When it comes to parodies, it’s hard to imagine anything more hyper-specific than Saturday Morning All-Star Hits! (A.K.A. S.M.A.S.H.), the hybrid animation/live-action series created by Ben Jones, Dave McCary, and Kyle Mooney.
With Mooney starring as many roles, including twin co-hosts Skip and Treybor, the Netflix comedy spotlights a fictional late ’80s/early ’90s cartoon block, through the framework of “found” VHS tapes.
“Yes, if you were actively watching cartoons in 1989 and 1990, it’ll probably mean something slightly different to you than if you weren’t,” Mooney tells Consequence by phone.
But, he adds, he hopes that it still has some universality to it. “I love, for instance, Robert Smigel’s TV Funhouse clips, where he was doing, I would imagine, ’60s, ’70s Hanna-Barbera type stuff. Even though I wasn’t alive to see the cartoons being referenced per se, they still hit me in a fun way. So I hope it’s possible that everybody could still get something from it.”
In the interview below, transcribed and edited for clarity, Mooney walks us through the show’s journey from idea to production to the final product, as well as what future seasons of S.M.A.S.H. could look like. He also explains why his day job at Saturday Night Live doesn’t feature a ton of animation, and why he still loves the process of making that show every week.
To start off, tell me a little bit about how S.M.A.S.H. came together.
I basically co-created the show with Ben Jones — I was a big fan of his work. Besides working in animation, he’s an artist and was part of this art group called Paper Rad that I was a big fan of in college. A lot of their work utilized iconography from ’80s and ’90s children’s entertainment — like, you know, they’d have pieces with Garfield or Bart Simpson in there.
We basically had coffee one day and were kind of talking about what we were into, and one of the things that we kind of nostalgically hit upon was we were both big fans of this block of cartoons called Disney Afternoon, which if you don’t remember, had like DuckTales and Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers and Tailspin and Darkwing Duck. We were talking about how much we loved it, and then the conversation shifted to Saturday morning cartoons and even like the bumpers within Saturday morning cartoons.
If you remember these Claymation bumpers, where the characters would sing, “After these messages, we’ll be right back?” We were talking about stuff in that realm and and stuff that we loved and in that afternoon of coffee, the idea came to us to like, “Oh, we should just sort of recreate that experience of Saturday morning cartoons.” And so that’s what we set out to do.
So when exactly were you making this?
I think we started a lot of the writing truly like early, early lockdown. Like I would say April 2020 would be my guess. And then, we produced the animation segments first. So the summer of 2020, we were writing those and, and into the fall and getting animatics back. Then we focused on writing the live-action stuff and we shot all the live-action stuff this past summer, in June, I think.
In terms of the live-action stuff, I’m very curious how long it took — just because on the one hand, a lot of it seems relatively simple to produce, but on the other hand, you had to shoot everything literally twice because of the doubling.
Yeah, we didn’t have a massive window. I don’t know the exact number offhand. I feel like we had maybe like 12ish days. And that’s a large credit to Dave McCary, who directed all the live-action stuff and is a close friend of mine.
For the Skip and Treybor stuff, it was really fun, it was a challenge, it was something I’d never done. We had motion control cameras so that I would do a run of performances as Skip, let’s say. We’d do a few takes, and then Dave would choose typically the last take we did — like the fourth or fifth take, he’d be like, “Okay, that’s the one.”
We’d lock into that take, and then I’d switch as fast as I can into Treybor’s wardrobe. They’d put an earpiece in my ear so that I could hear the Skip dialogue that we recorded and, and basically the movements were recorded, so I could act against the dialogue and then they could also see in the monitor that Skip take, so they could see if my arm, for instance, was crossing into Skip’s stomach or something like that.
So we truly got to watch everything kind of happen in real-time, and it was awesome. As an actor, there wasn’t a huge margin for mistake — I had to know all my stuff so that we could keep moving because we didn’t have a ton of time. But it was just such a fun energy, to inhabit that. We were able to do a pretty, pretty good job with it.
Was it always Skip first?
No, if we started with Skip and ended with Treybor, then we’d start with Treybor next, because I was already in Treybor’s outfit. It was just whatever costume [I was wearing]. However, it made sense in terms of maintaining the costume to get into the next thing.
You mentioned that this was a new relatively experience for you. Is it something you would want to do again?
Absolutely. If we got the chance to do more of it, and to do more Skip and Treybor segments now, I think we can write to that technology because it was new to us. So, now I’m sure we could come up with more fun ways to exaggerate what it was and have fun with it.
Yeah, I’m just trying to imagine the outside limit — like, what’s the maximum number of Kyle Mooneys you can get into one scene?
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t know. And I don’t know what people want to see or don’t want to see. But that is a fun thing to think about, like, can we do some sort of Avengers massive grouping of Kyle Mooneys?
You did get Bruce Chandling in there.
Yeah. I’m pretty proud of that. The Lil’ Bruce segment, maybe it’s obvious, but we took inspiration from like Bobby’s World and Life with Louie — these cartoons that had a stand-up comic at the forefront. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that done before — I don’t know that I’ve seen other people lift inspiration from that style of cartoons, so that was a fun one in like, oh, I think we’re doing something people haven’t really tried to recreate.
This might be a little granular, but when it came to including Bruce Chandling, did you have any rights issues you needed to worry about?
I think there were conversations about it and I’m not really the person to ask, but ultimately my understanding is that Lorne Michaels produced our show and obviously he is the creator of Saturday Night Live and he was helpful in the process of making the show. And so it falls under the same umbrella. It seemed like it was, it was an okay thing to do. And, and so there weren’t many issues that I saw.
Thinking about the future of the show, do you have any specific ideas in mind? Are there any sort of conversations happening along that track?
Right now, I think we’re just getting over, like, I don’t want to say the stress, but just the emotions associated with like putting something out there. Dave and I made a movie a few years ago, but it’s been a while since like I’ve thrown something out there into the world. It’s such an intense thing to guess and to wonder how people will react to it. So I feel like I’m just getting over that.
I mean, as we were finishing up editing the show, we were starting to vaguely talk about some things we would like to see. And I think like one of the potentially cool things about the show is that you know, TV existed well before and after the late ’80s and early ’90s. So we can use this mechanism to show any era that a VCR could have captured, you know?
So you might be able to try going to different eras?
It’s a possibility.
In producing the animation portions, was that at all something that made you think, “Hey, why don’t we do more animation at Saturday Night Live?”
Huh. You know, that’s not something I’ve thought about. Definitely, in the time I’ve been there, I’ve seen a couple of animated things produced. I think that the hurdle as I understand it is just that you know, animation is not a quick way of producing a piece. So I think you’d have to have some lead-up to write whatever your piece is, and it might sometimes limit the topical nature in which you can sort of draw off of.
I mean, I know obviously South Park, they turn around episodes in a week, but I think that they’ve got their process down, in a way that I imagine most people don’t. But yeah, that’s a cool thing I hadn’t really considered. Yeah. Maybe we need to get more of that in the show.
This seems like it was a really fun experience for you creatively, and, you know, Saturday Night Live is its own sort of creative engine. For you right now, how are you feeling about the kind of work you want to produce and you’re getting to produce — and, you know, what kind of things do you want be doing more of in the future?
I feel pretty good about what I’m getting to make. Obviously, something like Saturday Morning All Star Hits is something that is based on materials that I’m super passionate about, and that I was inspired by growing up. And I feel that’s just part of who I am as a human.
I love the work at SNL because it’s challenging — it’s like, week in and week out, you have to reprove that, “Oh, I can come up with something and I can put it on its feet.” But in terms of the future, there’s so many things I want to do, and I definitely love writing and performing my own stuff. So I hope I get to continue to do that.
Saturday Morning All Star Hits is streaming now on Netflix.