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Gravity Falls writer Shion Takeuchi wants to stretch the adult animation definition with Inside Job

‘[Adult animation] is ripe for new kinds of formats and new types of stories’

a collage of screenshots from inside job Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Source images: Netflix
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

Very few animators transition from all-ages to adult animation, but that’s not stopping Gravity Falls writer Shion Takeuchi. This year, she trades the Pines twins’ summer vacation adventures for the humdrum of adult working life with her new show Inside Job.

Takeuchi has some experience entertaining the grown-up audience — she also worked on Disenchantment — but Inside Job is her first time serving as showrunner. Premiering Oct. 22 on Netflix, the workplace comedy centers on a company that just so happens to be implementing grandiose schemes on behalf of the secret shadow government, Cognito Inc. Reagan Ridley (Lizzy Caplan) an antisocial genius — and daughter of Cognito Inc. co-founder Rand (Christian Slater) — just wants a chance to lead her own team and step out of her father’s shadow. However, because of her subpar people skills, she’s assigned a partner in the form of incredibly generic yet incredibly affable Brett Hand (Clark Duke), who’s just happy to be here.

Shion first sparked to the idea back in college, when listening to the late-night AM radio show Coast to Coast AM. It was the first time she’d heard of the so-called “shadow government,” which initially scared her — but after thinking about it a little bit, she realized that even if a shadow government did exist, actual humans would have to run it.

“That just disproves the idea of the shadow government because if there was one it would be barely controlling anything, just out of pure luck and chance,” she recounts. “Most people who work there would be mostly absorbed with their petty, trivial personal lives and just barely getting this job done.”

On the heels of the show’s trailer, which premiered on Saturday out of Netflix’s Tudum preview event, we sat down with Takeuchi about her approach to making comedy out of the shadow government, how adult animation is changing, what that means as a female showrunner in a male-dominated space, and what she’s bringing from all-ages animation to the adult space. (And check out two exclusive new images from the series below.)

[Ed. note: This interview has been edited for concision and clarity.]

reagen ridley in inside job, raising her arms in triumph Image: Netflix

Polygon: How has the idea for Inside Job evolved since your college days, and which parts survived becoming a career animation writer?

Shion Takeuchi: The world wasn’t really fully developed yet, in terms of What is this? What is the Shadow government company? What does it do? That had to be figured out because there’s no model for that. If the show was about working in a diner, you know exactly what a diner does. But you don’t know what a shadow government does. That part came later. But the core of it — the relationships — were pretty much where I started. The father-daughter relationship, the relationship between Reagan and Brett were there from the very beginning and that’s the core of the show.

Tell me more about Reagan as a character.

The most interesting thing about her for me was the idea that she really wanted to be a leader. She wants to be a leader because she wants to make the world a better place. But she doesn’t look, act, sound, or appear like what you think a leader needs to be. She’s not good with small talk. She’s not good with charming people. She’s intense, more blunt. Pragmatic, not really an idealist. A cynical optimist is what I described her as, and I’d never seen someone who’s in a leadership role like that, struggling to be a leader. And that weird irony of being a pragmatic, cynical person that also still wants to save the world was funny to me. It comes a little bit from how I feel about things. Like, I would love to see the world as it is with open eyes, but I still think that we have to care. We could be like, Yeah, wow, everything is a dumpster fire and shit. And I’m still gonna give it my all for the better. Those things kind of feel conflicting at times.

reagen and brett hiding from an oozing flesh monster Image: Netflix

How did you balance the weirdness?

I don’t really think that there’s anything too weird for the show so long as it still deals with the character having a relatable problem and conflict that everyone can kind of see a little bit of themselves in.

You started your career out in all-ages animations — what appealed to you about adult animation? Why make the transition?

I’m interested in telling stories that I feel strongly about, that deal with things that I’m going through, or examining or observing in the culture or in my daily life. The wonderful thing about all-ages content is that we’ve seen people knock it out of the park in terms of making content that works on all levels. And we really tried to do that for Gravity Falls, it had something for everyone. The themes were universal, and the character stories were universal. And I love that. That gave me a lot of freedom to explore, and hone my craft. But in terms of adult animation, like there are certain subject matters that are a little too adult for all-ages that people in my age group deal with, that feels good to be able to talk about.

This is a space that historically has been dominated by male showrunners creating specific types of shows — there has been a lot of change in that area, especially recently, but did that space ever seem intimidating?

Oh, yeah, for sure. Luckily just before all this stuff, there’s been so much content that is starting to buck that trend for me. But definitely for the longest time, adult animation had a lot of ... it seems like you follow the format. I think everyone feels that it’s ripe for new kinds of formats and new types of stories. I love what’s happening right now. There are so many different shows available. It’s definitely intimidating to think of yourself trying to enter the ring with shows like The Simpsons or whatever. I always just look at the very next step, look at the tiny pieces. So that you don’t get overwhelmed. I’d say I think the space is changing. And I think that’s exciting. It was intimidating, but I think we’ve made a show that everyone can enjoy.

reagen looking vaguely pissed off at her father, who is piloting some sort of mech Image; Netflix

What are some shows that you feel have stepped out of that format?

I really enjoyed Tuca and Bertie. Have you seen that one?

Yeah! I really loved it.

It was so cartoony in a really delightful way. But it was still dealing with adult issues. I feel like the animation was really fun and bouncy and colorful and light, but you still felt like the characters were adults. And it’s speaking to deeper emotional issues. The emotional arc over that first season ... watching it build over the course of episodes was like, Oh, that’s where they’re going with it. Oh my god, cool. This is all leading to this thing that feels really meaningful. I enjoyed that a lot.

Big Mouth is also one of my recent favorites. Everyone in it is so funny. I really admire that show because it feels like everyone’s having fun writing it. It feels very improvisational and built up of bricks that like people get together in a room and just see how far they can take an idea or concept. And it’s delightful to see how free they can be.

What is something from all-ages animation that you’ve brought to adult animation?

When I think of what people have thought of adult animation in the past several decades, I think it can often be a bunch of people sniping at each other, or being crass in the humor. While it’s hilarious, there’s a definite snarky tone associated sometimes in adult animation. Where I come from, in my past work experience, heart was just as important. Without the heart, it goes down like a glass of water that evaporates. For me, at least. Having that heart is really important. I want to love the characters and I want to be like, they’re my friends. And for me to do that it can’t all be wisecracking and sniping. They have to love each other, too. That tone, that heart, that I learned in all-ages content and classic Gravity Falls — that’s the kind of sensibility that hasn’t always been in adult animation. This show definitely subscribes to it.

Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that Takeuchi worked on a show called Disenchanted. The show’s correct name is Disenchantment. We’ve edited the article to reflect this.

Inside Job hits Netflix on Oct. 22.