As the Democratic presidential race heats up with each passing moment, the writers’ room at Showtime’s “Our Cartoon President” is constantly on its toes to keep up with the news cycle.
“Bernie had his heart attack, and Mike [Leech, writer/producer] says, ‘At “The Simpsons” they never walk into work and say “Mr. Burns had a heart attack in real life, we have to change the show.”‘ We have to change ours,” showrunner R.J. Fried tells Variety. “These events come out of nowhere, and we have to go back and redo our episodes to make sure we honor the news as closely as we can.”
Now in its third season, the show continues to poke fun at the political world. With the ever-changing state of the race, the writers and animators are writing, recording and animating into the early hours. Other times, however, coincidence will work in their favor.
“We actually planned the ‘Impeachment’ episode three or four months ago, but then Nancy Pelosi did us this huge favor and scheduled the impeachment trial the week that episode aired,” Fried says.
The following week’s episode focused on Pete Buttigieg a few days after he had his successful night in Iowa.
“If you get to know the characters enough, you put them in these situations. At some point, the cartoon and the real world are going to align,” Fried says.
Season 3 sees the introduction of more new characters: Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and Elon Musk all feature with key story arcs. “The world got bigger this season. We wanted to address the corruption in its many forms whether it’s the main players and the people that surround them,” Fried explains.
As “Our Cartoon President” expands beyond the world outside of Washington, D.C and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, specifically, it will also feature Matt Lucas as Boris Johnson; Joe Biden trying to secure an endorsement from Obama; and Trump rallying his own alliance of dictators at the G7 summit with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Vladimir Putin.
Fried and his team have to be cautious, though, about taking a joke too far.
“We always think, ‘Is the target fair?’ It would be such a blessing to do ‘The Simpsons,’ where you can joke without worrying too much about it hurting the real-life demographics,” he says. “But there are a lot of things in our politics where the jokes are not funny and there’s a lot of pain surrounding these issues.”
But, he notes, the show does get away with “a lot” due to its animated format — and because “the world feels more cartoonish than ever,” he adds.
“Our Cartoon President” airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on Showtime.
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