TV review: Jonah Hill stars in subversive new comedy

By Kastalia Medrano

At a preview screening of Allen Gregory on Oct. 23 at Eileen Norris Cinema Theatre, cast and production members were on hand to answer questions about scriptwriting, the inspiration for the show and exactly how graphic an animated 7-year-old’s fantasies about his elderly principal can get before a network will refuse to air a show.

“They’ve put some pretty subversive stuff on Fox before,” creator and voice actor Jonah Hill said. “So we figured that was the place for us. But it’s not just about what we can get away with. We drew a lot [from shows like] The Simpsons, which are outstanding comedy, but also have a tremendous amount of heart.”

Hill, along with co-creators Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, have been working on the show since its inception more than two years ago. At that time, Paul and Mogel had written the script for Himelfarb, in which Hill was set to play a deluded man in an imaginary relationship. The movie never materialized, but some of the writing lingered.

“Jonah was just so good at the part,” Paul said. “We wanted to keep that quality. And Jonah grew up watching The Simpsons, like anyone his age, and when he wanted to do an animated show, we knew we had this idea.”

Thus, the character of Allen Gregory, a self-proclaimed protégé at apparently every skill set and social grace, was born. Allen is accustomed only to the comforts of the home he shares with his father, Richard (a wickedly flamboyant French Stewart), a man of appalling manners and dubious financial success. Rounding out the family are Allen’s adopted sister Julie (Joy Osmanski), who Allen hates for having the gall to enter his life from “the desert of the sea or wherever,” and his father’s life partner Jeremy (Nat Faxon), a formerly straight, well-meaning doormat. The pint-sized protagonist is, for the first time, braving those his own age.

After a disastrous first day at public elementary school, the comically diminutive Allen climbs a stepstool up to his father’s bed and reveals the true premise for both his character and the show in a surprisingly touching moment of weakness:

“Do you think the kids at school will like me?” he asks.

Goodman, who served as the head writer for more than 100 Family Guy episodes, was confident in the ways Allen Gregory diverges from its animated contemporaries.

“It does help that Family Guy gets away with way worse,” Goodman said with a quick laugh. “But with [Family Guy character] Stewie, you’re always like, ‘Is he serious? Is he joking? Is he gay?’ This is more grounded and, stylistically speaking, very new. It’s not flat-looking like other shows; it looks more like a movie. No one, at least no one with Fox, has ever attempted this before.”

Hill happily dished out advice for aspiring writers (“Since you’re students, I might as well”), crediting Judd Apatow with telling him never to lend any weight to a show’s lifespan. Whether a series is promptly canceled or runs for a decade, Hill noted the important thing was to make sure whatever actually aired looked the way creators intended it to look.

Production for the first season of Allen Gregory, consisting of seven half-hour episodes, has already wrapped. When asked what it would take to get a second season confirmed, most cast members said they really had no idea, but were quick to encourage students to promote the show on Twitter and Facebook to boost ratings.

“It’s so different,” Mogel said. “People are either going to embrace it or they’re not. But we’re all pretty optimistic, because, I mean … it’s just funny.”

Allen Gregory premieres Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

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