Way back on October 27, 2004, Comedy Central debuted the audacious animated comedy Drawn Together, which brazenly parodied every animation and film trope ever created. The premise was a "reality show" for animation stock characters, like a Disney-esque princess and superheroes, living under one roof, a la MTV's The Real World. The major deviation is that the animated cast was more appalling than any of even the most infamous human bottom feeders cast in the reality-show staples of the time.
Creators Dave Jeser and Matthew Silverstein made sure no animation genre was left unscathed by Drawn Together, from the Disney-esque princesses it mocked to the culturally tone-deaf "classic" animation characters, and even beloved Saturday morning heroes. And they were all voiced by animation industry veterans like Tara Strong, Jess Harnell, Cree Summer, and Adam Carolla.
The series was a lightning rod for criticism, yet it ran for three seasons, until 2008, when it was canceled. In the decade since it left the air, Drawn Together has been regularly cited as a modern classic, ahead of its time, as well as helping kick-start the careers of writers like Elijah Aron (BoJack Horseman) and Erik Sommers (Community).
On October 10, Drawn Together: The Complete Series and 2010's Drawn Together: The Movie were released (uncensored) in a seven-disc set with lots of goodies, like a board game in the box, and exclusive extras. Still successfully writing and producing live-action and animated series, Dave Jeser and Matthew Silverstein got on the phone with us to wax nostalgic about their NSFW animated baby that's still delightfully offending to this day.
Did you create Drawn Together to press people's buttons, or was your style of animated humor just more potent than people were expecting?
Dave: I think we had come from a few network shows where we realized the writers' room were all filled with hysterically funny people but the funniest thing in the room never got on TV for whatever network reason, story reason, or character reason. We decided when we had an opportunity to have our own show that whatever was the funniest thing in the room, and whatever everyone laughed at, we'd figure out how to get into the episode. We thought that was the way to create a show, and we had fun doing that when we argued with the network standards and practices. We changed entire storylines just to get a joke in, because we hired really funny people ...
Matt: All who have gone to be way more successful than we are. (Laughs)
After the second season, Drawn Together moved outside of just skewering reality-show tropes, and expanded into film and TV clichés. Was that always the plan creatively?
Dave: The reality thing was just a thing an entryway to skewer everything that we wanted to skewer. Comedy Central, I think, initially just want it to be a spoof of reality TV, like The Real World but with these characters. It was the superhero arguing with the princess over who drank the milk in the fridge. We said we weren't going to do that and they said, "The show you're doing is not the show we bought." That was our relationship with Comedy Central for a very long time. I don't think they ever embraced the show like we hoped they would. (Laughs)
South Park, of course, existed quite some time before your series, but Drawn Together still got a lot of heat for tainting the sanctity of some beloved animation archetypes with your raunchy humor. Do you think you were just a little too ahead of your time?
Matt: We actually hear from a lot of fans how it helped them, and inspired them to be creative and be different. I like to say we were ahead of our time because it makes me feel better we were canceled. (Laughs)
You had a stellar cast of voice actors who seemed to have a lot of fun poking fun at their own industry. Were they totally game for how far your writing went?
Dave: We wanted our characters' voices to evoke the characters we were parodying, which is what Tara and Jess Harnell and Cree Summer all were amazing at. And it became clear early on that because they did so many children's cartoons, that these people were even filthier than our writers' room was. We wanted to encourage improv, but sometimes it was so horrifically offensive because they were so happy to not be doing kids' cartoons that we had to pull them back. But they were all super funny, and the more we got to know them, the more their sense of humor was able to pour into those characters.
Matt: Tara Strong is filthy. We couldn't use anything! (Laughs)
Well played continuing to torture Tara as you did with her character, Princess Clara!
What's the worst trouble your show cooked up in the real world from critics and the like?
Dave: [Actress] Patricia Heaton hated our billboards because her kids had to see them, so she called the head of the network. There were a couple of different organizations who didn't like something. I dunno, if it was offensive it was clear that nobody who would be offended would watch our show. Our diehard fans enjoyed laughing and weren't easily offended. Anytime I bumped into someone who watched the show, there wasn't any part that they got offended by. It was usually groups worried about what other groups would be offended by. I don't think any of our fans held anything too precious.
Do you have a personal favorite season?
Matt: Season 2 was our best. It's when I felt like we proved ourselves with Season 1. We had a feeling the show would stay on for a while, so we didn't try to pander to anybody, or make the network happy. We were truly trying to make the best show we could. I tell anyone, if you are going to watch any season, watch this one.
Dave: Season 3 was when we got X-Box in the office and Halo came out and there was a clear drop in quality. All the writers were in different rooms. It really, really hurt our show. (Laughs)
In this age of rebooting or revising old shows, has there been any talk of reviving Drawn Together in some way? There are certainly plenty of topics to still skewer ...
Matt: When we go back and watch the show, we were actually really vicious towards Trump and really vicious to Bill Cosby. I guess Bill Cosby even threatened to sue us. But as far as the show coming back ...
Dave: If anyone who buys this DVD or reads this article wants to do the show with us, email us at: email@example.com. And if they buy the DVD, take a picture with it and send it and give us their phone number, we will call them and personally call them. We are so appreciative if you actually buy this, because we don't think anybody will. (Laughs)
What keeps you still writing or consulting on animation series more than a decade later?
Dave: Obviously, we love animation, and for whatever reason, network TV lets you be a little more joke-driven and outrageous. Also, every time we try to get back into live action and pitch our own things, people remind us that if they want to do a cartoon and they can't afford Seth MacFarlane, or Matt and Trey. We're happy to be the cheap Matt and Trey and build a career and send our kids to private school off of that. We love animation, and what draws us back into it is the other guys are too expensive and we're available. (Laughs)
Drawn Together: The Complete Collection was released on October 10.