Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Primal” is back in Emmys conversation.
After the first season of the show won five Emmys, including Outstanding Animated Program, it’s back in the mix this year, once again vying for the Outstanding Animated Program award.
The nominated episode, “Shadow of Fate,” is a breathtaking tale that splits up our heroes — human Spear and dinosaur Fang. Fang falls in love with another dinosaur (Red), but has to make the heartbreaking decision of whether to try and find a new life with this dinosaur or to stick with her human.
TheWrap spoke to Tartakovsky about what it was like shaping the second season of the series, how he came up with “Shadow of Fate” and what the future for both “Primal” and his other animated series from this year, “Unicorn: Warriors Eternal,” will hold.
When you started out doing “Primal,” did you think of it as two seasons, two chapters?
Honestly, it kind of started as a pilot just to see if it’s going to work. And then after the first couple of weeks of getting animation in, I was like, “Yeah, this is going to start working.” So then we went into more episodes, and after the first 10, I don’t think I thought of more, not in a serious way.
Originally I had a very big, sprawling story with an Egyptian overlord, that type of thing, but it just all felt very cliché. But there was always a bigger story that we’re going to in the initial idea.
Then once we started doing the first season, I changed all that and made it all very simple. Going into the second season, I changed it to be something very different, but still making the story bigger. I felt like I was always afraid that if we did 10 more like the first season, it would lose its luster. It would just feel like we’re done with it. It had to escalate.
Did you hit any roadblocks that you weren’t anticipating?
Well, the first roadblocks was just clichés. In this genre, a lot’s been done between “Stargate,” “10,000 BC,” all that stuff. There’s a lot of it out there. You want to do something that feels original or unique at least, or that we can put our spin on it. And so that was the first hurdle. And let’s change the storytelling. Let’s change our style. Let’s be more surprising, that there’s a mystery and nobody can really tell where one episode goes to the next. Then with the fifth episode curveball, throw that in. And so it makes people uncomfortable because you’re never sure what to expect.
“Shadow of Fate” is the episode that’s nominated for the Emmy. When did you hit on this idea of another dinosaur?
We knew we were going to separate them in Episode 11, and so in 12, which is “Shadow of Fate,” we started talking about, “Well, what happens if they’re separated?” And then now that they both suffered loss for such a long time, it felt right to have a love story for Fang.
Meanwhile, Spear meets a more civilized world he enters into. And so that’s it. Then it started to click. It’s like, “Oh, wait, so Fang falls in love and then they meet, but it’s another dinosaur that wants to kill humans.” And then it kind of hit us like, “Oh, right, it’s a love triangle.”
Once we hit that idea, this bizarre love triangle, that was the gold. We always look for something to do with character and emotion. There’s got to be some kind of a personal stake that’s involved. And once we hit that, it’s like, “This is going to be the most incredible one because without dialogue, without anybody verbalizing what’s happening, can we communicate that in feelings and the frustration that Fang has?” She loves this guy, and then she loves her buddy Spear, right? They’re family. And so now what happens and can we stage all that and can we make the audience feel? And then obviously the horrific loss at the end.
The first season was such a huge hit and Emmy winner. Were you surprised by the response?
For sure, because it’s a very specific, unique show. And in the middle of making it, I go, “I don’t even know who this is for.” I love it. And I know 12-year-old me, 16-year-old me, 25-year-old me, 35-year-old me would all watch this show. And so can we get enough audiences to get into it? Then once it came out, dinosaur people love it, fantasy people like it and the audience starts to build.
Something that was very different about this season was Episode 5, which is set in Victorian England. Where did that come from?
It came from two things. We’re breaking the story down and we’re like, “OK, this is starting to feel linear. We know where this is going. We knew what Episode 6 was. We knew that Episode 3 was him discovering the old civilization, having a lot of big thoughts about it that were clear, but there’s a lot of interpretation. So I wanted to do some kind of a grounding episode.
I was also inspired by an old Robert E. Howard short story where there’s these English scientists talking about caveman times, and then it flashes to caveman times and we see their story for real, how it happened. And I loved reading that short story and like, “Oh, cool, we start with these Victorian dudes, and then you go into this Frank Frazetta-styled caveman story.” I liked the feeling of it. I’ve talked about it before, but I do think “Primal” could be an anthology. And so this was kind of a mini-test to see if it can work as a standalone, but it thematically completely ties into what we were doing through the season.
“Primal” was announced as returning for Season 3. Will it still be in the primeval world or will it have a new setting?
I don’t want to say anything.
You also had “Unicorn: Warriors Eternal” debut this year. Is there any news on Season 2?
I think we’re waiting to hear, still no word yet. And we’ve started Season 3 of “Primal,” and so I don’t know.
The studio is still finding its feet, so I’m not pushing it. “Primal 3″ I was pushing because I was raring to go and I had an idea and the whole thing. “Unicorn,” I’m waiting for the dust to settle a little more, and it’d be nice for the studio to go like, “Oh, Genndy, we want more episodes. It was really successful.” I think ideally, to be honest, I’m waiting for that moment to happen.
But you want it to continue?
Yeah. “Unicorn” is designed as a big sprawling epic, four-tiered series, 40 episodes or whatever. It’s a gigantic story.
All episodes of “Primal” are streaming now on Max.