody’s written that sketch yet,” he said. “I put it out there every season.
“People who play that game — we have a weirdly intimate relationship even though I haven’t been a part of us acquiring that intimacy,” he continued. “It’s really funny — people who play that game say, ‘You put me through some really traumatic stuff, man!’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, you’re welcome!'”
While Robot Chicken lampoons a lot of beloved characters, it’s not always pretty: Sketches can contain anything from profanity to dismemberment to sex. However, Green said there hasn’t been much unexpected backlash.
“Usually the sensitivity is predictive,” he said. “Usually people say there’s going to be some sensitivity about this in advance, but we haven’t had any actual people come back at us. Usually because even when we make off-color comments, it’s always true and it’s always so silly that you really shouldn’t get angry about it.”
As for the future of Robot Chicken, Green said it’s possible the show’s specials will continue to focus on comics, especially considering the success of the recent DC Comics episode.
“We keep kicking around a Marvel idea. It all depends,” he said. “DC worked really well and we had so much fun that while we were writing it, we were like, ‘Oh, man, we have more than enough material to write a second one.’ When we put the first one together, we talked about writing a second one. We thought we’d abandon all that and tell a completely different story. So we might honestly do that, make a second DC before doing anything else. I can’t say that’s for sure, but that is definitely right on the forefront of our brains, so my guess is that we would do that with DC Comics.”
However, Green said a Marvel special isn’t completely out of the question, mentioning he saw Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada at the convention and made sure to remind him the show would love to do something with the company.
“I’m pushing for Marvel,” Grant said. “Marvel’s my favorite.”
The good news for her and other Marvel fans is The Avengers features in the current season of Robot Chicken.
“We have a bunch of Avengers sketches coming up on this season that I’m really excited for you to see,” Green said.
Robot Chicken airs Sundays at midnight on Adult Swim.