Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg and Looney Tunes; Andy Samberg and Korean drama; Aisha Tyler and romantic anime.
These are pairings that may not immediately seem obvious, but in the new animated anthology series “The Boys Presents: Diabolical,” they’re a delightful reality.
Rogen and Goldberg, Samberg, Tyler, Awkwafina, Justin Roiland, Garth Ennis and others wrote the episodes that make up this new show, all eight of which are now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, but “Diabolical” is far more than just an extension of the “The Boys” franchise – it’s a showcase for the unique creative voices of those involved. And for extremely graphic and gory cartoons.
Each of the eight episodes stands alone and has its own writer, director, animation studio and even score. They’re all distinct, so while binge-watching “Diabolical” you get a “Looney Tunes” riff followed by an episode straight out of “Rick and Morty” (aptly titled “An Animated Short Where Pissed-Off Supes Kill Their Parents”) followed by an homage to the original “The Boys” comics, each running about 12 minutes in length.
This was all by design.
“That was the original idea, was to not think of them as a series, think of them as eight short films basically,” executive producer and showrunner Simon Racioppa told TheWrap. The first is an episode called “Laser Baby’s Day Out,” written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who are also executive producers on “The Boys”), which is a full-on classic “Looney Tunes”-style cartoon devoid of dialogue.
But Rogen, in a separate interview with TheWrap, was quick to point out that the anthological nature of “Diabolical” wasn’t breaking new ground. “We were huge fans of ‘The Animatrix.’ Honestly, we’d be lying to pretend this wasn’t like a direct derivative of ‘The Animatrix,’” Rogen said. “That was just something that was hugely influential on us, we loved it, it was so creative and we just thought it was an interesting way to expand the mythology of this universe. We thought ‘The Boys’ is kind of the perfect thing to do that with, and they actually said yes and let us do it, which was a real shock to be honest.”
The producers behind “Diabolical” approached friends or people they knew were fans of “The Boys” to see if they’d be interested in creating and writing an episode of the series, and Racioppa – who also serves as showrunner on Amazon’s animated “Invincible” series – says the idea for each episode came from its writer. “Once they were interested, we didn’t give anybody the idea for an episode at all, they all came to us with that,” the showrunner revealed. “We did a Zoom call with myself and [‘The Boys’ showrunner] Eric [Kripke] and Evan and Seth, and a couple of the other EPs and then with Andy or Awkwafina or whoever. They pitched the idea and then we just roundtabled it on the call and helped shape it a little bit and then let them go off and write their draft.”
For Rogen and Goldberg, they knew exactly what they wanted to do from the onset for their episode.
“We were passionate about doing a dialogue-free comedy,” Goldberg told TheWrap. “We just wanted to do a silent comedy where the humor came through physical stuff and the emotion, and when this concept came around and we knew we were obviously gonna do one of the shorts, we were just instantly like, ‘Oh this is the idea. ‘Laser Baby’s Day Out.’ I think one of us just said the title, and then we texted it to Kripke and he said yes, and that was it. Then we just wrote it. It was a very seamless process. There was no other ideas or different versions, we just knew this was what it had to be.”
Rogen and Goldberg are also quick to admit their episode is a heavy homage to “Baby’s Day Out” — when asked if they’ve seen the 1994 film, Rogen responded with a laugh, “You mean have we very specifically, purposefully and meticulously reverse-engineered and deconstructed ‘Baby’s Day Out’ and repurposed it for our own profit and entertainment? Yes, yes we have.”
But while “Laser Baby’s Day Out” was fully formed, other ideas evolved once the directors and animation studios came onboard. Samberg, for instance, wrote a drama about a man whose wife was dying of cancer, but when Steve Ahn came on to direct, he had the idea to make the story Korean. “He wanted to take it in that direction and made a really compelling argument and pitch for that,” Racioppa explained. “Then we tried to support that as much as we could by getting a Korean animation studio, getting a Korean composer, hiring two Korean leads, Youn Yuh Jung and Randall Duk Kim, to play those roles.”
All of the writers were kept involved as their episodes moved into the animation phase, and in the case of Rogen and Goldberg’s episode – which follows a scientist trying to help a baby with laser vision escape from a telekinetic bad guy – the only note they gave was to ramp up the emotional connection between the baby and the scientist. Or as Goldberg put it more succinctly, “The more that you want those two people to be together, the more heads you can blow off.”
While “Diabolical” has the gore of the live-action series in spades, its characterizations vary wildly from episode to episode. Still, there were certainly guidelines each episode had to follow to ensure it still fit snugly within “The Boys” universe. “It had to be true to The Mothership — that’s what we call the original show,” Racioppa said. “So Vought had to be like Vought and had to act like Vought. I mean, probably you could have pitched a take where it’s like Vought is a good corporation, but that would have to be the point of the episode. Otherwise, Vought has to be Vought. Homelander has to be Homelander, The Deep has to be The Deep, Compound V has to work like Compound V does in the mothership show, so that stuff had to be true.”
The showrunner added that the episodes also couldn’t contradict things that were already happening or established in the mothership, though he conceded that the notion that “Diabolical” is or is not canon isn’t up to him. “Whether they’re canon or not probably it’s up to Eric [Kripke] ultimately, because he still runs the main series and he created this based off of Garth’s comic books. So, he would be the final decider, but I’d like to think that maybe some are and some aren’t.”
Given the anthological nature of “Diabolical” one imagines there are plenty more ideas left to explore, and one would be right.
“I would love to make more,” Racioppa said when asked about a potential Season 2 (which has not yet been officially ordered by Amazon). “I’d like to push them a little further. I don’t think they all have to be animated, maybe some could be live-action. Maybe we do a puppet show. Maybe we do stage production. I think that’s the promise of ‘Diabolical’ is, let’s take these ideas and try and execute them as well as we can in any medium, whatever’s the best medium for that idea. Then just link them together in the world of ‘The Boys’ and just make this creative grab-bag of fun ideas that maybe wouldn’t work for an hour, but work really well for 12 to 15 minutes or whatever.”
Rogen and Goldberg are eager to see the show continue as well.
“We would love to keep doing this, it’s so much fun,” Rogen said, although the two noted they only plan on writing one episode a season.
“We can’t be greedy,” Goldberg explained.