This article contains light spoilers for the first three episodes of Royal Crackers.
Dysfunctional families are par for the course in adult animated series and Adult Swim‘s latest comedy, Royal Crackers, goes for broke when it comes to a self-interested and disillusioned family of one-time one-percenters with delusions of grandeur. Bakersfield, California is the home of the Hornsby clan, cracker magnates who are desperate to stay relevant in the face of major changes within the Royal Crackers company, some of which this fractured family may not survive through.
As Royal Crackers’ premiere looms close, the show’s creator and executive producer, Jason Ruiz and Seth Cohen, get candid on finding the humanity in these wild characters, indulging in more stylized genre experiments, and The Sopranos’ unexpected influence on the series.
DEN OF GEEK: The marketing for Royal Crackers has kind of embraced this riff on Succession, but it’s really its own beast. Did you initially pitch the show as this Succession parody or is that just kind of a coincidence?
Jason Ruiz: I was very inspired by Succession. When I started throwing around ideas for the show, Succession was in its second season at the time and I was into it. I’m very proud to say that I was an early fan of that show since its start. I remember just thinking that it’d be fun to do a show where it’s treated with equally high stakes, but it’s just a shit company. It’s a company that nobody cares about, wants, or covets as much as this family does, but they treat it like it’s pure gold. The idea started there, but I agree with you that very quickly Royal Crackers became its own thing. It was really just the jumping off point and I don’t think that we mentioned Succession when we were pitching it. It was just about this family running this company and then the trick after that was figuring out the right level of wealth for them. We didn’t want them to feel too extravagant and that they can still be real and relatable.
It’s also just kind of the perfect irony now that right when Royal Crackers starts, Succession announces that it’s ending.
JR: We kicked them out! There’s only room for one!
There are a lot of animated series that look at dysfunctional families, but what was so appealing about digging into this heightened family drama, nepotism, and ignorance?
Seth Cohen: There are other animated family comedies like The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers, but Royal Crackers cuts so real to me. One of the things that I love about Jason is that almost all of his work is about working out these family relationships. It started with literally a short of his that I watched–“Fathers and Son”–that’s where I first saw it. He’s always been working that family relationship out. It’s so much fun to me when a writer uses their program like therapy, to some extent. It’s just so personal to him, especially with certain relationships, like Theo is Jason.
For me, this show is an extension of what Jason does well, which is to explore these family relationships. In terms of tone, Rick and Morty is dysfunction at such a heightened level. There are some similarities there in the sense that it’s a family that feels real because it’s imperfect. I think Royal Crackers is crazy, but not nearly as crazy. I like having our feet on the ground a little more. It’s interesting territory for adult animation to explore.
There’s a real sentimentality to the show that sneaks up at times that works really well. Was it important to find these sweet moments for these characters and their dysfunctional family?
SC: For Jason, it’s so important that these characters have moments where it’s not all insanity.
JR: My favorite show of all time is The Sopranos and it’s because it’s pure character. It’s all about the characters. Without those characters the show just doesn’t hold together. It wouldn’t work. I always try to retain that as much as possible and that the comedy is really just an extension of these characters being fun to be around. If you go back through my entire career–as early back as when I was 14–there’s always been a father and son element involved. That’s for me and my therapist to sort out. We’re working on it. But it’s the constant through my career.
Theo Jr. is such a reckless wild card character who even commits manslaughter quite early in the series, which begs the question of how off the rails he’ll continue to get. Is it exciting to play with a character who’s this detached and do you ever worry about pushing things too far?
JR: We’re conscious of it, for sure. You have to be because you want to protect these characters and make sure that they work. I think from the jump we knew that they were going to accidentally kill someone and would need to bury the body. The challenge there was preserving these characters at the center of it all. I remember a few people on the team were nervous about it and thought that it might be viewed as throwing Theo under the bus. I was really adamant about it, thought that we could pull it off, and actually bring some heart into it all. There was concern, but I felt very strongly about the idea. We still run into those kinds of situations with story, but as long as we remain conscious of these things I think that it’s okay. The team that works on this show just cares about these characters so much and makes sure that they feel right, rather than sold out for a joke.
I was happy to see that not every episode is so focused on the Royal Crackers business itself and that you allow these characters to get out in the world a little more. Do you see the show’s scope continuing to broaden as it goes on and digging deeper into supporting characters and the community?
JR: We keep running into this issue that whenever we introduce new characters they end up dead by the end of the episode. World-building becomes a bit of a challenge there. We have an episode this season where the other writers and I were split on whether this guest character should die or not. The argument for keeping him alive is that it’s great world-building and that this could be a fun character who returns, which I get. When we introduce new characters, they’re often put in antagonistic roles, which can also make it harder for them to stick around. We’re doing our best!
We tried to do an episode that showcases everyone from the family and company. We go into Theo Sr.’s backstory and go into the past. There’s a flashback episode that is my personal favorite. We do our best given the limitations that we set up for ourselves.
SC: On the business side of it, that’s never a driving force. Sometimes it’s useful as a tool to instigate a story, but I don’t think the writers want to get bogged down in unnecessary details.
JR: I’m into that with any show. When it just boils down to numbers and dollar signs instead of focusing on character dynamics and relationships.
One of your episodes features extensive use of Gilbert Gottfried as a faux fixer. Can you talk a little bit about that special experience and getting to release this really satisfying posthumous performance from him?
JR: Oh my God, yes! It was eerily weird! He was amazing and I remember when the episode initially takes that darker turn that he was down for it. Something turned on inside of him. I don’t know how many people have asked him to give a serious performance in something, but when I told him that his character is in this dark place he totally got it. You could see his attitude regarding the episode completely switch. He was asked more questions and even wanted to go back and redo old lines with this new context. He was excited about it and it was incredible.
I think my favorite episode out of what I’ve seen is “Factory 37,” where the show leans more into supernatural elements. Are you interested in doing more wild genre experiments like that as the show continues?
JR: That episode is a little different, but that’s the trick. I don’t ever want to do a “Treehouse of Horror”-style thing. I personally don’t like the “Treehouse of Horror” Simpsons episodes. I’m sorry. I know that everybody loves them. The thing that I don’t like about them is that they’re not attached to any sense of the show’s lore. Main characters get killed and stuff. I don’t ever want to abandon reality like that and do an episode where anything can happen and Steve gets killed. Or doing some episode where it’s revealed to all be a dream. I never want to do that. It can go as crazy as it wants and dive into whatever genre it wants, as long as it stays within the framework of this world and doesn’t abandon logic. There’s some more of that happening in season two, for sure.
The news of a season two renewal is very exciting. Did you write the first season with a bigger plan in mind that would take advantage of that? Can you tease anything about what’s to come and where you’d like to take the show?
JR: I don’t think that those types of things were on our minds when writing the first season. It was towards the tail-end of production when we knew we were getting a season two. Writing was finished and we were definitely in the editing stage.
SC: When you’re writing you also don’t want to presume that you’ll be so lucky to get a second season. That being said, everyone was still jotting down extra ideas for where things could go. You don’t really know who the characters are in your show when you’re first pitching it and you’re still a little unsure when you’re making the pilot. But then you start figuring everyone out over time. You always want to do a second season because you learn so much on the first season.
What’s also a lot of fun is that our whole team is inspired by different influences, which make their way into the series. That results in some popular horror riffs, some unpopular horror riffs, and really obscure B-movies. I love that in the Fixer episode, Darby’s apartment is just Paulie Walnuts’ apartment from The Sopranos. Everything is vinyl. He’s in a tracksuit. It’s great.
JR: In season two we also have a really fun episode where a mall is possessed by demons. It’s like a B-horror movie, but it’s still an episode about these characters going through something emotionally that doesn’t abandon itself. Something from Steve’s past comes back to haunt him and it’s living in this mall. I can’t wait for people to see it.
The first three episodes of Royal Crackers are available to stream on HBO Max now. New episodes premiere Sunday nights at midnight on Adult Swim.