Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal has no words but deep meaning. The Adult Swim series about a caveman and his dinosaur struggling to survive made it to a second season, a lost love, and a new world. It also picked up some Emmys, like his series Star Wars: Clone Wars. The Russian-born artist reinvigorated Cartoon Network by creating shows like Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack, with Unicorn: Warriors Eternal upcoming. He made his film debut directing Hotel Transylvania and is currently at work on the animated feature, Fixed. But for now, evolution itself hangs on the hope that Spear and Fang can rescue a mysterious woman in a faraway land.
Den of Geek: Most Monster-of-the-Week shows ultimately find their overall arc. How is Primal going to solidify in season two?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Season one is about survival and the brutality of the world, the tragedy of the world where some things must die so that other things can live. Even though we’re obviously heading into a more civilized age, the brutality is, in a way, worse because now they’re doing it consciously. Now you’re getting that extra level of complexity in it where it’s not enough for the polar bear to survive, he’s got to eat the baby seal.
What are some of the next steps in the characters’ evolution?
They’re going to discover a lot of things. There’s a lot of contemplation about their place in this world, especially for Spear, because once you discover something more evolved than you, how do you reflect on that, and how do you feel about it? You start to think about your place in the world. These are all really hard, complex things. It’s exciting to do something of this level with no dialogue.
What did limited dialogue teach you about telling stories?
I keep learning, and I think that season two is a great example of how complex we can go. [With] the love triangle, you understand how they’re feeling. It’s pretty amazing to do that without somebody saying, “Oh, you like him, and he likes you. Don’t kill him because he’s my friend.”
We’re talking about loss and death and can you feel for them. In the second season, we got to push the complexity. Why are people doing things for what reason? What are the next emotional stakes we can push Spear and Fang into? How do they feel about each other? What’s Spear’s place in the world? How do we communicate those ideas? That’s what really makes it fun because that’s where the more original stories come out.
The “Plague of Madness” episode from season one has been singled out as a viewers’ favorite. What inspired it?
It started off very simply as just a zombie episode. It’s really funny that people like that one because it’s a chase cartoon. It’s just: dinosaur gets bitten, he goes crazy, and he’s after our characters. The nightmare scene is the first look inside our characters and how they feel. That was a new thing. Then the ending, the tragedy of the innocent. It’s kind of poetic, I think. For the ending, you can draw a lot of conclusions. It’s just one of those things where everything kind of clicked in and the animation and the detail was so cool. There’s a tense feeling rising through it. I think it’s just a fun episode to watch, and I think people like zombies at the end of the day.
How far of an arc have you envisioned for Primal?
I have an idea for Primal that can have it continue on and on. It’s a really big idea, and I don’t know if anybody’s going to buy into it. I never intended for Primal to be a cult hit. Anything that I do, I hope it’s going to be for the masses and super unique, but in this day and age, there’s so much, you have to be a little different to stand out.
What is left to conquer for you in animation?
I’m still figuring out how to do the old frontier. What’s new to conquer? In a way, I’m doing it. For Primal, for Unicorn: Warriors Eternal, it’s extremely gratifying to just work on my own things, creating new characters, creating new worlds. That’s what’s super exciting. I think this evolution of Primal could be a big thing for me. I feel like in television, I’m really making strides. [I want to] keep pushing TV wherever it’s going, to be different, and then do the same thing for the movies. I want to try to do what I’m doing in TV, but in the theatrical format.
What else can you tell us about your movie ambitions and upcoming projects?
We’re doing Fixed, which is incredible, and it’s going to be my first original movie, which is great. It’s a rated R, 2D, animated comedy. It’s going to look really good. We’ve got really amazing animators working on it. It’s going to feel very different because it’s got heart, it’s got raunch, it’s got good character stuff, and it has visual humor and dialogue humor. It has it all, and it’s cartoony. It’s going to be something, or it’s going to be the end of my career and I’ll get canceled. I don’t know.
Primal season 2 premieres on Thursday, July 21 on Adult Swim, next day on HBO Max. Fixed is in production with Sony Pictures Animation.