[Interview] Talking Pop Culture, The Power Of Community, And Joaquin Phoenix With The ‘Fairfax’ Creators

Courtesy: Amazon

Adult animation is currently experiencing a Renaissance where there have never been more daring programs, let alone places where they can thrive. Mature animated series have transformed from a risky niche into the new normal. This means that a wild, silly series like Amazon Prime’s Fairfax can tackle very specific subject matter and be given the right venue and opportunities to build an audience and become the next subversive hit. Fairfax lovingly lampoons the “hypebeast culture” of Los Angeles’ Fairfax Avenue through the eyes of modern middle schoolers. The show’s first season turned out to be one of the most delightful surprises of 2021 and the comedy has only further perfected its formula with what lies ahead in season two. 

The premiere of Fairfax’s second season is right around the corner and the animated series’ creators, ​​Matt Hausfater, Aaron Buchsbaum, and Teddy Riley, graciously open up on how they determine the right pop culture to dissect, why music is so significant to the show’s DNA, and the importance of friendship and expanding upon Fairfax’s borders in the show’s hilarious second season.

Daniel Kurland: This show is such a chaotic celebration of pop culture and the current social media landscape. I’m impressed by how you manage to pick the right targets to poke fun at where the show doesn’t only feel relevant, but also prescient in certain ways. Is there ever any concern over putting in certain references that might date the show or alienate future viewers, or is that part of the fun on some level?

Aaron Buchsbaum: 100%. Animation takes so long to make, so our lead time is like one-and-a-half years. So whenever we plant a pop culture joke, we as a writers’ room have to ask ourselves, “How is this going to hold up in a year-and-a-half?” A lot of it is finding what’s evergreen and what’s always going to be pop culturally relevant. 

Matt Hausfater: And then sometimes you just get lucky and Denis Villeneuve decides to have Dune come out the week before your show comes out and it looks like we have a crystal ball. 

AB: You see that stuff all the time with “Simpsons Called It!” We’re going for that energy all of the time. 

DK: Something that I really admire about Fairfax is that it’s certainly written with adult audiences in mind, but it also feels like a show that a bunch of middle school kids could enjoy. Are you trying to skew towards a younger audience on some level? Who do you hope is watching the series?

Teddy Riley: I think a combination of both. When we were coming up with the show we definitely thought about South Park and how you can enjoy that show as a 12-year old laughing at shit jokes and you can enjoy that as an adult who’s laughing at the political humor and satire. If some stuff goes over your head, then that happens, but other stuff is going to resonate better with different audiences. For us, the sweet spot is really kids in middle school who are going through this right now, all the way up to our age and above.

MH: We’re also 35-year old 13 year-olds. So that kind of embodies our taste, our vibe, and who we’re trying to reach as an audience. Nothing makes me happier when someone who’s like 60+ watches the show and is like, “I loved that!” That’s the coolest feeling in the world, but then also hearing that something resonated with a teenager is also an incredible feeling. 

DK: It’s still early on, but have you thought about whether the characters in Fairfax will actually grow older and if the series will explore those changes, or do you think it’s better for their ages to remain in stasis?

MH: I think we want them to be their age forever. To us, what’s fun about this show is to not do stories about puberty, having sex, doing drugs. We’ve always said that the kids haven’t seen boobs or smoked a joint, but they would love to someday. That’s the sweet spot—being young enough to know what those things are, but to not have any experience there. 

DK: This season puts a lot of new pressures on the Gang Gang and threatens the dissolution of their group. Did it feel important for the show’s evolution for them to begin to figure themselves out more as individuals and how they exist with others outside of the Gang Gang?

TR: Definitely. The slogan for the show has always kind of been, “Here Today, Gone Today.” The reality of what that looks like over time, and the speed in this culture, where you’re always kind of feeling like you’re one step behind; that you just missed out on a show that you should have known about. That feeling of wanting to catch up and not get left behind is something that not only felt relatable to us, but also true to the way that people respond to culture now, too.

AB: I also think that as writers, more seasons means more room for character development, more room to explore what makes these characters three-dimensional. So it was exciting for us to present the Gang Gang to the world in season one, show them to the world, and make you fall in love with them. Then season two was designed to really explore the strength and evolution of the Gang Gang and how they co-exist as friends. We wanted to put them through the ropes and really test their relationships. That’s exciting stuff to play with for us.

DK: Something that I appreciated in the second season is that there’s more of a focus on the show’s supporting cast and expanding upon the scope of Fairfax’s community. Do you hope to increasingly move in this direction so that Fairfax can continue to grow and feel as fully realized as something like Springfield?

MH: We always say that your favorite Simpsons character isn’t Bart. It’s Moe. It’s Comic Book Guy. We want you to fall in love with everyone. We’re blessed with an incredible cast. We have Larry Owens, so let’s utilize him! Let’s make him sing and properly show off. We know that he’s awesome, but we want everyone to see that.

AB: In season one, we created so many characters that were not initially conceived and in making them, we fell in love with them. So we just naturally wanted to write to the strength of our actors, but also keep opening up the world and giving audiences a broader reach into the Fairfax universe. 

DK: Fairfax was initially given a two-season guarantee. Did you write both seasons back-to-back and did that two-season order make a difference in terms of season one’s storytelling and setting up things in the first season that you knew you could pay off in season two?

AB: Interestingly, we had already written the first season with a writers’ room. We wrote the first season not even knowing if we were going into production and that’s kind of what earned us the two season order, showing them that. We approached season one with the attitude to just give it our all and let audiences get to fall in love with the Gang Gang. In season two, it was more like we had built ourselves some breathing room to really play and explore in this world that we’ve created. We hope to get to keep doing it and make more!

DK: The soundtrack for Fairfax is such a big part of the show and its energy. It seems like you must have an absolutely stacked music budget for some of the songs that get played. How do you determine what makes the cut and the sound of the show?

AB: Depends who you’re asking!

MH: We have incredible music supervisors. 

TR: All credit goes to Jen Malone, Nicole Weisberg, and our composer, Joseph Shirley. The three of them kind of represented the musical side of the show. They’re all so talented and did such a great job at finding hidden gems—much like the references and celebrities that we were talking about earlier—when it comes to bands and artists that they knew would be even bigger in a year-and-a-half’s time. They have that talent at their disposal. And our composer Joe does such a good job at balancing the soundtrack as well as providing an original score that feels genuinely rooted in hip hop and the music that’s in the show.

MH: That’s how we approach television in general, but really approach Fairfax with music being a part of the show’s soul. We hold it in very high regard and it’s important to us. Even in our writing we’ll try to make notes on what song to think is playing at that moment. We really kind of incorporated it into everything that we did because it’s an important part of the culture, but our show and how we tell a story is very melodic. There’s always music running through its veins.

DK: One of my favorite elements of the show is how many deep cuts and niche gags that you hide in the signs of stores, posters, and other background elements. There’s a movie poster that says “I Love You, Alice Gunt” that I need explained. I know that it’s a I Love You, Alice B. Toklas reference, but I scoured high and low to figure out who Alice Gunt might be and got nowhere…

TR: That could very well be a personal reference done by the artist—there are so many amazing background artists who work on the show and get to put their own humor into it. There is some stuff that we don’t even pick up on.

AB: Remind me where that is! 

DK: It’s in the editing room when they’re working on the fire safety video, but it’s among many other film and TV parody posters. 

TR: Honestly, I don’t know off hand who boarded that background. It’s a testament to everybody at Titmouse and their bizarre humor.

AB: Our art director, Tyler Rice, she’s a genius first and foremost. But she came to us with this idea of wanting to plant so much in the background of every scene, which we were so on board with. We want to be surprised and discover stuff when we watch it and she does not disappoint.

TR: And we still are discovering stuff because now I need to figure out who Alice Gunt is and I’ll be spending the rest of the day on that!

AB: Who’s Alice Gunt!

DK: People are talking!

Season two of ‘Fairfax’ is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video