The Aquabats ended their first season with a brilliant ending and a stoked, cult fanbase eager for a second season. Dani Michaeli, one of the talented writers for the show (as well as Spongebob SquarePants and South Park), was willing to help expand on the details on what exactly occurred over the course of these 13 episodes in the interview below. Be sure to check out his Twitter account.
TMB: The Aquabats is a cult rock n’ roll band that combines the kitsch of superheroism with the novelty of music comedy. What were some of the difficulties, if any, in taking that concept and stretching it out into a TV series?
DM: Every new live action TV show faces challenges translating fun scripts into real things that happen in front of a camera with sets and props and all within a budget. When you’re doing a show that has so many different elements and since it’s a kid’s show — heightened elements, the challenges are steeper. You want your monster to be cool and interesting and the locations should be unusual. You need action and sometimes stunts. On “The Aquabats Super Show”, there are also three minute cartoons and one minute cartoons and fake commercials. We learned some big lessons fairly quickly so we could get the most expensive effects for the most important moments.
TMB: It’s pretty odd, yet bold, that The Hub, a channel dedicated to well-known toy properties, picked up the Aquabats SuperShow as a series. Any idea how it was greenlit?
DM: My anecdotal understanding is a few very important people believed in the idea and had (justifiable) faith in Christian Jacobs and his ability to deliver a great show. Christian is a co-creator of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” Bob Higgins knew Christian from when Bob worked at Wild Brain (producers on “Yo Gabba Gabba”). Now, Bob works at FremantleMedia Enterprises, which financed “The Aquabats Super Show!” Also, it’s my understanding that Ted Biaselli, who is an executive at the Hub, was excited about doing a show with the Aquabats when he was at Disney earlier in his career. “The Aquabats Super Show!” is a maverick TV show with unconventional heroes and stories. I think it’s extremely cool of Bob Higgins, Ted Biaselli and also Donna Ebbs and Margaret Loesch (also of the Hub) that they took a chance on such a unique idea for a show with so many subversive elements in its format.
TMB: Generally, where do ideas for episodes come from? Do you draw inspiration from the Aquabats live shows? Or draw ideas from the 70s children shows that they parody?
DM: All of the above and more. When I started working with Christian and his team, many of the ideas were already in place and had been building for years. Villains like Space Monster M, the Time Sprinkler, Cobra Man, the Floating Eye of Death and others were already in the mix. The Aquabats came with a very rich mythology. Their stage show has always incorporated hilarious fights with a super creative cast of characters. Also, Christian had been pitching the show since 1996 in various formats and has even had earlier pilot versions of the show with other networks. As showrunner, creator, lead singer of the band and onscreen leader of The Aquabats, Christian Jacobs gets final say on which stories are tackled and how they are done. Christian’s influences include Japanese giant robot and monster movies and TV shows, 70s children’s shows like the Sid and Marty Krofft shows, cartoons and crazy, obscure, colorful kids movies from all over the world. He has a vast knowledge of movies (and a great collection too) that live in the realm of the fantastic, but also comedy and action movies. Myself and the other writers have similar influences to the degree where we could often get carried away talking about stuff we love. Each of us brought our own influences too. For example, I’m a big comic book buff so naturally that effects how I look at super heroes.
TBM: I mentioned the very great and very surreal twist ending here. You mentioned you planned it pretty much from the onset – how much planning was involved?
DM: A lot of the planning went into making sure nothing we did contradicted the ending. Initially, we had other ideas and threads that could work as hints or building blocks of a larger story, but we wound up cutting out a lot of that detail so we didn’t sacrifice the individual stories. Part of the goal was to make the live action parts of the episodes be able to stand alone, but there is a build of ideas, some of which come to a head in the finale. We wanted The Aquabats to have faced some tough foes and hard times, surviving by the skin of their teeth and with limited resources (and money). When they are stuck in a time loop in the animated episode within the finale, hopefully there’s this feeling that facing those battles again is kind of brutal punishment. Also, the animated adventures are such short sequences, we wound up having to do many drafts and versions to get their journeys to line up in a way that is hopefully satisfying.
TMB: How’d you get involved in the show? You past credits include Spongebob and South Park.
DM: The production offices for “SpongeBob” are in Nickelodeon’s animation studio in Burbank. I was there for five and a half years. This gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of awesome people in the TV animation community that exists around Nick and the other nearby studios. An extremely cool and talented animator named Thurop Van Orman (creator of “Flapjack”) knew The Aquabats were looking for a story editor and Thurop referred me to Christian Jacobs. I believe that helped a lot. The instant I researched the band and saw the development materials, I knew I would love working on the show.
TMB: Is there a major difference in writing for an animated show than live-action? Specifically, in relation to the The Aquabats itself, is there a difference (for lack of a better word) vibe in writing the animated portions than the live-action ones?
DM: The easy answer is the animated segments are less restricted to the physical world so, for example, we could have The Aquabats travel through space, fight space bees and a giant space worm, blow up the moon, etc. But crazy imaginative and improbable set pieces were written and executed for the live action parts of the show too. We were always bumping up against questions of how to turn our weird imaginations into things that could be photographed. That said, directors Jason deVilliers and Matt Chapman (who both also wrote awesome scripts for the show) and the extremely talented crew managed crazy results on a budget. A fight with a giant robot monster as it destroys a city, an attack on Detroit by a giant bug, a fake old Western town controlled by an android sheriff, a coal mine guarded by a giant winged naked mole rat… You wouldn’t expect any of that to look good on a budget, but they pulled it off. Production designer Helen Harwell also deserves a lot of credit for spreading out a small budget and pulling off the impressive Battle Tram interiors, a miniature pineapple plantation, an evil roadside carnival and many other elaborate sets. So the real major difference is the cartoon parts were serialized, while the live action stories followed more of a “monster-of-the-week” format. Although, we didn’t stick precisely to that format either.
TMB: What about the Gloopy segments? Who comes up with those?
DM: The [Gloopy] segments were a combined effort by a sketch comedy group called Mega64, writer/director Julianne Eggold and the dedicated crew.
TMB: Assuming a second season has been confirmed, what crazy adventures will the Aquabat find themselves in?
DM: I believe nothing is set in stone. I am hoping some of the villains from the first season have an opportunity to revenge their past defeats.