Creator/Writer/Producer/Voice of Allen Gregory Shows Another Side of His Unique Brand of Humor On The Small Screen
"Allen Gregory" is Jonah Hill's new animated series on Fox, about Allen Gregory de Longpre, a precocious, pretentious 7 year old navigating elementary school life for the first time. During a presentation of the pilot and subsequent Q&A at USC on Sunday, Hill, the cast and crew talked about the making of "Allen Gregory" and their creative process with this new venture. In addition to creating, writing and producing the series, Hill voices the miniature Allen Gregory, who talks like a combination of an Upper East Side grandma and Ari from "Entourage." He has two dads, the snarky/urbane Richard, voiced by French Stewart, and the hunky, warm, possibly straight Jeremy, voiced by Nat Faxon, the comedian who also wrote "The Descendants."
The show came about as a passion project for Hill and his friends/neighbors, writing partners Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, when Hill, who lived upstairs from Paul, felt bad about passing on one of their scripts. Fox had asked Hill to voice an animated character, but he wanted to take it the step further and create his own show as his first foray into that world. Hill, Paul and Mogel started playing with ideas around pretentious, delusional people who have no self-awareness, which they find both funny and disgusting. Hill also pondered, "What character can I play that I can't play in real life?" And the image of a tiny, cute, bespectacled asshole named Allen Gregory deLongpre was born.
The show is an exercise in fast-paced, densely packed writing and the jokes fly furiously with barely a pause to let it all sink in. Hill and co. are also taking advantage of their turf on Fox, where envelope pushing cartoons like "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" have been nurtured (another one of Fox's new animated series happens to be "Napoleon Dynamite," with the entire original cast back for voice work). They don't pull any punches on smart-raunchy content (emphasis on the "smart") and it's all the more hilarious for it, though Hill mentioned the FCC mainly had issues with the scatological elements of the humor more than anything else. The show has a modish, 60s look, though realistic, done by the animators at Bento Box. The team gave the designers "New Yorker magazine," "Capote," and "Wes Anderson" as directives in creating the visuals for the show. Hill also praised composer Josh Sitron for his contributions, saying he "makes the show funnier with his music."
Hill also talked about Judd Apatow's advice in working on the small screen (Apatow's wife Leslie Mann voices Gina Winthrop, Allen Gregory's teacher/nemesis). Apatow, who had two brilliant shows on the air for only one season ("Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared") told Hill to never let the show "not be what you want it to be," and that "let it be cancelled and remembered as one season of something awesome." Hill's putting on his big boy (or small boy, as it were) pants on as executive producer on "The Sitter," "21 Jump Street" and "Allen Gregory." He mentioned that his tactic in meetings with executives is to "fight, but just fight in a polite way" noting that "as a producer you have to be very involved and very annoying." And not just in the making of it either, as he takes marketing just as seriously, saying, "The way it's shown to the world is important." In fact, they played the red band trailer for "The Sitter" before the "Allen Gregory" presentation to get everyone warmed. Though he's still a jokester, shouting out "Just play the fucking show!" from the back row as the presentation was introduced, riffing with Faxon onstage, and describing pranking his writing partner Jarrad Paul's imdb message board.
Seven episodes of "Allen Gregory" have been shot, with six more scripts written. It premieres on October 30th, after "The Simpsons," so it has a great lead in and Fox is betting big on it. There's no dearth of high profile talent behind the mic either, with Will Forte, who voices the school board superintendent, Renee Taylor as the older principal Allen Gregory crushes on, and Jeff Goldblum will appear in an upcoming episode as dad Richard's nemesis. Hill calls the project "the dream of my entire life" to work with people he genuinely loves, and it comes across in their easy camaraderie. It's a razor sharp dark comedy, but it has a heart of gold and it genuinely tugs at the heart strings when little devil Allen Gregory asks if the kids at school will like him. We'll have to see if audiences agree when "Allen Gregory" debuts on Sunday.