At this point, it’s a given that we’re living in the “golden age”There are approximately 500 new series that drop every year on television. There are so many options available that TV can be daring, specific and even bizarre. The Superheroes trapped within an I Love Lucy pastiche? An animatronic doll that calls out Red Light, Green Light. Grade-A oddity in the age of peak TV is just a mouse-click away
But no show in 2021 is more weirdly specific — and specifically weird — than Centaurworld. Created by Megan Nicole Dong, the Netflix series is a wild alchemy of epic fantasy, trippy animation, next-level fart jokes, dark discursions on overcoming trauma, deep emotional catharsis, and, uh… musical theater. The show debuted in July and Season Two will be released in December 7.
Centaurworld It takes place in a fantasy world with all living things, including worms, trees, badgers, and hippos, being centaurs. It’s aimed at kids and families, but it also deals in absurdist humor and dark themes that will resonate with adults crouched in front of their laptops at midnight. It’s the only show where you can watch an anthropomorphized antelope try to stuff an entire tree into a portal in her stomach, then turn around and hear two Broadway stars sing a heartbreaking duet about grief and loss.
Voice fans from almost all genres will love the Tony winners (Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldsberry, Waitress’s Jessie Mueller), comedians (Paul F. Tompkins, Maria Bamford), pop stars (Santigold, Jamie Cullum), sitcom vets (Josh Radnor, Tony Hale) — the neon-pink sky’s the limit.
Dong was the first to pitch the series. She was certain that she had created something she loved, but it was difficult to describe. “It was such an out-there idea that I felt like you had to perform it, or do the ‘show, don’t tell’ thing,”She said, “Speaking over Zoom from Los Angeles,” “I had these kinda crappy piano tracks on my phone, and I would just pitch through the whole first episode, and I would do all the voices and sing the songs.”
Here’s a crack at telling, though: Centaurworld centers on Horse (Kimiko Glenn), a, um, horse who’s only ever known a life of war alongside her beloved Rider (Mueller). Horse then falls off a cliff, and wakes in Centaurworld. Horse, desperate to return to Rider, forms an unwilling alliance with a band of all-singing and all-dancing weirdos: the sheep-taur Wammawink. (Megan Hilty). Smash), zebra-taur Zulius (Parvesh Cheena), giraffe-taur Durpleton (Radnor), finch-taur Ched (Chris Diamantopoulos), and gerenuk-taur Glendale (Dong). The self-proclaimed Herd goes on a quest across Centaurworld and visits a number of strange shamans in order to find pieces of a magical object that, when assembled will open a portal between worlds. Along the way, they encounter everything from a cat-taur fashion show to a rogue, naked mole rat–taur named Comfortable Doug (Flula Borg).
If you’re wondering how anyone could dream up a concept this deliciously bizarre, thank Dong’s high-school show choir. “I was obsessed with musical theater, but it wasn’t something that I ever was that seriously interested in,”Dong recalls. “I’m growing up as an Asian American kid in a Southern California town that had a lot of emphasis on academics, and I thought that there was only one path that I had to go down, which was like: Study really hard, get into a good college.”
But fate intervened. Dong, a ninth-grader, had one spot left in her AP-heavy course calendar. Due to a timing conflict, Dong was placed in the show choir class. “It wasn’t what I was expecting,”She says. “I was really shy and introverted, and that experience was so transformative for me. And it actually led me toward pursuing my artistic side, which was something that I thought I wasn’t supposed to do.”
After rising through the ranks of animation and art departments, he was able to work on shows such as MetalocalypseFilms like How to Train Your Dragon 2Dong was given the opportunity by Netflix Animation to pitch her series. While she was brainstorming, Dong thought back to the nervous teenager who fell in love with musical theatre as a child.
Dong believes that horse is a concept of Dong. “wanted to tell the story of a character that thought they were supposed be more serious, or came from a completely different trajectory, who wound up in this like, Muppety, singing, dancing, sparkly place. And in the end, that place and the characters she meets there transform her.”
Dong believes that the Muppets are similar to other Jim Henson creations. Labyrinth They had a significant influence on Centaurworld. As you might expect from her wide range of genres, she has a long list of inspirations. The Wizard of Oz And The Lord of the Rings trilogy; Stage shows Les Misérables And Fun Home; series of musical TV shows Crazy Ex-Girlfriend And Flight of the Conchords…and perhaps most importantly, the 2000s sci fi drama Fringe. (“I loved how they dealt with alternate universes and their effects on each other,”Dong said.
Apart from writing, directing and acting, I also have experience in creating. Centaurworld, Dong also serves as an executive producer. And if that weren’t enough, she also writes a big chunk of the songs herself — no mean feat, considering there are at least three per episode. The tone and subject matter of their songs ranges from bizarre (“I Stealz So I Can Feelz”) to heart-wrenching (“What If I Forget Your Face”) to haunting (“The Nowhere King”). Dominic Bisignano, her co-songwriter, is also an executive producer. Like Horse and Wammawink they were both thrown together and learn to work together on the fly.
“When [Dominic] came on board for the second episode, we co-wrote some songs together,”Dong explains. “We got in a room, and we’re like, ‘This is going to be superawkward. But let’s do this bizarre musical trust fall.’ And it was really fun just getting in there and doing that. Then we split everything up, and we were recording demos in bathrooms and these, like, glass telephone booth pods that were around the studio. It was very, very collaborative.”
These tracks are brought to life by the above-mentioned killer voice cast. “Being at those records was amazing,”Dong. “It was described by our story editor Meghan McCarthy as like being at Tiny Desk Concerts that no one would ever see. You’d have these world-class musicians come in and perform these songs and do all this acting, and it felt so intimate.”
After the first season’s intense finale (no spoilers), Season Two finds Horse and the rest of the herd traveling Centaurworld to recruit an army to fight the sinister Nowhere King (Kiss Me Kate Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell) — with hilariously mixed results. Dong says that she wanted to bring Horse further out of her shell, as well as to highlight some of the show’s side characters.
“In Season Two, we deal a lot with impostor syndrome,”She explains. “with [Horse] coming to terms with her own limitations and learning to relinquish some control and trust her friends and family. And that’s tough for her as a warrior. It’s exciting to see Horse pushed further out of her comfort zone, and also to see some of the other characters step into their own.”
Season Two, however, features Durpleton becoming a crocodile henchman to save him from being too serious “son”; Glendale doing a spot-on Elizabeth Holmes send-up; and the arrival of a homicidal warhorse named… Becky Apples.
Also, Centaurworld It is still incredibly difficult to classify. It’s a sui generis cartoon that sprang from a singular mind. Dong says that bringing together all these ingredients is just good storytelling.
“I really wanted us to focus on the character relationships, and I felt like having the emotional journey be the glue would make everything work together,”She says. “Like, you could have all sorts of disparate ideas and themes, but if you cared about the characters and felt the family that they were together, that would keep everything flowing.”
And if that’s not your bag, did we mention that Ched can do a magic spell called “handsome for eight seconds,”Wammawink has the ability to create tiny clones from her hoof.