An Oral History of Adult Swim’s ‘Home Movies’
When Adult Swim launched in September 2001, the lineup of original shows leaned decidedly toward absurdist comedy. Following the path paved by Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, new series included The Brak Show, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, Sealab 2021, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and one more animated show that danced to a beat entirely its own.
Home Movies, created by Loren Bouchard and Brendon Small, was made for UPN but lasted just five episodes before being canned and revived by Adult Swim. The series centered around an aspiring eight-year-old filmmaker, Brendon Small, and his best friends/stars of his movies, Jason and Melissa. Also featured were Brendon’s single mother, Paula, and several other side characters, most memorably, H. Jon Benjamin’s Coach McGuirk, an alcoholic soccer coach who found himself involved in nearly every aspect of Brendon’s life, especially when Brendon didn’t want him there.
Home Movies was a loose show with a chill vibe, contrasting with the louder and weirder characters populating the rest of Adult Swim’s lineup. Perhaps due to that difference, it never caught on in the way an Aqua Teen or a Harvey Birdman did. Still, a dedicated fandom and support from the heads of Adult Swim resulted in the series dropping a total of 52 hilarious episodes.
The creative talent would go on to bigger things — Bouchard created Bob’s Burgers, with Benjamin, Melissa Bardin Galsky and others on the show, while Small made Metalocalypse — but Home Movies still holds a special place in their hearts. Which is why they’ve all gathered here to talk about Jason’s snot, McGuirk’s drinking and what happened to Brendon’s video camera in the finale...
The ‘Dr. Katz’ Victory Lap
Tom Snyder, CEO of Tom Snyder Productions/Soup 2 Nuts, co-creator of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and executive producer of Home Movies: With the success of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, my company — Tom Snyder Productions, later renamed Soup 2 Nuts — had quite a victory lap. At one point, we had five shows on five networks. In 1998, Dr. Katz was winding down, and Loren Bouchard was editing the show Science Court. I’d known Loren since he was a kid. I knew his parents, taught him music in the third grade, and he’d worked for me since the beginning of Dr. Katz. One day, I took Loren off to a field a couple of blocks away, and we sat on a park bench. I told him, “I think it’s time you have your own show.”
Loren Bouchard, co-creator of Home Movies: We’d had such a run with Dr. Katz, and one of the great things about it was the opportunity to do more stuff. We were in Boston and, in so many ways, intentionally outside of the industry, and we were now being invited to pitch to other networks. Two places in particular were interested, FX and UPN, and UPN said they wanted a family show. Tom created something for FX and said, “Do you want to take a shot at the UPN opportunity?”
He also said, “If you want a little advice, I think you should do for this what I was able to do with Jonathan Katz. Find somebody local who could be the lead voice and a big part of the show so that you feel like you have an engine behind it the way Jonathan Katz was for Dr. Katz.” So, before I even had an idea for the show, I went to comedy clubs, looking and listening for that person. Then I found Brendon Small.
Ron Lynch, the voice of Mr. Lynch in Home Movies: I was doing a show at the Comedy Studio in Cambridge, and I ended up doing a sketch with Brendon Small. The people from Dr. Katz came there to see me, and then we, along with Brendon, all hung out afterward.
Brendon Small, co-creator of Home Movies, and the voice of Brendon: I knew the Dr. Katz people were going to be there that night, so I made sure to do this one bit that always got pretty consistent laughs. I did it that night, and I made one person really laugh, and that was Loren Bouchard, who has a great laugh. He inspires people to be funny because he has this wonderful giggle.
Bouchard: I said, “That’s the guy!” and reached out soon after.
Small: I was living with Eugene Mirman at the time, who was way more established in comedy than I was. Loren called my house, and Eugene answered the phone and said to me, “The Dr. Katz people are calling, but for you?”
On the phone, Loren said, “I’ve got an idea for something. I’m not sure exactly what it is yet.” I said, “Well, this sounds like we’re gonna have a TV show.” He said, “Don’t get your hopes up.” I said, “It’s too late. This is gonna work.”
We scheduled a meeting at a coffee place in Harvard Square, and he said, “I think you, Jon Benjamin and Paula Poundstone in a family show. I think you’re a kid.” None of this was interesting to me. All I cared about was Monty Python and Mr. Show and more subversive stuff. But, of course, I said, “I’m in!”
The next step was to bring me into Tom Snyder Productions’ recording studio in Watertown, Massachusetts. I went into a booth and went through a bunch of jokes, ideas and sketches. I also met Melissa (Bardin Galsky) that day, and we got along like she was my long-lost sister.
After I left, Loren began experimenting with pitching my voice up. I came back another time, and the idea developed into me playing a kid with a single mom. We knew Jon Benjamin would be a part of it, but we still didn’t know what it was yet. Then, at some point, Loren’s on the phone with Tom Snyder, telling him the idea, and we’re trying to figure out what it is. Then I was like, “What if the character made home movies?” When I was a kid, I would go through the rigamarole of charging up the family camera and clearing a tape, and I’d make movies with my friends, so I was thinking maybe that’s the thing for this show.
Bouchard: It was one of those “Yup! That’s it! That’s the mathematical answer to this question.” It was a simple premise that’s generative and repeatable and can inform the rest of the show. After that, I think it was Tom Snyder who said, “You should have Jon Benjamin play a soccer coach.” I knew that was a good idea.
H. Jon Benjamin, voice of Coach McGuirk and Jason on Home Movies: Back then, Loren and I would frequent this bistro called Chez Henri, which was near Loren’s house, so that he could get drunk and walk home. The bartender there was named Joe McGuirk, and we became really friendly with Joe. He was a real character with this deep, gravelly voice. I wouldn’t say the character of Coach McGuirk was based on Joe, but the name was.
As for the character, he was a coach, so I knew he’d be blustery. I also decided to make him a drunk. Like, I wanted him to be drunk at work — he’s a guy who brings a flask with him. Home Movies was a lighthearted show, but McGuirk was kind of a dark cloud over it.
I think I’m like the antithesis of Michael Caine here, but for both McGuirk and Jason, I just picked one trait and amplified it. McGuirk was drunk, and Jason was sick. Jason had a cold for the whole show — that’s who he was. I held my nose the entire time while doing that character, and my nose always hurt afterward.
Small: Once we were figuring out the show, I said, “What about Melissa?” She hadn’t done that before, but she was really funny. We put her in the booth, and it was obvious she needed to be in the show.
Melissa Bardin Galsky, producer on Home Movies and the voice of Melissa: I was already working for Tom Snyder Productions on Dr. Katz and other things. Associate Producer was my title on a bunch of different shows. I didn’t have any sights on doing a voice, but Brendon and I hit it off, so I became Brendon’s friend Melissa on the show and also moved up to being a producer.
Bouchard: Paula Poundstone, as Brendon’s mother, was also a natural to me because I had been working with her on Science Court. I loved working with her, and it just made sense to me. I liked her vibe on parenting and the world.
Lynch: Brendon had gotten the show because of me, so he put me in Home Movies as Brendon’s teacher, Mr. Lynch. I loved playing off Jon Benjamin because he and I would improvise as if we were upset with each other, and it was always a lot of fun.
Bardin Galsky: I can’t remember which came first, that we wanted Jonathan Katz to be on Home Movies and made the character of Melissa’s father for him, or we wrote in the father and decided it should be Jonathan Katz. Regardless, it was exciting to have him as my father.
Jonathan Katz, the voice of Eric on Home Movies: Any time I get to work with Jon Benjamin or Melissa, it’s a treat. Melissa started out as my assistant, you know.
Bardin Galsky: Yes, those were my humble beginnings.
Katz: Anything but humble. She would boss me around so much.
Bouchard: As for the artwork on Home Movies, I look back at that style and marvel at its uniqueness. It’s a style I’d be scared of now. Chris Georgenes was a big part of that, as were Andre Lyman, Kim O’Neil, Aya Fukuda and Damon Wong.
Chris Georgenes, artist and animator on Home Movies: Along with Kim O’Neil, I designed the characters on Home Movies. I give Kim full credit for the whole bodysuit thing. She had filled in the hands when coloring a character, and I said, “You’re going to fix that, right?” She just said, “I kind of like it.” We decided to keep it in until somebody said something, and nobody ever did. The look of the show all came from not adhering to any rules. None of us were professional animators, and we just did stuff because we liked it.
I know for McGuirk, I wanted somebody big. He’s a little pathetic but also tough. Kids would look at him and be intimidated, but an adult would look at him and feel bad for him. I don’t think we ever talked about what Brendon should look like. The artists all would just draw, then we’d go to lunch, and when we came back, we’d toggle through the different drawings, and the ones that made us laugh out loud were the ones we picked. It was all very instinctual. We also wanted them to be easy to draw because we only had about two weeks to animate each episode. And for the first season, we only had eight people plus me.
Bouchard: It was such a small group. There are rock bands that have more people than we had making that whole show.
‘Home Movies’ on UPN
Bouchard: We made our own demo, which was the first seven minutes of what became Episode One. But by the time we were about to fly out to UPN with our sample, UPN had changed direction. They were switching to young males, not families. We were like, “Oh shit,” but they said they still wanted to meet and look at the demo. They saw it and said, “This can still work. We think there’s enough here that young males would like.” I remember they really liked the snot coming down out of Jason’s nose. They really fixated on that. For the Television Critics Association that year, we had shirts of Jason with that long booger that said, “People hate me!” which was a line from that scene.
So UPN thought it could work, and they ordered us straight to production. They wanted six episodes in this incredibly short period. We said we could do five, and they said okay. They gave us more money than we ever had on Dr. Katz, though it was still minimal when compared to something like a FOX show. Then we jumped in and made those first five episodes.
Even with just five episodes, we were running out of time, and it was looking tight. Then Chris Georgenes said, “What if the whole Episode Five takes place in the dark?” I was like, “I like this guy! Yes!”
Georgenes: About a third of Episode Five takes place at night, and you only see eyeballs. I’m pretty proud of that.
Bouchard: We had to pull all-nighters to make it work, but it was a labor of love. We produced the first five before the first airdate, and we were in blissful ignorance of what was coming our way.
There was a hockey playoff game the night of our premiere, and the Boston Bruins were in the finals. They preempted Home Movies locally, airing it the following night in Boston. The night it aired in Boston, we all got together to watch it, and everyone was gathering in this big room upstairs at Tom Snyder Productions. I was down in my office in the basement, finishing up the day’s work, when the phone rings. It’s the head of UPN. He said, “The ratings were terrible. I would be fired if I even hinted that there was a chance that we were going to pick you up for more episodes.” He made it very clear that there was no path forward. It was a tough blow. The cool thing is, the story actually starts there.
‘Home Movies’ on Adult Swim
Bouchard: It was a long, scary summer after that. There was a real sense of “What do I do now?” Dr. Katz was done. I was nervous I would have to start over or go back to bartending. Then I got this call from Khaki Jones at Cartoon Network. Even though UPN canceled us after the first episode, they did air all five, and one of the few people who saw them was Khaki Jones. She loved them, and after finding out the show was canceled, went to her bosses, Linda Simensky and Mike Lazzo, and said, “We should pick this show up as one of the shows to launch Adult Swim.”
When Khaki Jones called me, there was this unbelievable sense that we were right. The work was good; we just had no place on network television at that time.
Bardin Galsky: It’s clear that UPN wasn’t the right fit because Adult Swim was perfect. It was this new, exciting venture from Cartoon Network. There were real champions for the show there.
Bouchard: There were a few big changes to the show after those first five episodes. The first was that, while we finished the rest of Season One in Squigglevision, we switched to Flash animation in Season Two.
Small: Squigglevision was wonderful and charming, but it was definitely a Dr. Katz thing. I thought Home Movies should be its own thing. It wasn’t that dramatic a change though. We were still punk rock. We were still basically making something out of a garage, as far as the rest of the world was concerned.
Snyder: Even though I’d created Squigglevision, I was fine with the change. Squigglevision had run its course. It was very low rent.
Bouchard: We also had a change in the cast, with Janine Ditullio taking over for Paula Poundstone.
Small: At some point, Paula Poundstone called and said, “I don’t think I’m going to be a part of this show. My fanbase wasn’t really into it; therefore, I can’t keep doing it.” We understood her point-of-view, but we weren’t sure what to do until Khaki Jones just said to recast.
We very quickly moved on to Janine Ditullio, who I thought of. She even looked like the character. We knew her from the Boston comedy scene, and she was a monologue writer for Conan O’Brien. It was a seamless transition.
Janine Ditullio, voice of Paula on Home Movies: I knew Jon Benjamin, and when I found out they were looking for a new Paula, I read the part. I just went in, voiced it as me, and was thrilled to get it. It was the most fun gig I ever had. Everybody in the show had this beautiful awkwardness to them.
Bouchard: Finally, the biggest change when we went over to Adult Swim was becoming a scripted series. That was all Brendon.
Small: In the first five episodes, we didn’t have scripts, just outlines, and I was the only one doing them. I wanted us to take the writing of the show seriously, with real scripts and stories. So, when we started back in production, I wanted to bring in Bill Braudis, a Dr. Katz writer I’d befriended, and he gave really usable critiques. We liked that Home Movies was scrappy, but we thought we could polish it a little bit.
Bill Braudis, writer on Home Movies: Brendon and I had similar comic sensibilities, and I had already worked with Loren Bouchard on Dr. Katz. When writing Home Movies, Brendon and I would sit in a coffee shop in Harvard Square and kick around ideas. We’d get it down to two ideas, each taking one, and then we’d record two at a time. The actors would still go off script, but the story structure was always strong and could always hold it together.
Benjamin: The show becoming more scripted made the recording sessions easier. Braudis is a great writer and was great for the show, but I think I lean a little more toward creating my own material, certainly for McGuirk. With McGuirk, it was always more fun for me to discover.
The Best of ‘Home Movies’
Benjamin: One of my favorite moments is that first monologue from Coach McGuirk about him drinking and getting a tattoo of the Chiquita Banana. That informed the whole rest of the character — it really set the tone for McGuirk.
Small: You see a different show starting with Episode Six, the first one made for Adult Swim. Dwayne, the guitar player, wants to do this rock opera about Franz Kafka. Originally, it had been a rock opera about Tron, but I had to get on the phone with lawyers who explained to me I couldn’t do that because Tron is owned by Disney. Anyway, while I was in charge of the music in that episode, Bill Braudis wrote that one, and I remember reading it and being so fucking happy. It was so funny. That episode would lay the groundwork for the rest of the series.
The Renaissance Fair episode was also great, as was the episode “Bye Bye Greasy,” where Brendon directs the school play. Really late in that one, we got the idea that McGuirk was going to drive his car on-stage. We thought it was so funny, so we rewrote the episode just for that.
Bouchard: I was just watching “Bye Bye Greasy,” and I was enjoying that. It encapsulates the whole show. I also have this wonderful memory of Bill smiling so much at the recording session.
Braudis: I liked when McGuirk started doing the Scottish highland dancing. He did it because of his father, and at the end of the episode, he was crying, saying, “Look at me, dad! Look at me!” The way they animated it, it was so funny, with McGuirk being this big guy with these little spindly legs. When I saw that, I laughed so much.
Lynch: The episode that sticks with me is the one where McGuirk and I go to Mexico together, and I get totally drunk, and we’re trying to get back to the hotel.
Ditullio: I remember the wedding episode being a bit of fun because there were so many characters in it. My friend and writing partner, Kelly Kimball, played Paula’s friend Stephanie, who was really into McGuirk. She was in one booth, and Jon Benjamin was in another booth, making kissing sounds as Loren kept saying, “More, more!” Kelly was my writing partner at the time, and she sadly just passed away, so that one is special to me.
Brendon’s Final Home Movie
Small: Going into Season Four, we knew it was the end. Each season that aired would never perform well on Adult Swim. They tried moving it around to find an audience, and it never did. Plus, the audience that did like it had trouble finding it. The show wasn’t expensive though, and Adult Swim liked it, so we got pickups because we weren’t losing money.
But at the end of Season Three, they said, “Look, this show is still not performing. We shouldn’t even let you do this, but we’re going to let you finish your show with the fourth season.” We were so lucky to know the end was coming.
Bouchard: We got along great with the Adult Swim people, especially Khaki Jones, but there was the quiet sense that Adult Swim was finding its audience, and we began to separate. They were crystalizing into what Adult Swim would be, and Home Movies was a family show, not an adult show. It wasn’t like we were mad at each other; it was just a different sensibility. And knowing it was going to end was energizing in its own way. It allowed Brendon to explore some heavy themes for the finale.
Small: When you’re a kid, your creativity is your therapy. At some point along the way, I realized that for Brendon, with his father not being there, his movies were his therapy. Home Movies is about a broken kid. He’s a kid whose father left him and gave him this camera as a parting gift. The camera was really useful to that kid. While his world was spinning out of control, whatever’s happening through that viewfinder, he’s in control. I was piecing this together, and I was thinking to myself, “How do we put this idea together for the last episode of the show?”
At the end of the final episode, he’s in the car with his mom, baby sister, Melissa, Jason, and McGuirk. Together, they’re the family he never had. Then, as he’s taping something out the window, the camera falls out of the car and breaks. It was important for the camera to break because it was Brendon’s crutch that helped him survive that period of time. He’ll get another camera at some point, but that’s not the point. The camera was the thing holding him together, but now this surrogate family is holding him together. I don’t know if that ever translated, but when I pitched it as the show’s final moment, everybody nodded.
After ‘Home Movies’
Small: My relationship with anything creative is that the second I’m finished with my part of the work, that’s the end of the relationship. Although, with Home Movies, I have a great affection for that show. I have a lot of love for that collaboration and those people.
It’s also worth mentioning that if people really like that show, it’s because of Jon Benjamin, who is just one of the most incredible voiceover guys in the business. I was the straight man, I was the story man, and I was the music man, but it was the Jon Benjamin show, and the rest of us were supporting that.
Braudis: McGuirk is one of the greatest characters on TV ever. He could pull off anything. He could be the dumbest guy, and then he’s suddenly smart, and you don’t question it. Benjamin always pulled it off.
Bouchard: Jon Benjamin is such a big part of my career, and Home Movies is just another example. What he brought to the show was irreplaceable. As talented as Brendon is and as much vision as he had, we needed Jon Benjamin. He knew what to do with McGuirk every time he stepped in the booth.
It’s also worth mentioning Shout! Factory’s DVDs of this show. Those DVDs were huge. My take is that a lot of people found the show because they saw those DVDs. We got a fresh set of eyeballs that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It gave us more permanence.
Thanks to those DVDs — and now that Home Movies is streaming on MAX — it’s great to revisit that show. It’s nice to revisit work where you don’t feel like you’ve grown past it or have to fix it. I don’t feel that at all with Home Movies. We achieved more with that show than we had any right to.