Exclusive: Carol & The End of the World Creator Dan Guterman Talks About Balancing Morality and Humor

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With only a few months remaining until the earth is destroyed, how would you go about living? Would you suddenly live with no boundaries, doing whatever you wanted at any time, or take shelter and depressingly count down until the last day was here? A new adult animated limited series called Carol & The End of the World, which arrives on Netflix December 15th, creates this exact scenario. But instead of featuring a main character that either throws caution to the wind or tries to hide from impending doom, forty-two-year-old Carol instead continues to just live, grasping at all the everyday comfortable forms of repetition that remain.


Having worked on such titles as Community and Rick and Morty in the past, it’s clear that Dan Guterman knows a thing or two about comedy. Besides the morbid humor and sense of dread, the 10-episode animated sitcom moves along wonderfully thanks to the weirdly soothing contentment of the main character. Most importantly, the show is not afraid to wade through existentialism and what it means to be alive. MovieWeb recently sat down with Guterman himself in order to find out more regarding the character of Carol and this end-of-the-world story.


Creating Carol In A Crazy World

MW: What were some of the greatest factors that inspired you to start creating the “spiraling-downwards” but still “semi-functional” world that is contained within Carol & The End of the World?

Dan Guterman: I think first and foremost I didn’t want to make a show that was about the end of things. The goal was always the opposite. To me, Carol was always about how things began. How they take shape, build and slowly develop over time. How connections are made, and meaning is found. I wanted to make a sweet and honest show that celebrated the complicated messiness of life with all its various eyesores and imperfections. I wanted to make a series that was uplifting and impassioned.

Dan Guterman: Second, I wanted to create something viewers had never seen before in an animated series. One of which would treat animation as a medium, take influences from outside the animated world, and bring them into the show. Something incredibly specific, but yet completely universal. Tone was also incredibly important when we created the world of the show. We didn’t want to make something that was just a comedy, sci-fi, or necessarily plot-driven.

What we wanted most – I think – was to sit with our characters as they sat with the news that the world was ending. To do that, we needed to carefully balance various moods. The funny and sad, the sweet and surreal, the melancholy. An episode of Carol has all those different flavors blended together.

Dan Guterman: If I knew the world was ending, I wouldn’t want to go skydiving or run around naked through the streets. Instead, I’d want to continue just completing and repeating my loop. Doing laundry. Paying bills. Buying groceries. Going to work. Remaining distracted. For as long as humanly possible. That was the seed that took root — a show about denial in the face of annihilation. A show about running away — and somehow finding your way in the process.

MW: Having a quiet voice and seemingly satisfied with the humdrum of everyday life, Carol is a unique character in terms of her low-energy personality and physical makeup. Can you elaborate on how this character first came to life behind the scenes?

Dan Guterman: No one writes a show around a character like Carol. Quiet, anxious, unassuming, shy. A short, pear-shaped, lovable lump of a woman who is most at home eating frozen dinners in the solitude of her apartment. And yet, she is compelling to watch. Carol is a mail-in warranty. A reminder on a post-it note. She’s funny too. . . in a way that only comes from being three-dimensional. That’s only possible when a character leaps off the page. A living, breathing individual. Someone who feels alive and who the viewer believes in, completely.

“I’ve always been attracted to introspective characters and attracted to stories with internal conflict. I very much wanted to write a show about someone going through an existential journey — about what it’s like to feel alone, to feel paralyzed, to be lost. As we started to write the pilot, create this world and the characters within, we instantly knew the one person who could perfectly play Carol.”

Dan Guterman: I first met Martha Kelly in the summer of 2002, at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. The way she spoke, the way she thought, and her ability to express life’s detours stuck with me. A decade and a half later, I sent her a few pages from our script, asking if she’d have any interest in playing the lead role. Amazingly, she said yes. Martha immediately got what we were trying to do with the show, and she was onboard for the ride.

Finding a Unique Space in Adult Animation

Carol looking up into the stars in Carol & The End of the World
Netflix

MW: In a setting where there are only months left to live for all human beings, the main theme of the show lies within the comparison between monotony and hedonism. Out of the many stories that could have been told that use the apocalypse as the background, why did you decide to spotlight this specific paradigm?

Dan Guterman: What we’ve created, almost on a subconscious level, is a love letter to routine. A show about the comforts of monotony. The preoccupations that keep us distracted, that keep us from losing our minds. The errands and obligations that keep us from becoming overwhelmed.

“That starting place is where the show develops and eventually has more of a message to impart to viewers. Carol never judges characters who have chosen the path of hedonism or self-indulgence or pleasure-seeking. The show makes it clear that there is no right or wrong path. It all depends on the individual. For Carol, repetition is what she’s after when we first meet her. Monotony is her oasis. Her port in a storm.”

MW: With other streaming platforms like Peacock entering the adult animation scene with their first original series currently in production and Hulu launching an entire sub-brand based around the genre this year, what does your show bring to the table in terms of uniqueness that cannot be found anywhere else? Is it something in the story or perhaps the characters?

Dan Guterman: Carol & The End of The World is wholly unique. This is a show that’s both ethereal and existential. A show that’s at once introspective and alive. An animated and observational comedy about the things — about the people — the moments — that make life worth living.

Dan Guterman: We wanted to make something that mixed naturalism with surrealism. We had a goal to let moments linger, cascade, and blur into each other. Carol is 10 short films. It borrows from literature and live action and life. Nowhere else can you watch an animated series about a quiet and uncomfortable 42-year-old woman, adrift in the world. The show is a dreamscape, a fugue state. It’s melancholy and heartbreaking, but also hopeful and kind. Related: 10 Immersive Animated Films for Adults

MW: Beyond the unique shock value and animated adult humor that this show has to offer, there is an underlying theme of trying to attain purpose and true self-satisfaction before time runs out. How do you hope Carol’s (and the other character’s journeys) inspire those who watch this series?

Dan Guterman: That’s not really for me to answer. I hope we’re presenting people with something exciting and hopefully honest. With something they’ve never seen before, or at the very least, something they’ve rarely seen, in this format. But what they take away is not in my control; I don’t want to influence how the show is watched. That said, I am curious to see what the reaction will be to the show. I’ve been so close to it for so long. I hope people take their own message from it and find their own path through it. That would make me really happy.

Living Peacefully During the End Times

Carol and a supporting character in Carol & The End of the World
Netflix

MW: How do you go about bringing forth a story that revolves around an inevitable doomsday (and all the potential frenzy, panic, etc. that goes with it) with the juxtaposed journey of a woman who is just now trying to find herself? How did you equally balance those two plots?

Dan Guterman: For us, the balance was always this: The inevitable doomsday is the background. Carol and her journey are foregrounded. We built a rich, sprawling world where doomsday is only in the background of scenes — quickly passing through, peeking out from between the gaps of the stories we are telling. For us, the end of the world is something that enriches and informs the character stories we’re telling, but that never draws or pulls focus away from them.

Dan Guterman: We were interested in telling existential stories, rather than sci-fi, plot-heavy stories. That said, one very much affects the other. The end of the world hangs heavy in the air. It’s impossible to escape or ignore. But in Carol, it’s rarely ever mentioned. It’s just an extra weight on our characters and what they are going through — within a high-concept world, a number of low-concept character studies. What is the stripped-down, no-frills, intimate human story at the heart of everything? That’s what we ultimately cared about. Sci-fi was our canvas while Carol and the other characters were our paint. Related: 10 Great Animated Apocalypse Movies

MW: As there are apocalyptic series out there that go for much more than one season, was the decision to make Carol & The End of the World a limited series of only ten episodes come more so from a creative or logistical standpoint? Why?

Dan Guterman: It was a creative decision. The show could always come back if enough people want to see more, but we had a very clear story in mind for the series, and we told that story. There was always a definitive beginning, middle, and end. Right from day one. What’s kind of remarkable about the show is the creative freedom we had. Netflix trusted us to make the show that we wanted to make and supported us the whole way — not only did they support us, but they encouraged us to keep pushing — and experiment — and really try to surprise and move people with what we were doing. It’s still amazing to me how much of their backing we had. Netflix was a pleasure to work with.

Carol & The End of the World is now streaming on Netflix and you can watch it through the link below:

Watch on Netflix

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