Shock Q&A: Golan the Insatiable Creator on its Monster Madness

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Horror runs in our veins, often bleeding out into all endeavors, be it office chatter or animated television. Creator Josh Miller, who has run the gamut from critic to filmmaker, is currently seeing his own macabre sensibilities seep way into Golan the Insatiable, an animated series on FOX he developed alongside Dave Jeser and Matthew Silverstein. In its second season, Golan— about a mighty godlord (Rob Riggle) from an alternate dimension, who arrives in Oak Grove, MN, where his only friend is a macabre, nine-year-old girl named Dylan (Aubrey Plaza)—makes the jump from the network’s Animation Domination High Definition late night block to the half hour big time of Sunday night. Miller wants to make sure animation fans and monster kids alike know what’s up, and spoke to Shock Till You Drop about the “dark, strange series.”

Shock Till You Drop: What would you like horror-minded viewers to know about Golan the Insatiable?

Josh Miller: For starters, simply that it is horror-minded too! Fox has always been identified with animation. And aside for the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes of The Simpsons, there has never been anything even remotely horror-minded on Fox Animation Domination. So for Fox to go from nothing to something like Golan the Insatiable feels like an insane leap.

In this context, I like to think of the show as sort of a Trojan horse. It has just enough of the trappings and outer appearance of a traditional Animation Domination show that we were able to get into the building, so to speak, and smuggle in a really dark, strange series. I don’t expect normal viewers to recognize a Pinhead line I snuck into an episode, but I know somewhere out there someone will say, “Hey! That’s from Hellraiser III!” Even if we don’t get the ratings Fox needs, it blows my mind that we made it this far. But hopefully we can crossover, in the same way something like Invader Zim did on Nickelodeon.

Shock: The series seems about friends who feel alone in their interests. I know you as a great fan and student of film, especially horror, did you feel like that growing up?

Miller: Yeah for sure. Until I was nine, my family lived in a cluster of townhouses where I was literally the only kid. I had plenty of friends at school, but it was a bit of a production to hang out with anyone outside of school. I couldn’t just hop on my bike and cruise a couple blocks over. So in a way I was growing up in a vacuum, watching movies and TV and drawing comics. When we finally moved to a typical neighborhood full of other kids, at first I was excited. Then I quickly realized that “proximity to my house” wasn’t really having something in common with someone. So I became more proactive in seeking out people that I could really be friends with and not just kill time with. That’s what I see in Dylan. She’s an outsider by design. She didn’t become weird because she doesn’t fit in, she doesn’t fit in because she was already weird. Which is maybe a semantic distinction, but it was meaningful for me in executing her character. She doesn’t secretly want the popular girls to like her, and I love that.

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Shock: Golan is making a huge jump to primetime and half hour. What does that mean in a narrative sense for you? Where does that allow you to go?

Miller: We can do much bigger stories. It was hard to squeeze certain ideas in 11 minutes, which always necessitated whittling stories down to their bare bones. Since the show is a comedy first and foremost, certain digressions — both narrative and in animation — would lose out to making room for jokes. It was hard to justify doing action scenes of any kind, or anything conceptual in execution; an example of that would be in our upcoming episode “Shame on Pee,” we have a bit I really love where Dylan wets the bed and disposes of her sheets in the same fashion someone would a dead body in a movie: putting them in an oil drum and driving out to the swamp in a fan boat. In the 11-minute episodes, we would’ve found a way to do the gag in just a few beats, or replace it with something similar. Now we can take our time, waiting for the punchline. Screentime-wise, it takes up a lot of real estate. But now we have a bigger sandbox to fuck around in.

Initially I was a little wary of getting full-length episodes. I was worried it would naturally lead to more standard stories. The 11 minute length tends to allow for weird concepts to flourish, because you don’t need to stretch it out for that long. Most of the best Adult Swim shows couldn’t function at 22 minutes. But just the opposite happened for Golan. Now that show is even weirder, because we were able to make more left turns in the stories.

Shock: Animation has often been a haven for weird cinema lovers and creators. What sort of nutso imagery finds itself on Golan?

Miller: When we started the show, I found that the word “fantasy” made people think of Lord of the Rings. That made Golan hard to describe, because his homeworld dimension of Gkruool is pure heavy metal fantasy, which is pretty different in tone. So I kept showing everyone Frank Frazetta paintings, to get that kind of ‘swords and sorcery’ world. Even though we don’t see a lot of Gkruool, that influences Golan’s magic on the show. Frazetta imagery seeped its way into the promo poster we made; which made me really happy.

The best thing about moving to Sunday nights has been a big boost in our animation resources. Not to beat this Trojan Horse analogy to death, but again we wanted the animation on the show to look fairly similar to what Fox audiences are used to, but then suddenly twist into Ren & Stimpy extremes. We weren’t able to get many creatures into the first season. Now every episode seems to have something freaky in there. I thought for sure Fox was going to push back on us in our new pilot, when we have Lisa Frank drawings come to life and kill a bunch of little girls. But Fox has been amazingly cool and supportive. If anything, they’ve usually been egging us on to make things weirder. Maybe someone over there is trying to get fired, I don’t know!

Shock:  Finally, what sort of influences fed into creating Golan?

Miller: Like most writers my age – especially those who love animation – The Simpsons was an epic, gorilla-in-the-room influence on me in my tweens/teens. But when I was a little kid, Scooby-Doo was my #1 jam. I’ve always loved monsters. Discovering those orange-colored monster books written by Ian Thorne (if anyone remembers those) at my library as a kid was a major mind-blowing moment for me, which was immediately followed by discovering that my library also had all the classic Universal monster movies available to watch on VHS. So monsters are always going on in the background of my brain. At the time I was writing the original Golan web stories, I was reading a lot of Robert E. Howard. So that’s where the Frazetta ‘swords and sorcery’ came in. It felt like something we’ve seen little of in animation, except for single episodes of shows like South Park.

And believe it or not, but Calvin & Hobbes was a big influence. The way we approached the series is that Golan the Insatiable is a kids show with a really adult element (Golan) inserted into it and screwing everything up. A bit like if Hobbes were a real tiger, who would maul and eat people in Calvin’s town now and then. We knew from the get-go that we didn’t want the show to be structured like Pinky and The Brain, and have Golan trying to take over the world or get back home in every episode. Golan gets all his knowledge about Earth from a little kid, so he is effectively a little kid too. Thus, world domination and play-time sort of blur together.