Zach Woods and Brandon Gardner are doing great things. As director and writer, respectively, they’ve made two of the best shorts in recent years, with the hilarious yet touching David (starring Will Ferrell, William Jackson Harper, and Fred Hechinger) and the immensely moving and tense film, Bud. They have a way of combining absurdity with quiet sincerity, and if you’re not laughing, you’re feeling something mysterious and complicated inside. And now they’ve teamed up with animation legend and satirical mastermind Mike Judge (King of the Hill, Idiocracy) for the Peacock comedy series, In the Know.
Through stop-motion animation and live-action interviews, In the Know follows the small radio team crew of the titular fictional talk show, hosted by Lauren Caspian (Woods, pitch perfect as always). Each brief episode follows the office’s dynamics and is interspersed with interviews that Woods conducts in character as Lauren. He speaks with a broad cross-section of interesting people — Kaia Gerber, Jonathan Van Ness, Ken Burns, Finn Wolfhard, Norah Jones, Tegan and Sara, Nicole Byer, Roxane Gay, Mike Tyson, Jorge Masvidal, and Hugh Laurie.
One of the best parts of Avenue 5 and Silicon Valley, Woods helps craft a delightful satire of ‘the woke left,’ but with a keen eye for character and immense sympathy for people’s hypocrisy, stupidity, and pettiness. The comedy has no victims; it doesn’t narrow in on people but opens them up. As such, it’s surprisingly beautiful at times in between the surrealism and ridiculous moments, and is one of the best new series on Peacock. We spoke to Woods and Gardner (both a joy) about the show in the interview below and the video above.
Balancing Liberal Satire with a Love for the Characters
We’re big fans of Woods and Gardner’s short films here, and In the Know is no exception. So, after praising Bud a bit (which you can watch here), we asked about the careful balancing act of this new series, and how to satirize liberals without coming across like an alt-right platform. Woods was characteristically gracious.
“Well, first of all, I just want to say I’m swooning a little bit. First, thank you for watching Bud, thank you for saying such kind things about it, and thank you for asking such a thoughtful question about the show. That’s really touching,” said Woods who, despite his quick acerbic wit, comes across as a genuine gentle giant.
“I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, which is like, what we didn’t want to do here is just sort of drag out a tired kind of archetype of the crunchy lefty and make easy fun of it,” added Woods. “Because we are basically the people we’re depicting. We wanted to be as unsparing as possible in our depiction of the more noxious parts of people like us, but also try to be connected to the sort of core vulnerabilities from which those obnoxious behaviors originate.” He continued:
“One thing I always love about Mike Judge’s work is, I don’t ever feel like his satire is looking down on the subject. It never feels like he’s kind of throwing stones from the top of the hill. It always feels like the kind of essential point of view is, ‘Aren’t we all ridiculous as*holes, but also lovable?'”
And that is my feeling, on a good day, that’s how I feel about myself. It’s like, I’m a hypocrite and disappointing in all kinds of ways. I fall short of who I profess to be and wish to be. And yet, I hope that the people who love me will keep loving me, because I need to love them back. So I think that was kind of our core point of view.
“Yeah, to add on to Zach,” interjected Gardner, “I think it’s like, we don’t find the characters’ idealism absurd; we think the ways in which they fail to live up to it can be funny, and relatable to us and the ways in which, oftentimes, you’ll have an ideal and the way you’ll fight for it will be sort of the easiest, most convenient way and not necessarily the way that requires any sort of personal sacrifice. And that is something I really identify with, but also find funny.”
ShadowMachine Goes Anomalisa for In the Know
Alongside Aardman Animations, ShadowMachine is one of the best animation studios around at the moment. In addition to their incredible work for Adult Swim with Robot Chicken, Moral Orel, and The Shivering Truth, the studio also worked on hits like BoJack Horseman and Tuca & Bertie. With In the Know, it seems like they’re incorporating the bright stop-motion animation of Moral Orel but with the more relatable and sometimes uncanny characters from the recent Oscar-winning film, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. In fact, it almost looks like they drew inspiration from the hauntingly sad but beautiful banality of Charlie Kaufman’s film, Anomalisa. It works perfectly.
“Yeah, we had very high hopes, because we knew ShadowMachine’s work before we started working with them, and we loved Pinocchio, too,” explained Gardner, “but honestly, as high as our hopes were, they did surpass them. The first time we saw a screen test of two characters doing a scene together, it was so emotional. They were so vulnerable and it was so funny, it really got us excited. We’re like, ‘Wow, this is going to be even better than we thought it was going to be.'” He continued:
The specificity and the acting that they’re able to get out of puppets is incredible. And so we were very excited and, to a certain degree, it affected how we went back and rewrote scripts even, because we’re like, ‘Oh, if they can do this, then we might have to steer it into an even more subtle direction.
“I think to your point earlier, too,” added Woods, “we’re all being whittled down all the time. We’re whittled down by ourselves, algorithmically whittled down on social media, politically whittled down. There’s a kind of eagerness to reduce people to a single thing and be like, ‘Oh, that’s this person. This is what they are.’ And I think something we wanted to push up against in this and everything we make is that people are usually a gazillion things all at once, and they don’t really make sense together, but they’re very beautiful and maddening.” He continued:
“So one of the things that’s nice about stop-motion is each character is puppeteered by like 30 different people. So it’s kind of multifaceted, there’s a multi-dimensionality bred into the process, because each person is literally 30 animators plus the person who voiced them. So that kind of multiplicity of identities is really like a literal fact of the production process.”
Zach Woods’ Worst Interview: Himself?
Considering In the Know features so many awkward and hilarious interviews (see above), with Zach Woods mastering the narcissistic talk-over-your-guest radio host, we thought we’d ask Woods and Gardner what the worst interview they had to endure was.
“Oh, interesting. Interesting,” mused Woods. “The worst interview. Usually the worst interview has been because of me. It’s something I will say and then just look back on and be like, ‘That was monumentally pretentious.’ Or I accidentally said something dreadful about a group of people I’ve never met. Usually the cringe is inward pointing, you know? Because it’s such a weird thing. I’m a little bit more comfortable now. When I was first starting out, just the terror of… Have you ever seen teenagers who feel socially awkward, so they get either loud or mean or kind of flagrantly artificial?” He continued:
I feel like when I was first starting out, not deliberately, but I would end up just being more acidic than I meant to be or more ironic than I actually am. It’s just kind of like when you feel there’s a way to do something, but you don’t know the way to do the thing. It can often dredge up your worst kind of tics and habits and coping strategies.
“I think it does tie back again to the characters in our show,” added Gardner, “where their worst behavior, you can see it comes from their insecurities and their fear, and that they’re not necessarily bad people. It’s just they’re scared people. That’s often what causes our worst behaviors.”
You can see some of those behaviors on display Jan. 25 when In the Know comes to Peacock. Check it out through the link below: