clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Critical Role animated series would have been very different on another streaming service

The team entertained other offers, but Amazon gave them the most freedom

Vox Machina, rendered in a chunky, oil paint style.
Art from Tal’Dorai Campaign Setting Reborn, a new campaign book from Darrington Press.
Image: Darrington Press
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Critical Role’s new animated series The Legend of Vox Machina kicks off with two waterfalls of vomit, one vigorous sex scene, and the unmistakable silhouette of a gnome’s testicles. For fans of the long-running Dungeons & Dragons actual play series, none of that should sound out of character, but turns out some TV executives wanted to pump the brakes.

Following its massively successful crowdfunding campaign, the Critical Role troupe took the opportunity to shop the project around before landing on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service. Ultimately, that deal allowed them to extend the project to two full seasons. But many of the executives sitting across the table at other companies wanted changes, the group says. Things might have looked very different had the creators opted for another platform like Netflix, Hulu, or Apple TV.

“We lucked out with Amazon,” said Marisha Ray, who plays half-elf druid Keyleth, in an interview with Polygon. “There were other potential distributors that we were talking about that were more interested in making it maybe a children’s show, or wanting to go a different direction, or [make it into a] more serious political fantasy, a la Game of Thrones.”

“We knew that if we shot for a PG-type rating, or something that was sort of younged down and more accessible to a kid audience, we might draw maybe more viewers,” said Sam Riegel, who plays the gnomish bard Scanlan Shorthalt. “But for us it was about maintaining the original story and the original sort of vibe of the Vox Machina characters. They were bawdy and rowdy and dirty, and we knew that we couldn’t shy away from that. We had to embrace it.”

“Amazon was very open from the beginning,” said Ray, “and was interested on their side of it as well in really expanding out what adult animation meant. We’re all kids of the ’80s, we all grew up with a lot of action-heavy fantasy cartoons, so a lot of this is really kind of a love letter to those cartoons we all grew up with, but for that generation who’s all adults now.”

“Amazon was cool about pretty much everything,” said Riegel “In our earliest meetings with Amazon, they were like, ‘This isn’t for kids, right?’ And we were like, ‘No, it is not!’ And they were like, ‘Great, we’re on the same page then. Go.’”

“There are moments of gore, there are moments of sexiness,” added Matthew Mercer, the group’s Dungeon Master who also voices many of the show’s non-player characters. “We were telling a story that enticed us and felt natural for us as adults, and when it came to adapting it we didn’t want to relinquish any of that vision. They wanted it to be authentic to the story we told, and in order to do that it had to remain [an] adult animated series. And thankfully, we never had to pull away from that.”

“That’s the wildest part about this,” said Liam O’Brien, who plays half-elf Rogue Vax’ildan. “We’re a group of creators who got to do the exact vision for the story that we wanted to do. We didn’t really have to pull any punches.”

“We also know that there will probably be some kids who might tune in, watching through a crack in the door or something as their parents watch,” Riegel added. “If you can get away with it, kids, go for it. But it’s not intended for you.”