Movies & TV / Columns Interviews: Robot Chicken and SuperMansion’s Zeb Wells

October 19, 2015 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

Earlier this month, Crackle launched the new stop-motion animated superhero comedy series, SuperMansion. Produced by Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the company behind such hit shows as Robot Chicken, the new series features a crew of misfit superheroes living together in a mansion, the League of Freedom. The team has seen better days, and the leader Titanium Rex struggles to live with and fight alongside the Millennial-aged, often lackadaisical members of The League of Freedom. Together the team battles against arch-enemies and struggles to stay relevant in a world overcome with heroes. Among the show’s creators is the multi-talented Zeb Wells, who wears many hats on the show as both co-creator, writer and producer. In addition, he voices the League of Freedom character Jewbot, and The Joker archetype villain called The Groaner. I recently got the chance to sit down for an interview with Wells to discuss the show, working with Bryan Cranston for the series, who voices Titanium Rex and also executive produces the series with Wells, and more. Wells started as a comic book writer for Marvel Comics before later moving on to become a writer and producer Robot Chicken and now SuperMansion.

Jeffrey Harris: Stoopid Buddy Stoodios is really blowing up all over the place with shows popping up all over the place. It’s like you guys are getting ready to take over the world.

Zeb Wells: Yeah, it’s been a crazy year. There’s been a lot of expansion. We’ve got Robot Chicken getting ready to come out and then everyone here, if you’ve ever been here to the studio, we’re just surrounded by creative people. So the problem is they’re constantly selling shows and booking commercials. The amount of work is getting huge.

Jeffrey Harris: So there’s Robot Chicken on Cartoon Network. There’s SuperMansion on Crackle. Buddy Thunderstruck is coming to Netflix. And then there is Camp WWE on the WWE Network. So is there a new show you would like to announce today?

Zeb Wells: No, I think that covers it for now. For this week.

Jeffrey Harris: How did this idea of SuperMansion germinate?

Zeb Wells: Me and Matt [Senreich] grew up reading comics. He started at Wizard [Magazine]. I wrote for Marvel for 12 years. I’ve just been a lifelong comic book fan. As we started doing longer form specials with Star Wars and DC Comics [for Robot Chicken], eventually we just decided that maybe it was time to create our own universe to make fun of instead of making fun of someone else’s universe all the time. One day I just walked into Matt’s office and said, “We need to make our own TV show. So what do we do?” And Matt had remembered these videos that I used to make with our friends that were about superheroes all living in our house together. So we started working on these characters, creating them, and it’s been about a year just building up this world that can support a television show.

Jeffrey Harris: At what point did Bryan Cranston come on, and what did he bring to the table as the executive producer of the series?

Zeb Wells: We had the pilot and we actually had an animatic. So we had the whole thing storyboarded with Seth Green as Titanium Rex. And we realized he just didn’t sounded old enough. We needed someone with some gravitas. We kept talking about a Bryan Cranston. Then we realized Bryan Cranston had done some voices on Robot Chicken and was super fun to work with. So we said, “What’s the harm in just sending him a script?” And so we sent him a script, and he read it on an airplane and he called us soon as he landed. He said that he read a stack of scripts. This one made him laugh, and he wanted to come on board and produce the show with us as well. People remember Bryan Cranston as Walter White [in Breaking Bad], but if you go back a little further, you have him in Malcom in the Middle. He’s one of the funniest things on that show. He just brought a great comedic timing and a real know how when it came to creating characters who would survive multiple episodes. He was actually good to bounce ideas off of when we were going into writing the actual episodes.

Jeffrey Harris: And you also voice Jewbot in this series, correct?

Zeb Wells: Yes, and I voice the Groaner as well.

Jeffrey Harris: Was it always the idea that you would play these characters?

Zeb Wells: To be completely honest, we made this animatic to pitch the show. I half expected something to replace us with famous actors at some point. I think that the voices just stuck. After a certain point, the voices just sound like the characters. We replaced Seth, and we We got Keegan Michael Key on to play American Ranger. But then Black Saturn is Tucker Gilmore, who is just a good friend who did a funny voice that I like. Heidi Gardner as well had a one voice I thought would be great for Cooch. I just brought them on as they fit the roles perfectly.

Jeffrey Harris: Superheroes are the big thing in media right now. So what is it about doing a superhero comedy with a league of superheroes called the League of Freedom and sending them up in a way to sort of take the piss out of the genre a little bit and having fun with it?

Zeb Wells: I think superheroes allows you to do out-sized personalities. You turn the dial to the right a little bit, and they’re all comedies because everything is intrinsically ridiculous. They naturally lend themselves to be these boisterous, confident characters. Someone who is ignorant but also confident is just a recipe for comedy. It creates a lot of comedy. Then doing a stop motion show and an animated show, you really want your characters to pop off the screen. They’re is just something so colorful about superheroes. If you were flipping around the channels and found SuperMansion, the characters are just so colorful and look so odd that I think you would just naturally want to watch this. So I like the fact that they draw your eye. They’re fun to look at, and they’re naturally funny.

Jeffrey Harris: At the start of the season, the government has slashed the League of Freedom’s budget. So the whole team has to tighten their belts because they go over-budget, their government funding gets pulled. So with that, what can we expect for later in the season?

Zeb Wells: A lot of fun stuff planned. The characters pulled us in a lot of fun directions. Around episode six, we have Jillian Bell showing up as Rex’s illegitimate daughter. So we get to see Rex deal with not only his team and keeping them fiscally responsible but becoming a father. We learn about Black Saturn’s father. His parents are still alive and rich and at some point, they decide they don’t want to do that anymore. American Ranger needs to learn about this new society. He learns about dating. They’re is a great episode where he stumbles upon a history book, and he reads up on America has been up to for the last 50 years. He doesn’t take it that well, and he goes on a bit of a soul-searching journey. These heroes every week end up pestering a villain, and they put them in their underground prison that’s below the mansion. Eventually, the number of villains down there begins to add up, and it leads to some problems down the road.

Jeffrey Harris: Any hints on some of the villains for this season?

Zeb Wells: We have Chris Pine playing Dr. Deviso. He’s sort of the evil mastemrind that lives under there. We have a completely absurd villain called Ratapault. He dresses up as a rat, and there’s a catapault on his back. We have a villain who is a tyrannosaurus rex with titanium arms. So he shows up and he is livid that Titanium Rex took the name before he did and would like to get that name from him. We also have fun in episode two where we meet some super-powered pets, and we learn how much trouble it would actually be to take care of super-powered pets.

Jeffrey Harris: You have experience writing actual superhero comics. So is it a breath of fresh air when you get to sort of embrace the madness of these situations a little bit more?

Zeb Wells: Yeah, it is, but it’s also a bit of a challenge because growing up with comics, you’ve heard all the jokes before. So you want to do something different. You don’t want these characters just to be a parody of superheroes. You want to have them be actual superheroes. I always them to look like something you might see in an actual comic book, but then just turn them a little bit to the odd side. So it actually puts a little bit more pressure on us, that we don’t want to do jokes that have been heard a 1000 times before. We don’t want to do a joke about where do these superheroes wash their tights? Who cares? That joke’s been made 1000 times. We just want to make funny characters and have fun with them.


Jeffrey Harris: What is the deal with Brad? Is Brad just this steroid jockey? Does he even belong on this team or what?

Zeb Wells: He doesn’t actually belong on the team, and you do learn his entire backstory in episode eight. We learn how he made it onto the team, why he’s there, and why he’s tolerated.

Jeffrey Harris: As someone who has worked on Daredevil comics, what were your thoughts on the Netflix series?

Zeb Wells: Oh, I loved it. I really liked the first season, but what has me most excited is seeing Jon Bernthal showing up as The Punisher next season and seeing Elektra come into that world. They actually have a chance to do that whole arc and characters justice for once.

Jeffrey Harris: Have they called you up yet to work on the show or The Punisher series yet?

Zeb Wells: They have not. It’s an outrage.

Jeffrey Harris: Why not? It seems like a no brainer to me.

Zeb Wells: I don’t know. You sound like my mother, “Why haven’t they called you?”

Jeffrey Harris: So what is going on with Star Wars: Detours? I know there have been some changes with Lucasfilm and Star Wars in recent. But is there any chance we could see Detours at some point?

Zeb Wells: I don’t know. I think that’s millions of dollars above my pay grade. All I know is that we worked very hard on them, and it would be very exciting if we actually got to see them. I think Lucasfilm is rightfully so is focusing on Star Wars: Episode VII and probably don’t want anything that is going to distract from that right now, which makes perfect sense.

Jeffrey Harris: Is it true there are 39 finished episodes of Detours out there in the can?

Zeb Wells: I can neither confirm nor deny.

Jeffrey Harris: I just figured since you guys have so many great shows through so many different outlets, I just figure we can get Star Wars: Detours through Netflix or Crackle one of these streaming outlets at some point.

Zeb Wells: I think that’s what our dream is. There’s so many different platforms to show stuff now that hopefully it will become irresistible to put that out there at some point.

Jeffrey Harris: Do you have a favorite line as Jewbot?

Zeb Wells: There is. It’s not until episode five. Sgt. Agony realizes that Cooch doesn’t have a high school diploma because she’s just a hyper evolved cat. She’s basically an alley cat that was turned into a person by an evo ray. He realizes she doesn’t have a diploma, so she can’t be on the team. So the team has to home school her. You’ll see Jewbot make a pitch to be her inspirational teacher in the Dead Poet’s society vein. Then Titanium Rex just tells him that he’s going to be teaching home-ec. So he says, “Well then, I guess I’ll just go f*** myself.” When Jewbot breaks character, it’s hilarious to me.

Jeffrey Harris: How many episodes in season one?

Zeb Wells: We have 13 episodes. The first three come out on October 8 on Crackle. They then come out weekly at that point.

Jeffrey Harris: Congratulations on launching this new series and everything you all are doing at Stoopid Buddy. I can’t wait to see more. Thank you for your time.

Zeb Wells: You’re welcome.

Thank you to Zeb wells for taking the time to speak with us. New episodes of SuperMansion premiere on Thursday on Crackle. Also, Robot Chicken‘s eighth season premieres on Sunday, October 18 at Midnight on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block.