TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “Sit Down, Shut Up”

Need a good reason to watch Fox’s upcoming new animated series, “Sit Down, Shut Up”? Hell, I’ll give you ten good reasons…with resumes that include “Pushing Daisies,” “SpongeBob Squarepants,” “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons,” “Futurama,” “Arrested Development,” “Two and a Half Men,” and, uh, “Cavemen”…and they’re all labeled by name in the photograph below.

(L-R) Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Kenney, Nick Kroll, Will Arnett (who is standing in front of Cheri Oteri), Jason Bateman, and executive producers Josh Weinstein, Eric and Kim Tannenbaum and Mitch Hurwitz

Now, I ask you: how can you not want to watch “Sit Down, Shut Up”?

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of the show, it’s based on a live-action Australian sitcom about a bunch of cranky, obnoxious, irresponsible teachers but has, over the course of several years of evolution, found its way into an animated adaptation instead, albeit one with live-action backgrounds.

“It’s changed so much, I guess we’re really wondering why we are still paying royalties to Australia,” admitted Hurwitz. “But we’re in over our heads at this point. There is no getting out of it.”

But why did they decide to switch it from live-action to animated in the first place?

“Actually, it was a very daft kind of original show,” explained Hurwitz. “The show was very broad. As we tried a couple of different ways of rewriting it to be contemporary, it did occur to us that it might be the answer to ‘what else can you program as an animated show that isn’t a family,’ which is obviously what’s been so successful in animation. And we thought, well, maybe the idea of teachers would appeal to that same audience. It’s something kids can enjoy, it’s something adults can enjoy, it’s something we are all familiar with, so…I don’t know, it just seemed like a natural. And we’re using these live-action backdrops and animated characters in front of them, and in a way, our writing staff kind of reflects that as well. We are kind of half people who have done live action and half people who have done animation. So it is, hopefully, kind of a mix of sensibilities.”

“Sit Down, Shut Up” is Jason Bateman’s first full-time animation gig, which is a somewhat surprising move for someone who’s just starting to get a foothold on a film career. Then again, he doesn’t have much hope for the series to be a long-term career move, anyway. “It’s not easy for me,” he said. “I keep anticipating a pink slip every time I record one of these things.”

“Well, in fairness, it’s not easy because you’re not good at it,” explained Hurwitz.

“It’s true,” replied Bateman. “So I’m happy to be here. I don’t know how much longer I will be here, but the 13 we’ve done were fun. But very difficult for me. Old Velvet Pipes here does a real good job,” he added, gesturing toward Will Arnett, “and I try to kind of stay in his wake as much as possible.”

“Yeah, you barely do that,” snapped Arnett. “But, you know, it is a different experience when you’re recording this stuff. You’re usually in a room by yourself, and you’re not working with the other actors. We talk to each other sometimes when we do the conference-call table reads, but then, when you actually record the episode, you just go line by line or scene by scene, and you’re kind of doing it in a vacuum, and then…”

“We actually all work together,” interrupted Nick Kroll. “It’s just you.”

“Is that right?” asked Arnett.

“Yeah,” said Kroll.

“That’s great,” Arnett replied, with no trace of enthusiasm.

“It’s very crowded back there,” chimed Tom Kenny.

“Is it fun?” asked Arnett.

“Oh, yeah, it’s great,” replied Kroll. “We have a great time. It’s really loose.”

Hurwitz tried to save the conversation by getting things back on track. “As a writer, I would think it’s different because you do make plot turns a little quicker,” he said. “I mean, a lot of things we do in live action, we spend a lot of time motivating and explaining and trying to get your character to a place where they would do this ridiculous thing, and you just cut that all out in animation. You get this license to go further. And I would think it would be kind of the same challenge as an actor when you are used to using your face and you are used to getting to these emotions slowly. It’s quick turns, really.”

“You can also read a scene all the way through as we did many times, and then you can go back and immediately reinterpret the scene 30 seconds later and give it a completely different meaning,” added Arnett. “So that’s super-freeing.”

“Well, Jason can’t do that,” Hurwitz reminded him.

“No, no, no, I’m saying an actor could,” explained Arnett.

“There’s no money in this, either,” sighed Bateman. “I get all this abuse, and nothing.”

As you can tell, the “Arrested Development” alumni on “Sit Down, Shut Up” have a bond that has extended long beyond the demise of their old show. This led one critic to ask a very valid question: are the non-“Arrested Development” people sick of the “Arrested Development” people?

“A little bit,” admitted Kenny.

“They’ve been very nice about signing autographs for us,” conceded Kroll. “We don’t ask for them. They just sign things and hand them to us.”

“I just recycle all the signed DVDs to my kids’ school auction,” said Kenny. “That’s what we all do.”

Still, as long as we had Bateman, Arnett, and Hurwitz in the same room together, there was little question that someone was going to ask the inevitable question: what’s the deal with the “Arrested Development” movie?

“I don’t have too much to say,” admitted Hurwitz. “We want to do it. We have a deal more or less in place from FOX Searchlight, and we’re kind of getting all the actors on board. We have a story, which is basically ‘Valkyrie’ meets ‘Hotel for Dogs.’ But I don’t have any updates. We’re just trying to get everybody on board. I’m really optimistic, you know. I’d hoped I would have a better statement to make today, but…we’re getting close.”

(As long as we’re on the topic, Michael Cera was cornered at Sundance and asked about his status in the film, to which he responded that he’s waiting for a script…which is unfortunate, given that Hurwitz has said that he won’t write the script until he knows who’s signing on to do the movie.)

“Sit Down, Shut Up” premieres on Fox later this spring on Fox as part of their Sunday night Animation Domination line-up.

  

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