EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Chris Parnell, Netflix’s new Mr. Peabody
Most of us know prolific comic actor Chris Parnell for his adult sense of humour. A long-serving cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1998 to 2006, Parnell is also known for his roles in 30 Rock, Anchorman, Archer, Rick and Morty, Hot Rod, and Suburgatory.
In Netflix’s new adaptation of Jay Ward’s beloved characters – the bespectacled dog genius Mr. Peabody and his adopted human son Sherman – Parnell now lends his voice to something for a slightly younger audience, which can be enjoyed by adults alike.
We spoke to Chris about travelling back in time to a retro show about travelling back in time, and what audiences can expect from The New Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show, which premieres on Netflix today.
TVDaily: Hey Chris, thanks for taking the time out to speak to us! So Mr. Peabody and Sherman isn’t your first time voicing an animated character, but what was it like shifting from your more adult brand of humour to a show for a younger audience?
Chris Parnell: You know, it’s not too difficult. I did a series for PBS called WordGirl for quite a few years, and it’s fun – it’s nice to be able to do both, actually. I’ve got a boy now who’s 19 months old, he’s a little too young to watch Peabody and Sherman at this point… But it’s nice; it’s sweeter, it’s zanier and wackier, and it just allows me to explore a different part of myself, and a different tone that you don’t have in the more ‘adult’ animated stuff.
But adults can still enjoy The New Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show?
Yeah, that’s actually one of the very cool things about it. It’s wacky and zany in a way that kids are gonna love, but it’s so well written, and so smart, and you’re dealing with these real historical characters. I think that parents will really enjoy watching it with their kids.
So why do you think there’s been this big revival of classic shows for a new generation recently? Such as Danger Mouse, Inspector Gadget, and now Mr. Peabody and Sherman?
Well the originals were just so great, and there are so many media outlets and so much hunger for new shows now. So it’s going back and looking at what was great in the past, and saying “How can we update this for now, and how can we breathe a fresh bit of life into this?”. It’s such a rich ground to till, doing new twists on the past, while also staying true to the original spirit. Basically making it work for a new time.
Okay, controversial opinion here, but I’m personally glad that The New Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show is in 2D animation and not CGI.
Oh yeah, it’s gotta be! That’s one of the very cool things about it; just the look of it. I’d seen the storyboards when we recorded, but I’d never seen the animation itself until recently, and I was pretty knocked out, honestly. I’d figured it would be good, but it was so much more visually dazzling and interesting, and had such a great old-school look to it.
What were your favourite TV shows as a kid?
Oh, boy… Well, I watched a lot of cartoons, for sure. Obviously I watched Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and I also loved Scooby-Doo, Super Friends, Bugs Bunny… Basically all the stuff that was around in my era.
Can you describe Mr. Peabody’s character for those younger readers who are unfamiliar?
Well, Mr. Peabody is a dog, if you didn’t know. He’s the smartest dog in the world, and for that matter, he’s the smartest being in the world. He’s just incredibly intelligent, even though he’s not without his foibles. He is now the host of a late night talk show, with his adopted son Sherman, voiced by an amazing young actor named Max Charles, who is also Sherman in the movie that just came out. And Peabody is very interested in making the show a good television show. He really cares about and loves his son, and they travel through time with the WABAC machine, and they meet people from different eras, and help to figure out problems that they have… but yeah, Peabody’s an entertaining gentleman.
And you mentioned Peabody and Sherman’s new talk show; why go for this kind of format?
Well, I think it’s a way of breathing a fresh new life into it. Obviously there are a lot of late night talk shows out there, and I think they thought it would open up the world of Peabody and Sherman to a different kind of energy, while being true to the original with the time travel and the relationship and all that. But we now also have these people who live in our apartment building with us. We do the show from our very swanky New York penthouse apartment, so we have a building manager who comes in, the very highly-strung Mr Hobson; we have a neighbour named Christine, who’s very bubbly and loves to sing; we’ve got our yuppy neighbours the Yakamuras, with their little boy Kenny; we’ve got Orcoptitron(?), who is a robot that I’ve created, who’s the house band, basically a semi-sentient musical band leader… Haha. So there are all these amazing things to explore when you open it to a show format like that. There’s a lot going on!
If you could travel back in time (in the WABAC machine), where would you go, and what would you do?
This sounds kind of narcissistic, but I would love just to go back to my own childhood, honestly. Just to see myself and my sister and my mom and dad back at that age, back in the ’70s, and just get to watch that. You know, I certainly remember a fair bit of my childhood, but so much is lost to memory, and it would be amazing for me to go back and see all that.
That’s not narcissistic, that’s lovely! You’re also starring in Highston: can you tell us a bit about that?
Yeah, it’s pretty cool, and I’m very excited about it! It’s written by Bob Nelson, who wrote Nebraska, and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris who did Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks, and it’s about our son Highston. Mary Lynn Rajskub and I have this boy Highston, who has all these imaginary friends who are celebrities… So only he can see them, but they’re real people, of course. In the pilot it’s Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Shaquille O’Neal, and so that leads to some pretty interesting scenes…
That sounds like lots of fun!
It’s just fantastic, and I hope we get to do more.
Final question; as we’re all about TV, we have to ask, what are your favourite TV shows at the moment?
Well, the season’s over now, but my wife and I love Game of Thrones… We’re big fans of that. We love The Good Wife, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and we’re big fans of Project Runway, I have to say. We love Tim and Heidi! And then I like watching the stuff I do, too; I love Adult Swim, so Rick and Morty, and Archer, of course. And I like a lot of the comedies that some of the female comedians are doing now, like Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, Another Period… and what else? There’s another one. Well, there are so many, and I guess that for whatever reason I often find myself watching the shows that have been created by the ladies!
Ah, a man after our own hearts…
Season one of The New Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show starring Chris Parnell is now available to stream in its entirety on Netflix.