Written by Dylan Callaghan
If the comedy writing duo behind the new ABC animated series The Goode Family were in an ‘80s buddy-cop movie, it’s clear that John Altschuler would be the one who likes to talk and Dave Krinsky would be the one that doesn’t so much. Loquacious and laconic these two are, and very successfully so. And by conversation’s end, they’ve both cracked you up.
The two made their names working with Mike Judge on King of the Hill and in features on films like Blades of Glory. Now, along with Judge, they’ve created The Goode Family, which is critically raved but nonetheless struggling to find its place in the ABC lineup.
Regardless of this struggle – or perhaps because of it – it’s important to note that Goode does something so simple that you wonder why someone hasn’t done before – it makes good-natured fun of the obsessively politically correct, guilt-laden, lefty, green crowd (to which so many industry denizens belong). The family at its center suffers from an overactive social conscience that has them in a perpetual state of anxiety and self-doubt. Though it has yet to really find its viewership (ABC has clumsily placed after the obstacle course game show Wipeout on Friday nights), it’s the type of animated show that is likely to eventually find a good home.
Altschuler and Krinsky spoke with the Writers Guild of America, West Web site about their ratings struggle, making fun of the left and how, in their humble opinion, the only time they’re not funny is when there’s something wrong with the script.
How did you know that a satire of a PC family would be comedically rich terrain?
John Altschuler: The genesis of this was a friend who had bought a hybrid car. I don’t know if you remember when there was this backlash against hybrid cars because they didn’t get the gas mileage they were supposed to and they didn’t know what to do with the batteries, so she was crushed and she said, “It’s so hard to be good.” And I was like, “Yes!”
You know, we all try so hard, and it’s never good enough. That frustration is the essence of comedy. We’re all trying so hard to be good. It’s also nice to look at a show like ours that got rave reviews across the country and Variety and then got pretty much slammed by NPR, San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times. And it’s like, you’ve gotta be kidding!
So given that, what are the unique challenges of this show from a comedy writing standpoint in this political climate?
Photo: © 2009 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
A scene from The Goode Family, created by John Altschuler & Mike Judge & Dave Krinsky.
Dave Krinsky: There are definitely challenges to it. One of the big ones is one we also dealt with on King of the Hill, [which is] the idea that, yes, we are making fun of this world these characters live in, but we never want to make fun of them. They are our heroes, and we all relate to them and we want them to be relatable.
So when you’re dealing with these socially charged issues, you have to be careful to take a step back and look at it from all points of view. We try not to just take easy shots at our characters or the people across the table from our characters.
How do you walk that line where you’re making fun of the world but not them? What’s your barometer?
Dave Krinsky: I think it’s more of a gut check. And working as a team is a huge help. John came up with the idea for this show, so he kinda knew it on a cellular level, but also, he’s often really good at saying, “You know that’s the easy way to go,” or “That’s intimating something we don’t want to suggest.” It’s nice that we can filter it that way.
John Altschuler: The fact is, we don’t hate ourselves, and we can make fun of what we’re doing. We love the characters on King of the Hill, and we had fun with them. This family, the Goode family, is the sweetest, most supportive family, and they do funny, stupid things like we all do.
We have to be careful because everything is charged. We have an episode coming up about lesbian class warfare. Where do you get to see that? But we want to get it right. If you’re dealing with something like that, you want to get it right, or you don’t get to do it again.
It’s kind of an imperative with comedy writing that it has edge. How do you draw the line between being edgy but avoiding the pitfall of just fingering sensational hot buttons?
John Altschuler: We work so hard to get it right. We think our show is edgy because we deal with race, religion, sexual orientation and all these things, but the characters are uniformly likable, [so] it’s deeply frustrating to be following people bouncing off big balls and see our ratings really dropping off…
That’s gotta hurt.
John Altschuler: It’s tough. There’s not anybody else doing what we’re trying to do with this show.
Do you think it’s harder to appeal to an audience making fun of the left rather than right, red staters?
John Altschuler: I don’t think so. We’re definitely ratings challenged, but I think it’s just that we don’t fit on ABC right now because there’s no show to go with us. There’s no place for us. When you read what people who’ve seen the show write and listen to viewers’ responses, that don’t think that seems to be the case. What’s funny though is that, one of those three bad reviews I talked about earlier; the guy said “I loved King of the Hill.” So it’s perfectly fine when we make fun of the Southern conservatives, but when we turn the mirror on ourselves you flip out.
Why do you guys work as a team?
Dave Krinsky: Boy, there are definitely a number of reasons. Comedy is much easier when there’s two heads together, and it’s certainly much less lonely, but I would say beyond the generic advantages of a team, I just love working with John because he has such an interesting social outlook on the world. When he pitched Mike [Judge] and I The Goode Family, neither one of us were particularly anxious to make another animated TV show because it’s an incredible amount of work, but the idea was so strong, we were both like, “Wow, what a fun arena to play in.” It’s just an energizing creative experience.
Now John, say something nice about Dave.
John Altschuler: What’s great about us working in a partnership is that we have different skills, but there’s also an overlap and that has allowed us to work in a variety of forms from sitcoms to feature rewrites. We’re able to do all these interesting things because one of us can be working in one facet while the other is working in the other.
What’s nice is that I think Dave is the best comedy writer I know, and I think he feels similar. When you have that level of respect we feel pretty good about ourselves. It’s such an ugly business with the notes and the doubts and the criticisms, so when Dave and can look across the table and say “I think it’s funny,” we can go with what we think.
What techniques do you employ to get through periods when you aren’t funny?
John Altschuler: I can honestly say that has never happened. It might have happened, but I think because we’ve been able to do sitcoms, movies, movie rewrites and producing so we’re using different parts of our brains every day.
Dave Krinsky: I also think that I generally notice something’s not funny because there’s a problem. Usually it’s that the scene isn’t in the right place or there’s a structural thing or the character isn’t right because generally when we take on a project, it’s because we know there’s something funny in it.
John Altschuler: Dave and I run the writer’s room, and we figure when we have a room full of writers taking two or three cracks at something and it’s not working, it’s not their fault. There’s something about the situation that’s wrong.