Apocalypse soon

Apocalypse soon

By Michael Pickard
April 17, 2024


Best known for working on Rick & Morty, Dan Guterman’s first original series is a more melancholic affair as one woman faces up to the end of the world and her place in it. He tells DQ about making Carol & the End of the World and why he wants to surprise people with this animated dramedy.

Dan Guterman is best known for his work on animated sitcom Rick & Morty, which follows a nihilistic scientist and his anxious grandson as they embark on a multitude of intergalactic misadventures.

But his first original series, Carol & the End of the World, couldn’t be more different. In fact, Guterman himself describes this apocalyptic comedy-drama as “almost the diametric opposite” of Rick & Morty, the Adult Swim series created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon that has run since 2013.

Among the things they do have in common, however, is a sci-fi premise – with the mild-mannered title character facing up to Earth’s imminent destruction in Carol & the End of the World – and the fact that both shows have allowed Guterman to indulge his love of animation.

“First off, I just love artists in general and I love working with them and seeing them work,” he tells DQ. “What they do feels like magic to me. A lot of the time, I’m just entranced by them.

“In addition to that, animation gives you a lot of control over what you’re doing. In live action, everything sort of happens at once – the lighting, the acting, camera, directing – whereas in animation, each of those is separated and segmented out. I’m a bit of a control freak, and I like that it allows me to do each of those things separately at their own time.”

As evidenced by Rick & Morty in particular, animation also allows a creator’s mind to run wild with seemingly limitless possibilities for storytelling.

“There’s also something very disarming about combining animation with emotional realism,” continues Guterman, whose other credits include Community and The Colbert Report. “You’re expecting an animated show, something frantic and frenetic, something joke driven, but when you actually give them a premium cable dramedy instead, it catches people a little bit off guard and makes things a little bit more impactful.”

Guterman certainly hopes to have caught people off guard with Carol & the End of the World, a thoughtful, considered series in which Carol and friends including Donna and Luis face up to Armageddon as a planet named Kepler-9c slowly makes its way closer to Earth.

But while most of those around her feel liberated to pursue their wildest dreams as the end approaches, Carol is a quiet and always uncomfortable woman who stands alone among the hedonistic masses, still searching for her place in the world.

Dan Guterman

“People go in not knowing what to expect and have their own specific journey with it,” Guterman says, “and it feels like it’s been able to touch people, make people think and change the way people think. It’s been very nice to see the reaction online.”

A world – or an inter-dimensional galaxy – away from Rick & Morty, Carol & the End of the World is “slow, atmospheric and dreamlike,” says Guterman, eschewing the joke-a-minute format employed by many adult animated comedies and taking its time to tell a story that is equally surprising and touching.

Notably, the 10-part series, which debuted on Netflix in December, is structured like a sequence of short, standalone stories, connected by the sight of Kepler in the sky as it looms progressively larger over the course of the show.

“We wanted each episode to feel like its own little film, and to feel distinct from the other ones but, when combined, for it all to match and feel like a whole,” Guterman explains. “We just went with our instincts on it. We didn’t really overthink it too much. We just pursued the type of storytelling we were most interested in and widened things out to different characters at different times, to see different perspectives. It was a very instinctual process. We didn’t really second-guess ourselves too much.”

Carol herself is a quiet force, searching for distraction from Earth’s impending doom and finding it by working in a nondescript office alongside a cabal of like-minded people. It’s there, however, that she slowly finds herself upsetting the system in the search for human connection. Certain episodes also see her reconnect with her sister Elena on a hiking trip or searching for the perfect wave after learning to surf.

Carol & the End of the World centres on a woman dealing with the apocalypse in her own way

“This is a woman who is trying to run away from having to decide what to do in the world and, in the process, finding out that connection and community, and these small, important, almost invisible moments are what really matter to her,” Guterman says. “She goes on a journey throughout these 10 episodes, starting from a place of denial and getting to a place of really knowing what she wants and enjoying it.”

The project emerged from Guterman’s relationship with Netflix, after he was invited to help the streamer develop some of its pilots a number of years ago. At the time, Netflix was launching its own animation division, and when Guterman was offered the chance to pitch something of his own, he discussed his idea for Carol & the End of the World, a show that comes from a particularly personal place.

“One night drifting off, I realised that if I knew the world was ending, I wouldn’t really want to travel or go skydiving or run naked through the streets,” he says, noting the reaction of some of the other characters that feature alongside Carol in the series. “What I’d want to do is continue working, to continue to be distracted by work, to continue to be preoccupied by work so I wouldn’t have to think about the end and all that entails.

“That was the seed that took root and became the show; this show about a woman trying to distract herself from the end of the world. It came from a personal place, they let me pitch it and they were really into it from the beginning. They left us alone to do what we wanted to do. There weren’t very many notes from them. They really trusted us and supported the project, and we really got to do the show we wanted to do.”

Fellow writer Kevin Arrieta (The Fairly OddParents) joined Guterman at the outset, before Noah Prestwick (Robot Chicken) also joined the writing team and the trio penned the entire series. And as showrunner, Guterman pieced together the crew that brought Carol & the End of the World to the screen.

The series may be animated, but it’s directed in a live-action style

“It was a group of about 100 of us, working for two-and-a-half years remotely, making the show quietly,” he says. “But it was a nice experience. It was very challenging, especially because we were remote and it’s hard to do something so precise over the internet, but it all worked out well. I’m really happy with how it came out.”

Despite it being animated, every part of Carol & the End of the World was developed as if it were a live-action series – an approach most visible in the direction from Erica Hayes, Mollie Helms and Bert Youn.

“We’re with our characters as they drive or ride motorcycles. We’re panning with them, we’re changing POVs a lot. A camera’s alive and moving all the time,” Guterman notes. “We took our cue from live action, but just did it animated. Live action was our blueprint. We wanted it to feel like a film, more than an animated show, and I think we were successful in doing that.”

However, it took a number of months before the creative team and animation studio Bardel Entertainment “stumbled” upon an art style they felt matched the tone of the writing.

“That was just a lot of trial and error, working closely with the artists and also listening to the artists and what they had to say, what they had to bring to the table and how they elevated what we were doing,” he says. “But it was also very instinct based, and it was all very gut driven. When we landed on a style that looked right, I quickly said, ‘That’s it, that’s what we’re going with,’ and we stuck with it.”

So does Guterman himself draw? “Not at all. I have no drawing talent whatsoever,” he admits. “I was totally dependent on other people. But I knew what I wanted. Sometimes I had to be shown what I wanted. But our design team was incredible and really helped me. Together we really found the visual voice for the show.”

The team working on the show put it together entirely remotely

Providing the characters’ voices for the series is a cast headed by Martha Kelly as Carol, with Kimberley Hébert Gregory as Donna, Mel Rodriguez as Luis, Beth Grant as Carol’s mother Beth and Lawrence Pressman as Carol’s father Bernard. Laurie Metcalf, Megan Mullally and Gillian Jacobs (who also lends her voice to Atom Eve in Invincible) also feature.

“We had an incredible voice cast that really understood the show and really performed beautifully. A lot of the credit goes to them in how successful we were in getting across the different moments and different emotions,” Guterman says. “Then the animation that was done by Bardel was really great. It was very subtle and nuanced, and the acting was really small but effective. I feel very lucky that it worked. We didn’t really have to monkey with it too much. Everybody was so good that it just landed correctly.”

Guterman’s favourite part of the process was watching the show start to come to life as the episodic radioplays – the audio for each episode – were pieced together before the animation was then storyboarded.

The biggest obstacles the first-time showrunner faced came from working entirely remotely, as every process took longer to complete than if the crew had been in the same room together.

“But I loved every single part of the process of putting the show together,” he says. “Doing the design and the directing, working with our composer for the music and the score of the show, all of that was really enjoyable. Seeing the show come together layer by layer was really exciting and very rewarding.”

Much like making a US network television drama that might stretch to more than 20 episodes, Guterman was across numerous episodes of Carol & the End of the World while they were at different stages of the production process. “I’d be writing an episode while recording a different episode, while directing the third episode, while scoring a fourth episode all simultaneously. It’s all happening at once, and it all cascades one on top of the other. It’s challenging, but I had a good time with it.”

Carol & the End of the World debuted on Netflix in December

Guterman has now turned his attention to new projects, contented with the fact that Carol & the End of the World tells a complete story despite – spoiler alert – the world not ending by the end of the series.

“We wanted to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end, and I feel like we did that,” he says. “I really liked the way we leave off at the end of the show. It feels right to me. I wouldn’t want to continue it just for the sake of continuing it. It feels like a finished piece, and I like that it stands alone. People can come to it and watch it and have an entire journey with it and have a payoff at the end.”

What’s clear, however, is Carol & the End of the World can take its place among the “new wave” of adult animation series such as Scavenger’s Reign and Blue Eye Samurai that stand apart from comedies or cartoons.

“We wanted to combine naturalism with surrealism,” Guterman says. “We wanted to make these half-hour tone poems, these quiet ruminations on life and living. We wanted to make something atmospheric, something mood driven, something driven by tone, and I think we succeeded.

“What we hope is that it will inspire new things to come out that will feel more like Carol, that will feel existential, quiet, dreamlike, tender, kind and sad and all with different textures and all different weights. It’s an animated dramedy, which you don’t really see very much, at least in Western animation. It’s a little bit alone, but hopefully there’s more of that to come in the future.”

tagged in: , , ,