Despite a certifiable “adult animation” boom, few series cranked out by streaming services in recent years have struck the balance of comedy and familial feels that cemented early Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers as S-tier. But Koala Man might become one of them.
Created by Michael Cusack (Smiling Friends), the new Hulu series centers on Kevin (Cusack), an uptight middle-aged father of two who struggles at his lowly day job working for the Crocodile Hunter-esque Big Greg (Hugh Jackman) while masquerading as the powerless crime fighter Koala Man in the night. To mount the show, which swings between home life with Kevin and his wife, Vicky (Sarah Snook), and the more accidental, fantastical exploits of Koala Man, Cusack teamed with Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty) and showrunners Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit (Detective Pikachu).
“In this day and age, it’s daunting to launch any kind of show because there’s so much out there,” Samit tells Polygon. “So we knew from the very beginning we needed something to set the show apart from everything else out there. We have a few things going for us: Michael Cusack’s distinctive voice and point of view; the Australia of it all makes it a little more unique from most of the stuff you see on American TV; and we tried to inject a little more optimism and heart into the show than I think you see in a lot of adult animation these days. There’s not much cynicism in Koala Man.”
A creator could easily size up the adult animation landscape, calculate the trends, then divine exactly what the market might be looking for. If viewers can’t tell the difference between Chicago Party Aunt and Paradise PD, they might watch both. But Hernandez says, while in the hot seat of showrunning a comedy like Koala Man, it’s pretty much impossible to “read the tea leaves of what people might want” and actually be funny.
“So I think that for us, one of the things that we also decided early on was: Let’s just make the show that we think is the best possible show. And let’s release ourselves from result and really focus on what we as a group, and we as showrunners, think is funny, and what makes us laugh, and what is specific to this show and not shy away from some of the weirder things.”
For Samit and Hernandez, that included one episode involving a “giant alien sex fiend,” an action set piece inspired by Cowboy Bebop, and an episode-long homage to the 1971 chase movie Vanishing Point, in which Kevin must traverse the Outback to return his son’s jacket. And because the team didn’t have to “make it less Australian, or flatten out some of the crazier things,” Hernandez says, there’s obviously a Mad Max moment as well, the ultimate franchise from down under.
But as Samit stresses, clinging to an emotional core of Koala Man was the ultimate twist on a familiar formula — and the writing partners came at it from a slightly different place than most of their contemporaries. While the two got their start on more adult-themed comedies like 1600 Penn, Samit and Hernandez have spent the last few years in the trenches on G and PG fare like Detective Pikachu, The Addams Family 2, and Disney’s upcoming film based on the EPCOT mascot Figment. The array of projects culminates in Koala Man.
“When you’re a staff writer on something like our first show, 1600 Penn, a lot of what you’re doing is learning how to imitate the style of the showrunner and to capture the voice of what your boss is looking for. So you’re spending a lot of time writing what you wouldn’t write in a vacuum; I’m gonna write in the style of Bill Pullman or Jenna Elfman or Josh Gad. When we wrote the Addams Family movie, it’s not that dissimilar — you kind of know who Wednesday is. And that’s a really invaluable lesson because sometimes when you’re the showrunner of a show, someone might pitch something that’s really the funniest thing you’ve ever heard, but it sells out the character too much. And a joke may be really funny, but you might have to say, ‘Based on the kind of person that Kevin is, I don’t think he would say this.’
“So the jobs might seem disparate, but for us it’s always about big characters, big worlds, and how to keep the structural integrity of those things intact while telling the stories now.”
If that sounds too sincere, please keep in mind: Koala Man season 1 has a giant alien sex fiend.
All eight episodes of Koala Man season 1 are now streaming on Hulu.