While the announcement of a crossover episode bringing the wackiness of “Teen Titans Go!” and the seriousness of cancelled show “Young Justice” together had some fans hoping for a revival of the latter series, Executive Producer Michael Jelenic can attest to the fact that at the very least, it’s all completely stupid.
That’s the language the “Teen Titans Go!” head writer proudly uses to describe his series, which was just recently renewed for another season as part of Cartoon Network‘s comedy-skewing lineup. While the absurd antics of the tiny Teen Titans team have not always been favored by longtime comics fans, the series has been undeniably popular with kids. And in fact, that tension is what gave birth to tonight’s “Serious Business” episode, which sees Young Justice crash into the Titans’ world.
CBR News spoke with Jelenic about the episode, and he revealed how the DC Entertainment crossover is the production team’s response to elements in fandom who truly hate their series, why Young Justice became the outlet for exploring that beef and how the show will get even stupider in upcoming episodes, while teaching kids valuable lessons about important topics like preparing for retirement.
CBR News: Michael, there have been plenty of questions surrounding the “Teen Titans Go!”/”Young Justice” crossover episode since it was announced, and I’m sure there will be plenty once it’s aired. But where did this whole idea of bringing in part of a former DC show come from?
Michael Jelenic: One of the things we mostly try and stick to is that we try not to bring any DC characters that weren’t in the original “New Teen Titans” series into our series. This was definitely a departure from that — and I guess we broke the rule with the Robins episode as well, which wasn’t such a cheat. But in this case, we had a deadline. We had a story due in three days, and we had no script, so we had to write something very fast. And we all had strong opinions about how people view our show — how some people will disregard our show because it’s not serious enough — so we decided to jump into that and see if it worked. If everybody wants a more serious version of “Teen Titans,” well, okay. We’ll give you our version of a more serious vision. That’s where it all came from.
It seemed appropriate to bring in the Young Justice team as part of that. People often associate the two shows, for various reasons, so we wanted to make them the group that came in and reminds our Titans why everyone hates their show. [Laughs] It inspires our cast to try and be more serious.
It’s funny, because “Teen Titans Go!” has been a tremendous success on Cartoon Network, but you’d never know it if you went to your average comic book message board. Is there a dissonance between what young viewers seem to think and what the more adult fandom seems to express that’s followed you around as you’ve worked on this?
There certainly is. I go online, and this is by far the most hated show of any series I’ve ever worked on. But it is also by far the most successful. It’s the #1 kids cartoon on television right now. It’s beating “Spongebob!” It’s a huge hit. But all the feedback I tend to get is from people who curse it every day, and loudly! [Laughs] So there’s definitely a little bit of a disconnect between how the show is performing and what I read online.
Well, it’s funny, because one thing I’ve really realized watching the show is that you’ve taken Robin, who is ostensibly the leader of the team and a more straightforward character, and turned him into this maniac who’s constantly trying to pull the team back towards normal superheroics. And while that may drive older fans nuts, I’ve seen some of the promos Cartoon Network runs where kids send in their own videos, and they love that aspect of it. One kid on there finds the whole “Robin has baby hands” bit hilarious.
[Laughs] Yeah. The thing about “baby hands” is that it seems to have caught on a lot on the Internet. I see people referencing that all the time. I’ve got to give all the credit for Robin to Scott Menville. He played the super serious version of the character on the original show, but he’s now gone sort of crazy with his performance. He’s been able to take the character from the respectful version that people love into this comedic version. That’s insane. Without this cast of people who have played the same version of these characters that comic fans really love, we wouldn’t have been able to pull off this show. I give them a lot of the credit.
How did this episode come together, creatively? Obviously, Khary Payton plays Cyborg on your show and Aqualad in “Young Justice,” so he was able to be a connection between the casts. But did you bring in any guest stars for the other roles, or was it more about delivering the feel of the other show with your ensemble?
Basically the latter. We try to keep things super simple on our show as far as casting. Unless it was a character played in the old series, we try to have our cast cover any voices for new characters. It’s our philosophy to keep things as simple as possible and focus in on the five main characters and what they can do. If Khary did not play Aqualad in “Young Justice,” we probably would not have brought the “Young Justice” crew in. It was fun to see him play against himself because Aqualad and our version of Cyborg are about as far apart on the spectrum as you can get in terms of superheroes. There are no other voice actors from “Young Justice” making an appearance, but you’ll see some of the other characters.
I’ve got to say, Michael, I’m looking through the stills from this new episode, and there is one character in a purple shirt who looks quite a bit like you. Did you write yourself into your very meta episode?
No! [Laughs] My ego is only so great. That was put in by the director. There’s a scene in the episode where Raven does a really bad stand up comedy act, and I wanted it to be very long. Not just a little long. I wanted it to go on and on and on. Unfortunately, it did not go on and on, but the director put me in the audience having myself crack up at all her bad jokes. So that’s where that came from.
This does seem like a very in-joke heavy episode, which “Teen Titans Go!” has done before and which “Batman: The Brave & The Bold” did occasionally, but this one also has the highest potential to blow up online. Have you prepared yourself for the response you may get on the Internet?
Yeah, I think we’re prepared. When we did a similar episode in “Brave & The Bold,” we were a lot more gentle about it. It was, “Hey, give us a chance! We’re not that far from what you guys like.” With this show, we don’t feel there’s any chance we can win those people over. [Laughs] So this episode isn’t about winning them over. They hate the show, and they’re always going to hate the show. This is not what the older comic fan wants to see being done with these characters. It’s a kids show, and we embrace it in this episode. I always say that the show is super stupid, and in this one, we push the stupidity and the randomness. So there’s going to be a reaction, I expect.
Well, at least when the episode is over, you’ll probably stop getting questions about whether this means “Young Justice” is coming back. But you’ve also got other things to deal with on your plate, since “Teen Titans Go!” was just renewed for another year. Since this crossover episode started in a desperate moment to come up with another idea, have you started talking about what you can do with the show to fill up so many more episodes?
Absolutely. It’s a little overwhelming. We’ve done over 100 episodes, and we probably have another 100 to go. That’s a lot of episodes to come up with ideas for. The show is constantly evolving, so it gives us the opportunity to take a lot of chances. The longer we go, the weirder the episodes will be. And it won’t just be random. There are things we wouldn’t have done in Season 1 coming up. One thing I’m really interested in is this complaint the show sometimes gets that we don’t teach lessons. So I want to do a whole batch of episodes that teach lessons, but the lessons that most cartoons teach aren’t very valuable. It’s always obvious stuff like, “Be nice to one another,” or, “Treat everyone with respect.” I want to teach kids super invaluable lessons, like the wisdom of investing in a 401K. Let’s see if we can do that in a comedic way that will still be entertaining to kids. That’s seriously the kind of thing we’re going to be thinking about moving forward.
Like I said, everything we do is pretty stupid.
The “Teen Titans Go!” episode “Serious Business” airs tonight at 6:00 p.m. on Cartoon Network.