The Devil wears argyle sweaters. He likes to croon karaoke tunes, and he owns a small chain of Tequila Sally's restaurants that offer such signature items as the "diet-rita" (a low-cal margarita) and the "A-taco-lypse" carne asada platter.
Underneath his well-honed image as evil incarnate, the Devil is more a misunderstood family man than malevolent dictator of the underworld -- at least that's how he's played for laughs in "Lucy, Daughter of the Devil," the latest animated addition to Adult Swim's latenight lineup. Wickedly funny skein, which bowed this month in the 12:15 a.m. Sunday slot for a 10-episode run, hails from Loren Bouchard, the co-creator of another Adult Swim fave, "Home Movies."
Like most of the shows on Adult Swim, the humor in "Lucy" is surreal and uninhibited by traditional standards of TV decorum, and unbound by the laws of physics as only animation can be. Even non- believers might even feel a bit, well, devilish for giggling at some of the things that "Lucy" pokes fun at. Who knew homicidal nuns, manic-depressive priests and nonsensical setups, like the Devil and Jesus engaging in a dashboard-bongo jam session while driving across the desert to get to the Burning Man festival, could be so much fun?
To Bouchard, "Lucy" is not overtly concerned with skewering sacred cows of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It's about a father's relationship with his feisty 21-year-old daughter, who is dating a charismatic guy dubbed DJ Jesus, much to her father's disapproval.
"I don't think that if you really watch the show you'll be offended" by the treatment of the religious themes and Biblical characters, Bouchard says. "There'll be moments here and there people might not like, but I don't think the overall impression you get if you watch the show from the beginning is that we're trying to offend."
Judge for yourself in this clip:
Bouchard began kicking around the concepts that evolved into "Lucy" more than three years ago when he jokingly proposed to Cartoon Network/Adult Swim executive Mike Lazzo in an email that he try a cartoon spoof of the horror flick "Damien: Omen II." Lazzo wasn't interested in a one-off spoof but encouraged Bouchard to develop some characters along those lines.
It didn't take long for Bouchard (pictured left) to settle on mining the comedic possibilities of the Devil's struggles with his independent-minded daughter. In addition to the usual father-daughter strife, the Devil has the added burden of having to protect Lucy -- who is the anti-Christ, after all -- from a deranged nun and two hapless priests who have been dispatched from the Vatican to slay the spawn of Satan.
The pilot for "Lucy" was produced in 2005 but the Bouchard took his time to further develop the show ("I was slow in getting my shit together," he admits) after getting the greenlight to go to series.
"It's a really bad way to manage your career, but it really benefits a show to go slow," Bouchard says. "You go broke, but you have the time to think about the show and the scripts as they come in."
Initially, Bouchard envisioned the Devil as being a mysterious figure who never left his corporate executive-style office. But during the development process Bouchard and the scribes decided it'd be way more fun to have the Devil out there in the world (San Francisco to be exact), bugging the heck out of Lucy.
DJ Jesus (DJ J for short) may or may not be the messiah -- nobody knows for sure -- but he milks the speculation for all its worth in his DJ act by performing "near-icles" (they're not quite miracles; "We get close," DJ J says) and traveling with an entourage that surrounds him in a Last Supper formation in many scenes. (DJ Jesus looks a lot like the self-styled prophet David Koresh, by design.)
"Lucy" employs two key voice talents from "Home Movies," which followed the out-there adventures of Brendon, an 8-year-old prodigy who made movies well beyond his years. H. Jon Benjamin is the voice of the Devil; Melissa Bardin Galsky voices Lucy and Becky, the Devil's Advocate, who wears a purple power business suit and handles most of the Devil's affairs. ("How is this evil?" she asks when the Devil embarks on a new business venture.)
It was Benjamin's natural love of warbling oldies a la "Feel Like Making Love" and "Boogie Oogie Oogie" in a nasal baritone that led to them to make singing one of the Devil's pastimes. (A tune from the Devil's repertoire usually runs over the "Lucy" end credits.)
Working with actors Bouchard knew well was important because of the way "Lucy" is produced. Once a script is completed, the audio for each 11-minute seg is recorded before any visual work has been done. The process gives the actors the flexibility to ad-lib and improv. In Bouchard's experience, those bits of spontaneous creativity are the priceless moments that endear a show and its characters to fans.
"The whole operating principle is that the audio is ultimately the beating heart of the whole thing," Bouchard says. "There's nothing you can do in the visuals that is as valuable to characters as a turn of phrase, or a moment of improv where the actors crack each other up. The process of editing down the audio is like panning for gold for that kind of activity...And it makes the animators' job a little easier because those great moments are already there on tape. We don't have to create them from whole cloth and then beat them out on storyboards."
"Lucy" is produced in 3-D by San Francisco-based Fluid Animation. It has the distinctive touch of using photographs for all of its backgrounds based on photographs ("We're scouting locations all the time," Bouchard sez), which makes the fluid movement of the characters stand out even more.
Of all his players on "Lucy," Bouchard points to Lucy as the most subversive, in her own way. On the advice of many female friends, he worked hard to make her smart and sophisticated, but not Mary Richards. As befitting the Devil's daughter, she's got no heart of gold.
"I got a lot of guidance from people to write Lucy like a guy. What that means is to not fall into the trap of writing all the cliches for women TV characters," Bouchard says. "She's the kind of person who's happy to just sit on the couch and drink beer. She'd like to quit her job if she could. She's the type to blow off something important if she can get away with it."