When “Teen Titans Go!” producers Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath last discussed their new show with the press, during a junket at Comic Con International in San dIego, the pair had twelve episodes written, but no animation in hand. “We sort of thought we knew what the show was,” Jelenic said. “But since we last spoke, the show has become something different.” The pair, along with voice actors Greg Cipes and Khary Payton, stopped by WonderCon to discuss the show, which will air Tuesdays at 7:30PM on Cartoon Network starting April 23. As opposed to the mix of comedy and action of the original series, “Go!” finds the teen heroes in a more overtly comedic world, where inanimate objects talk and episodes revolve around Beast Boy’s love of the couch.
“We took characters made for one thing, fighting crime, and put them in situations that they were never supposed to be in,” Jelenic continued. Despite a focus on weird hijinks, the producer said the new format allowed them to bring out new aspects in the characters that have existed in the comics for years.
Originally announced as a package of 11-minute shorts interspersed through the DC Nation block, the show now consists of two shorts shown back to back in its own half-hour time slot. “There is a solid story all the way through [each short],” Horvath said. “It’s not just random, short form stuff.” With a goal of making the audience laugh, the stories will be largely self-contained. “There’s not a storyline that carries [from episode to episode], but there are relationships that develop,” the producer added. And while the characters will evolve as the show goes on, the format is designed to make it easier for new viewers to dive in. “If their first show is in the middle of the season, I don’t want them to be confused.”.
After spending several years developing the epic storyline of” Thundercats,” Jelenic is happy to work in such a drastically different format. “I had to use a different part of my brain,” he said. “It’s sort of a relief. It’s harder to be serious, at least for me. I’m good at being stupid.”
“We’re, like, the dumbest guys,” Horvath added.
“If you guys like dumb, this show is for you!” Jelenic agreed.
Getting back to topic, Jelenic said that as work on the show continued, a consistent universe for the characters emerged. “Our show is sort of taking on [a form where] some of our weirder characters — like a talking boomerang or a boom box — are making multiple appearances.” He also revealed that the pre-existing relationship between Terra and Beast Boy in the old series would be touched upon. “As you build a universe, it sort of naturally happens.”
At Comic-Con, Horvath admitted to having certain knowledge gaps in regard to the DC Universe, a condition he claimed to still be largely true, though he’s now well-versed in the Titans mythology, from Beast Boy’s real name to the tragic origin of Cyborg. “I’m like, ‘Let’s do that episode as a comedy.’ It could be funny, right?”
“He knows more than he lets on,” Jelenic said. In addition to Horvath’s new understanding of the characters origins, the show’s staff contains a number of DC fans. The producer noted, “There’s plenty of nods to the comics,” from background cameos to the appearance of a character like Trigon, who shows up in several episodes.
To the producer, it was the devotion these characters inspire among fans and those working on the show that made the Titans an appealing property to return to. “Everybody who worked on the original show, they nailed it,” he said. “It’s sort of like ‘Scooby-Doo.’ It’s the same show, forty years in a row — same costumes, same voices, practically, same costumes — but there’s something enjoyable, even now. You want to spend time with those characters. That’s the same thing with these five.”
Two of the five in question, Beast Boy and Cyborg, are voiced by actors Khary Payton and Greg Cipes, who return with the rest of the original voice cast for “Teen Titans Go!” “It’s such a family,” said Payton of the ensemble, which also includes Scott Menville as Robin, Tara Strong as Raven and Hynden Walch as Starfire. “We worked together for so long doing the first show that the personalities mesh well.”
In the years since the original Teen TItans cartoon series stopped airing, Cyborg became a prominent part of the DC Comics universe, graduating to the Justice League with the recent line-wide reboot. “I’ll take a two-percent credit [for that],” joked the actor. “I remember reading him when I was a kid and to see him live on is great.” He also said the character’s intensity and passion make him not just a fan-favorite, but a blast to play.
“The team of characters and their diversity attracts people,” Cipes said, noting the show’s international following. Even in far-off countries, the combination of Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy offer broad, yet specific archetypes, like the computer nerd or Goth girl, for viewers to latch on to.
The principle voice actors record their lines as a group, an unusual situation in animation. According to Cipes, the tone of the new series led to livelier recording sessions. He credited that to the range of scripts. “They just push every button and try everything that every fan has wanted to see.”
Though the current 52-episode order may give fans a large part of what they want to see, there remains uncertainty about whether or not the show can find the sizable audience required to receive a second batch. “You never know … There’s so many factors you can’t control, you just hope you make something and it clicks with a wide audience,” Jelenic said. He also expressed hope that the show will have a wider appeal with its focus on comedy, which, as a format, currently performs better in the animation arena than action cartoons.
That focus on comedy comes with a price. It has already put the producers in the crosshairs of a fan backlash. “Everybody hates us,” Horvath joked.
But as the writer of the DC Universe “Wonder Woman” film and a producer/script editor on “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” Jelenic is used to weathering fan rage. “I worked on ‘The Batman,’ the first Batman show after ‘The Animated Series,’ and the hate for that show when it came out … you could feel it.” According to the producer, most of the shows following the initial “Animated Series” entries received a certain amount of resistance, but generally, fans came around to the different takes on the DC characters each presented. “When [‘Brave and the Bold’] ended, everybody was bummed out; same thing with ‘Green Lantern.’ I’m hoping that it will be the same here.”
“I just hope people will give it a chance,” added Horvath. “It’s really funny and we’re having a lot of fun.”