The stars and executive producers of The Heart, She Holler sat down with Spinoff Online at New York Comic Con to talk about Adult Swim's upcoming six-night miniseries, which lampoons classic dramas like Dallas and Twin Peaks.
As anyone who's seen the trailer knows, the live-action soap defies any sort of normal classification. It revolves around a Southern tycoon who leaves his fortunes to a long-lost son, played by Patton Oswalt, which greatly upsets his other two daughters (Kristen Schaal and Heather Lawless). The resulting show involves psychic powers, ghosts, suicides, gore, people buried in walls and still more craziness. And yes, this is a comedy.
Executive producers John Lee and Alyson Levy previously worked on the MTV2 sketch-comedy series Wonder Showzen, and continue that weird artistic sensibility on The Heart, She Holler.
Lee pitched the project to Adult Swim as "what if Twin Peaks was weird," while Oswalt refers to the concept as "Falcon Crest with rickets."
"You'll never see anything like it on television," said Schaal, a Daily Show contributor and co-star of Flight of the Conchords. "But you're gonna love it, it's really addictive. I, myself, have seen all of them and I was like, 'I gotta see the next night!' I was sad when it was over."
"We always think that jokes are nightmares, if you just take them very seriously," Lee said.
"Tragedy is I cut my finger, comedy is you fall into a sewer and die," Oswalt added, quoting the legendary Mel Brooks. "As long as it ain't me, it's great."
Despite this, The Heart, She Holler is played, for the most part, pretty straight. "I think there's a serious tone," Lee said.
"Everybody in the show takes themselves deadly seriously," Oswalt added, comparing the show to Alex Cox's Repo Man.
"It's like a gothic-horror Grimm's fairy tale," Schaal offered.
The Heart She company produces almost all of the products in the show's setting, forcing residents of the holler to buy from them. This type of world building adds to the economic commentary littered throughout the series.
"But how is that any different from a Wal-Mart opening up outside a town and everything else getting eaten up?" Oswalt said. "You're basically going to the company store, it's just called Wal-Mart."
Speaking of the titular location of the show, Schaal said, "I think the definition of a holler is an isolated place where families sort of go [in the South]."
"It's somewhere you wouldn't want to go after dark," Lawless added. "It's very backwoods and off the grid and incestuous."
Despite the show's surrealist leanings, its characters will evolve, Lee said. "You can't have a character who's a simpleton that just stays a simpleton."
"Being smart is horrible," Oswalt joked. "That's the main message [of the show]: Don't read books, don't play their game."
Oswalt compared the production to shows by British comedian Matt Berry, saying they are both "so confident in these esoteric worlds that they make people that normally wouldn't be in to them be comfortable, like they understand this world. Matt Berry, especially, is such a genius, and the same with the guys who did The Mighty Boosh. You create the most esoteric world and make it seem like it's the most normal thing."
"There's really only Adult Swim that does weird stuff like that," Lee added. "As opposed to the BBC that will produce just six episodes of something strange and that's it, see ya later."
"We would love to do a daily show of this show, where we have a big giant studio with every set available," Lee said.
More seriously, Adult Swim plans to eventually get the team to produce 20 episodes, enabling them to program a month's worth of nightly episodes.
All the actors emphasized how great the scripts are for The Heart, She Holler, how little they deviate from what's written.
"Some of it was different than just normal dialogue," actor Leo Fitzpatrick said. "The writing is so specific and so badly written in a weirdly specific way that you have to kind of reprogram your brain like the way they want you to speak. It's a fun challenge."
"There were a few moments where I found myself going, 'This is so uncomfortable and awkward, but it'll pay off in the end.'" He cited "Why are you do this" as a particularly odd line.
Oswalt went in to great detail about his views on actors who chose to deviate from brilliant comedic scripts.
"The scripts are really fucking good. and I think that there's literally become a fad of improv," he said. "A couple of good movies, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, had some improv in it that did great and now every goddamned comedic actor is like, 'Well, now, I gotta ad lib, too.' People now, they don't know how to read scripts. Why don't you read the script first and see if it's funny because it might make you look better if you read what's written rather than rambling on for 10 minutes and adding all your bullshit. To get a script this good and this bizarre, if I just read these lines I know I'm gonna look really funny, rather than going 'I have ideas.' … Why don't [actors who improv] calm down and read what's fucking written? Nothing wrong with improv, but doing improv just no matter what is just as bad as following the script no matter what. There's gotta be a balance."
"When I did the show Reno 911!, it succeeded because of improv, because they created an atmosphere where that would kill," Oswalt added. "I don't really know [specific examples], but I just know that there have been some comedies, especially some films, where it's clear that they fell in love with every fucking thing that came out of their mouth."
"When you see a comedy that's over 90 minutes it means they've done too much improv."
Oswalt must be happy to know that, with six 15-minute episodes, The Heart, She Holler will clock in at exactly 90 minutes.
The Heart, She Holler debuts Sunday, Nov. 6 at 12:30 a.m. ET/PT on Adult Swim, and airs through Nov. 11.