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Photo: Hulu

Interviews

‘Koala Man’: Insightful talk into season 1 with the creator, showrunners, and star

We speak with Michael Cusack, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, and Demi Lardner of Koala Man.

Koala Man is the new animated comedy that debuted earlier this week. The story follows a middle-aged man named Kevin who patrols the streets of his suburban Australian town as the titular character. He must juggle the life of a superhero with that of a father and husband.

Recently, we had the chance to speak with the talent involved with the series including creator Michael Cusack, showrunners Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit, and star Demi Lardner. They all provided more insight on Koala Man and even had some season one post mortem discussion. There are spoilers ahead!

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Koala Man’s Origins

Cusack originally developed the show in his native Australia for the public television network ABC and its Fresh Blood initiative. He wanted to make an animated sitcom in the vein of Rick and Morty, The Simpsons, or Futurama so Koala Man’s eventual home at 20th Century Fox and Hulu was a great fit.

For the lead character himself, Cusack “always had this idea early on that Koala Man should be an everyman. A middle-aged dad going through a crisis…Marital problems. Relationships on the rocks type stuff is interesting. Balancing that with being a superhero is an interesting dynamic.”

“Making Kevin that kind of everyman was very important to contrast with his alter ego putting on the mask and moonlighting as a superhero. It seemed to work. It kind of happened naturally just from thinking about what a funny Australian superhero would be. I always thought it would be funny if he had no superpowers. It’s suburban instead of big grand like a Gotham or something. I didn’t want to do that.”

Leaning into the Australia

With the bigger platform of Hulu and Disney, Koala Man needed to cater to a more universal audience. However, the showrunners still wanted to retain as much Australian culture they could. Samit said, “For the most part, we wanted to lean into the Australia of it because it was so unique and different. The writer’s room was split 50/50: Australian writers and American writers.”

“Whenever the Australians would talk about the unique things to Australia, all the Americans would get so excited and want to hear more. There were so many commonalities…there were points of entry…There’s never been an adult prime time [Australian] animation show before. All these Australian ideas, no one has ever done before…It was actually exciting to create this twisted version of Australia.”

Hernandez added, “Especially when they have cultural touchstones that we just know nothing about. Like the Emu War is real. That’s a real thing. 100% real. That’s why in that episode, I think Koala Man says, ‘Everyone stop right now and Google it.’ That was us talking to the audience saying that this was a real crazy thing that happened in Australian history that we in America have no context for.”

koala man 4
Photo: Hulu

A Little Bit of America

Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty, Solar Opposites) serves as an executive producer. He played an important role in development as Cusack describes it. “He’s (Roiland) great. He very much championed the show to Hulu. He was a great help in actually getting the show up and running…I never did anything like this; a big family animated sitcom. He definitely was a great mentor in that aspect.”

Roiland also guests on an episode playing The Fast and the Furious influenced American Chad Wagon. Cusack gave details how that antagonist came to be. “The thing is with that one, when we pitched around the show, even when we were talking with the executives, there’s this kind of thing where yes they wanted Australian, but they kind of wanted an American character in there. It’s that executivey thing.”

“Which, at first, I pushed back on but then, the best thing to do with executive notes is actually see how you can work with them because that’s always how everyone wins. We all thought it would be funny if that American executive note kind of turned into a character. In this Australian world is Dapto, is almost a meta commentary on that note and Justin totally nailed it. It’s funny to see Koala Man interact with an American played by Justin Roiland. It seemed to work well. It’s fantastic!”

Superhero Influences

Koala Man is a superhero story and it draws influence from other crime fighters. Batman served as an inspiration. Kevin is “a normal guy who takes it upon himself to stand up for his town,” Samit stated. “And we gave him his own version of the Joker in the Kookaburra, who also has his own maniacal laugh.” It also plays into the gags because anytime Kevin pulls out a gadget, it has koala ears on it.

Hernandez cited specific arcs including Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke. “There is a cost to being a superhero. It may express itself on someone else and you might not even know the cost. And that’s where the Kookaburra’s arc comes from. Everyone is trying to break out of these cycles of behavior.”

He would later go deeper into that final showdown between hero and villain. “That’s why it felt very important for us ultimately rather than Koala Man killing the Kookaburra at the end of the season, to have him actually take some responsibility for his own part creating that character and to be compassionate about it and be redemptive in that way. That’s something that Batman and the Joker can’t really do because the Joker is so far gone and so far this antithetical force. But we thought it was interesting if Kevin could do that and we don’t end with violence is the solution.”

The Emotional Beats

Despite all the outlandish situations, Koala Man has a lot of heart. Samit explained, “That’s the secret sauce for the show. We don’t hold back obviously. We go to wild and crazy places and we get excited when writers come up with that. But our jobs as showrunners is making sure when we have those wild insane moments, it is always connected to the story. Grounded in real emotion and heart. We never do crazy for the sake of crazy. It’s always connected to something real. I think that keeps you in that place where what you’re watching still has stakes and you still care about it.”

Hernandez agreed. “I think sometimes when shows are wacky for the sake of being wacky, that can be really funny and great. But I think that it’s harder to hook into a deeper level of caring about the characters. Whereas, if you start from a place of what is the human story that we kind of want to explore, and then don’t limit yourself in the craziest possible way to explore that story, people will go along with you on that ride if they understand.”

Hernandez continued, ” There’s an alien sex scene, but really the story is about a husband and wife reconnecting in their relationship. There’s a cannibal kid’s music group, but really this is a story about a guy processing all of the traumas in his life that have led him to this moment, and deciding not pass those traumas to his son…”

“When you start at that macro level of philosophically what are we trying to say, then we can have cannibals and Uncle Bumpy, the Leather Face guy. We can do whatever we want because there’s a foundation being built of actual human emotion that’s recognizable as something that everyone has gone through or things that you’re dealing with in your own life. That was important to us. It’s not a cynical show. I think it’s a fairly optimistic show when all is said and done.”

Alison, Kevin’s daughter, experiences her own character journey from aspiring school queen bee to a more softened and caring individual. Lardner shared, ” I think it’s really cool and I think it’s to the point where I can’t stand emotional awakenings and it made me very uncomfortable. That’s how affecting it was. Every time after I read out the lines, I would be <making drying heaving noises>, kind of gross myself out. It’s strangely affecting for again, a weird little psycho.”

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Photo: Hulu

What Their Excited for

If our review isn’t enough to convince you to give Koala Man a shot, then the talent also discussed what they are most excited for viewers to see. Cusack said, “Some interesting creatures, and again, I’m a sh*t drawer so that’s a testament to the amazing artists we have working on the show. They really hit it out of the park with a lot of the character designs. I guess seeing Hugh Jackman play Big Greg would be a highlight for me. Just the different places it goes story-wise is really interesting. It actually has a compelling story I think…Everything to sum it up.”

Lardner seconded the character designs. “There are some really cool character designs, visually at least. The story is sick and really funny, but there are insanely cool visual aspects with the monsters and heroes. I’m super into that. It’ll be cool that they’ll see some really cool crap.”

The Future of Koala Man

Looking into the future, Lardner revealed what kind of superhero persona she would like her character to adapt. ” She couldn’t be a koala because they are far too kind. I think maybe some kind of, what is the rat-like Australian animal. Maybe a weird bilby. Or a Tasmanian Devil, but then we’d have to call her Devil Girl. I think she’d also do it by accident and be nice by accident, be like, well I guess I saved the day again. How loserish.”

The voice actress also brought up where her character might go if Koala Man received a second season. ” I think she’s going to take over the world. Potentially, her dad is going to have to stop her. She’s very good at getting what she wants and at the end of it is prime minister of Australia then take over the world.”

The entire first season of Koala Man is available now on Hulu.

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