The Making of ‘Krapopolis’: How Dan Harmon’s Team Overcame the Pandemic to Create Fox’s New Adult Animated Show

EP Steve Levy breaks down everything from casting Richard Ayoade and Hannah Waddingham without final character sketches, to the first Zoom table read

Courtesy of Fox

Dan Harmon’s new adult animated series “Krapopolis” finally debuts Sunday evening after years in the works at Fox. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the show’s staff to shake up virtually every step of development and production, from a virtual writers’ room to a Zoom table read.

Just before the pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn encouraged Harmon to dust off an old idea the “Community” creator had shared about a show set in ancient Greece, but had yet to explore.

“Dan had this idea to do a show in ancient Greece, and that was about it — that’s all we had,” executive producer Steve Levy told TheWrap. “Dan loved the world, and was a myth buff when he was a kid and really took to the stories. We were like, ‘sure, we could explore that world,’ [but] we really didn’t have anything.”

As Harmon and his team quickly started on a pilot script to send to the network, the “Rick and Morty” creator immediately knew he didn’t want the ancient Greek civilization to have developed a written language yet. Harmon found that period was “the most fun and most challenging era” to write within, Levy explained, as writers can’t layer in language jokes (i.e. a funny sign) into the plot.

Harmon delivered the savvy social commentary Fox executives wanted out of a new adult animated comedy. Fox was so happy with the pilot that they picked up “Krapopolis” after just one script.

“I think when [Fox execs] read the pilot, they were like, ‘this is the perfect blend of everything we asked for, and all of the genius we hoped to mine from Dan Harmon,’” Levy said. “It’s commentary on today’s society through the lens of older-generation humans, that have similar struggles as we do emotionally and within their relationships, but takes place in a time where people are eating each other and there’s incest.”

Now picked up to series, “Krapopolis” staff began working on an “aggressive schedule.” The show simultaneously juggled casting, writing and design, leaving the writers’ room in a unique position of crafting a first season without having final sketches of the main cast.

“It was really hard to be writing something we didn’t have any visuals for, or like a voice or anything of how these characters sounded outside of our own heads,” Levy said. “When you bring just the one script into the writers’ room, and people are reading it, everyone’s hearing it differently. … But we needed to really unite the room under a single vision, which took a while, because we didn’t have voice actors or art generated yet.”

After throwing a wide casting net, the series recruited Richard Ayoade to take on the principal role of Tyrannis, a mortal who has been dubbed King of Krapopolis, while Hannah Waddingham plays his mother, a goddess named Deliria. Matt Berry voices Shlub, Tyrannis’ father who is half-centaur, half-manticore, with Pam Murphy playing Tyrannis’ half-sister Stupendous and Duncan Trussell as Tyrannis’ half-brother, Hippocampus.

Once the voice actors were secured, Levy notes that the character sketches could get more granular, as they began to incorporate elements of the actors into the characters.

“We loved Richard’s hair and were like, ‘that’s a really fun design choice for Tyrannis.’ Or for Shlub with Matt Berry, it was like, ‘why don’t we give him a little bit of that suave, handsome [look] but [with] a little bit of gruff,” Levy said. “There was definitely a little bit of a back and forth between the design work and the casting process — they did help each other out.”

The pandemic shifted writing on the show completely onto Zoom, where Harmon and Levy had the formidable task of fostering a virtual writers’ room with a group of writers who hadn’t worked together.

“This show was the first one that Dan and I did where it started entirely in COVID, and so we didn’t get, didn’t have the opportunity to build the same rapport with our coworkers like we did on other shows like ‘Rick and Morty,’ ‘Little Demon’ or even ‘Strange Planet,’” Levy said. “You have to learn the technology; you have to learn how to pitch again in a writers’ room, because you’re not all in the same space [and] the rules change a little bit.”

While working fully virtually wasn’t perfect by any means, the team leveraged it as best they could for their first Zoom table read — which Levy recalls as “bizarre” — by displaying the final character sketches in the background for each of the corresponding voice actors.

“Sometimes there’s this awkward pause, or somebody speaking over somebody else by accident, so it’s not as fluid, but you get through it,” Levy said. “For the first time hearing the pilot script, read by all of the actors, it was proof in the pudding that there’s a show here — this is fun, we cast it well and we’re on track for something very cool.”

The series also features a slew of guest stars, including Daveed Diggs, Jane Lynch, Ben Stiller, Susan Sarandon, Joel McHale, Dave Franco, Yvette Nicole Brown, Will Forte, Steve Buscemi and Stephanie Beatriz, among others.

“Fox loves having a big name for guest role, and when there was a new character that felt right to cast a big star for, we would talk to Fox about who we might want and we would come up with lists. … Sometimes it took a little push from Dan or one of our personal relationships with the actors,” Levy said. “It was also a strange time because people were afraid of going into a booth, and some people had to record from home. It’s all about comfortability, and making sure that the actors felt safe in recording the lines during the height of COVID.”

Even before its debut, “Krapopolis” scored an early renewal for a second and third season at Fox, which Levy notes was a welcome surprise that “added a lot of fuel to [the team’s] gas tank.”

“It gave us a much-needed pressure release and allowed us to really dig in and feel like we can expand the world in ways we didn’t necessarily get to explore in a Season 1, because we we weren’t sure how much real estate we were going to have with the show,” Levy said. “Moving forward into the show, season to season, we go crazier and bigger and get more into that ‘Rick and Morty’ rhythm, where a lot of the concepts are a little more sci-fi and fantasy, and a little more grounded emotionally in whatever’s happening with the characters’ relationships with each other.”

For Levy and his team, the network’s commitment to the show enabled them to have “space to create and breathe in this world,” leading “Krapopolis” to “push the boundaries of what Fox typically allows or explores in their animated programming.”

While Levy jokes that the show has been in the works for so long that it felt like the team was only making it for themselves, he hopes that viewers feel seen through the unique characters — and that he might eventually see fans dressed as Tyrannis, Shlub, Stupendous, Deliria or Hippocampus at future Comic-Con conventions.

“My hope is that no matter who you are … there is a character in this show that you really connect to and feel like represents them in a really positive way,” Levy said, adding that the mythology embraced in the show results in a “broader range of types of people.” “The hope is that we can build a little bit of a community — for lack of a better word — around the show, and allow for people to meet and connect over shared love for something.”

“Krapopolis” premieres Sunday Sept. 24 on Fox.