Ahead of tonight’s premiere, we decided to finally introduce ourselves to the producers of Jeff & Some Aliens. Read on about where the guys came from and what we can expect from the show’s first season on Comedy Central.
On June 1st, 1991 Comedy Central debuted after a merger between fledgling comedy networks The Comedy Network and Ha! Came to pass. Since then, Comedy Central has seen only TWO animated franchises go more than three seasons, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and South Park though it isn’t from lack of trying. Comedy Central’s animated graveyard is littered with franchises that still have hardcore fandoms today with notable examples being Brickleberry, Drawn Together, Ugly Americans, etc., all of which were great shows but maxed out at most three seasons.
In 2014, the network would begin a run of 30 episodes for a sketch animated comedy series called TripTank. Whilst being produced by the same studio (Shadowmachine) that brings us masterful animated fare such as BoJack Horseman, the idea of TripTank was to use the series as an incubator to develop new intellectual properties that Comedy Central could then develop into full-fledged shows. A litany of Hollywood talent would appear in these shorts that would include a who’s who of comedic quality including Bob Odenkirk, Zach Galifianakis, and Paul Reiser, however it was the dual muscle of writing and animation stylings that did two things:
1) Together with Greatest Party Story Ever, Shadowmachine’s extreme in animation prowess made viewers more aware of their talent. From puppetry to 3D and 2D animation along with a wealth of other stylings, TripTank showcased a variety of animation styles that you seldom get to see anywhere else on any other network or streaming service.
2) While a lot of the shorts were clearly just that…shorts. We did get a very good selection of potential franchises that I think could be real TV shows (you can see lists for seasons one and two). Obvious examples include the likes of “Anau Jiram”, “Suck It, Gary!,” and a series of shorts about a guy with three aliens for roommates called “Jeff & Some Aliens.”
With Brett Gelman as the voice of “Jeff”, we were introduced to a down-on-his-luck protagonist who has to put up with three aliens whose sole purpose is to annotate whether or not Earth should be destroyed or if it’s worth saving. And while the aliens (yes, all three of them) are voiced by show co-creator Alessandro Minoli, along with his co-creating partner Sean Donnelly, the duo are probably more attracted to characters that are more like the aforementioned Jeff. In a thread that can be seen in other TripTank shorts produced by the duo such as “Stand-Up Dad“, and “Video Lou“, Sean and Minoli’s first attempt at getting this type of archetype on to television was with their pilot presentation deal with FOX, and while some producers may consider development of pilot presentations for FOX “development hell”, Sean and Alessandro actually credit this period of time to former FOX VP Jennifer Howell (other credits: South Park) in allowing the two to really fine-tune their craft whilst getting paid which is a heck of a better lifestyle the two were living just prior to their jaunt to Los Angeles.
As Sean Donnelly and I begin our conversation, Sean’s grandmother attempts to give him a call only for her grandson to send her straight to voicemail, “Sorry Grandma” he says as he begins to tell me that he hails from Santa Cruz, California. During high school, Sean showed an early interest in animation which probably came from his affinity of animated television, “I remember new episodes of The Simpsons being like an event. Like, it was the one night of the week I was allowed to stay up late.” Other favorite shows included South Park, Liquid Television (“Blew my mind”), The Critic (“I was just watching that again the other day and it’s still so good”), and Beavis and Butthead (“I would stay up til 3 am to watch it”).
Alessandro Minoli, on the other hand, had quite a way different exposure to pop culture, “I moved to Europe when I was nine to go to boarding school and I wasn’t allowed to watch TV and I had to wear a uniform.” While not having the same access to some of the animated franchises that Sean did (“I got bits and pieces of The Simpsons”), Miloni enjoys more obscure and underground content that you would probably see more prevalent on Youtube or Vimeo.
Having initially met in third grade where the two would draw dirty cartoons, Alessandro Minoli and Sean Donnelly would reconnect years later at NYU while Alessandro was studying writing and acting at the Tisch School of the Arts and Sean was studying film and animation at the School of Visual Arts. The duo decided to combine forces and develop a 10-minute pilot called “Basement Gary” inspired by their living in Brooklyn. The short would grant the two a $10,000 prize from Playboy as part of a contest to go along with a bunch of recognition in the development circuit which would subsequently lead to their deal with FOX.
After a couple of years, and a MESS of pitched characters (of which Sean notes he has them on a board in his office called, “Failed Ideas”) it’s their pitch to Shadowmachine that finally got them going. Thanks to the guidance and trust afforded to the two by Shadowmachine’s founders Alex Bulkley and Corey Campodonico (“We could not have done this without them”), “Jeff & Some Aliens” was given almost a soft-pitch to go along with the soon-to-be-picked up sketch series TripTank, however Comedy Central executives insisted that Alessandro and Sean come back to properly pitch Jeff & Some Aliens again after hearing about the numerous numbers of characters that would never materialize in the shorts series, but made for perfect fare for the longer 22-minute series.
In the longer series, the producers get the luxury of building out the worlds of both Jeff and his alien roommates which provide for ample storylines, Minoli notes, “In terms of storytelling, guys that don’t have their shit together, I think that’s a bit more relatable to a wider net of people than say the guy that has everything. A lot of things he needs and doesn’t have is a good place to start building stories.” “Both of us relate to the Mighty Ducks-esque premise of ‘the little guy with not a lot to offer’ as compared to maybe the Russian guy in Rocky who appears to have everything going for him”. With Jeff, we’re privy to his job at the local smoothie outlet in the mall while the aliens give us a wider glimpse of their whereabouts. The producers have added that we’ll get to see more of Jeff’s family, some of whom we were introduced to in the shorts. Having already met his mom (voiced by Tress MacNeille/House) and dad (voiced by Richard Kind/Spin City), the first of a couple episodes sent to us sees Jeff spending time with his favorite niece which makes for an entertaining clash of cultures. Along with Brett Gelman voicing the titular character, we can expect to see a bunch of guest stars this season which includes the likes of Pamela Adlon, Nat Faxon, Rob Huebel, Keegan-Michael Key, the return of Richard Kind as Jeff’s dad, and the one and only Malcolm McDowell.
Not only are we going to be meeting his niece, upcoming storylines will continue to exhibit Jeff’s personal clashes, whether it’s with the notion of wanting to be rich at the cost of age or doing his best to stave off the impending alien invasion, our fabled hero definitely gets into his fits of adventure each and every week. “We have the option to go anywhere by use of weapons or gadgets, and a lot of our story ideas start from aspects of life that Jeff may want to explore”, says Donnelly, “ Usually we have very human stories, but we also have a whole galaxy we get to explore.”
Even with a list of notables that will appear in the show’s first season, it’s not going to be the big voice names that make this show worth the wait, Comedy Central knows that doesn’t always work. But judging from the first few episodes of the show’s first season, Alessandro Minoli and Sean Donnelly are off to a solid start that could see Jeff & Some Aliens be the network’s first series in a few decades to hop over that animated “third-season wall” instead of ending up on Sean’s “Failed Character Ideas” wall.
Jeff & Some Aliens airs Wednesday Nights @ 1030 pm ET/PT only on Comedy Central starting on January 11th, 2017, check your local listings. This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. Read our review of the first episode here.