Disney XD is home to some of the most adventurous animated series ever, with each new show festooned with new complexities (both from both visual and storytelling perspectives), additional depth, and the kind of go-for-broke creative experimentation that you’d expect from an independent film festival–not a cartoon meant for a wide audience. But that’s the brilliance of these shows: they maintain their truly gonzo spirit while being something that you can watch with the whole family. There’s never been anything like it before, and it’s totally galvanizing.
And the latest addition to the Disney XD family of truly amazing programming is Ryan Quincy’s Future-Worm!, premiering Monday at 11 a.m EDT. This is a concept that debuted last year as a series of off-the-wall shorts, but has now transitioned to a full series. In the show, Danny (Andy Milonakis), an average kid who loves science and is the inventor of a truly nifty time machine, befriends Future-Worm (James Adomian), a truly awesome worm from the future. (Future-Worm wears a visor, has abs of steel, and rocks a blond beard and bouffant hairstyle that is fashionable no matter the time or dimension they happen to be in. Quincy describes him as a “tough guy Jiminy Cricket.”) Together, the two go on a series of wacky adventures that are really charming and fun. In the premiere episode for example, they have to fight off a race of squishy aliens who have come down and overtaken earth using Danny’s favorite breakfast cereal (there’s a killer Terminator reference, too). Oh, and Neil deGrasse-Tyson, playing “a heightened version of himself,” shows up to assist, in part, by using psychic powers.
There are many standout aspects to Future-Worm!, from its wonderfully sketchy animated style (done in a purposefully rough form) to the bold stylization of its characters (Quincy says of Future-Worm, “He’s a funny character because he doesn’t have any arms or any eyes to emote, he just uses his tongue a lot and his tail”), to the subtle through-lines of the episodes (keep your eyes peeled in the first episode for a brief appearance of the “time deer,” which Quincy promises will pay off later). But watching Future-Worm!, it’s easy to miss that. Structurally, it’s pretty revolutionary.
To explain: Most animated series have a runtime of either 22 minutes with one long story (something like Gravity Falls) or are composed of two 11-minute segments (like Star vs. the Forces of Evil). Future-Worm!, however, follows the incredible structure of having segments that are 11 minutes, seven minutes, and three minutes, each episode. I visited the Future-Worm! offices at Disney Television Animation, where about 55 members of the production work (the animation is done at Canadian studio, Titmouse), to talk to Quincy about the series and it’s totally unique structure.
“We went with that structure because the five shorts that I did were 90 seconds,” Quincy explained. “They were so well received that they said they wanted to make a series out of it. So they said, ‘Here’s 21 half-hours. How do you want to divvy up the half hour?’ The Disney folks loved the shorts so much and they didn’t want to lose that. So the three-minute became the short. And everyone was very excited about it at the time. But when you do the math, it’s 63 stories that you have to come up with. So that was very challenging.”
Still, while the structure and the nature of having to fill those segments was daunting, it also freed up the storytelling. “We approach it the same way we break a story. With the three minute, we usually say, ‘This is a movie trailer or a future game show or a Steak Starbolt cartoon.’ [Editor’s note: Steak Starbolt is Danny’s favorite cartoon. So it’s a show-within-a-show. And yes, he’s got a steak for a head and is voiced by Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek: The Next Generation.] And Danny and Future-Worm might not be in the three-minute segments. They’re not in every cartoon. And that’s another thing we wanted to do: build a world that is so rich with characters that you could do a cartoon that doesn’t even feature Danny and Future-Worm. With the seven-minute it’s more like a traditional sitcom: there’s a problem that they have to solve. Then the 11-minute is more like a mini-movie, where you have an A story and a B story. In the A story it’s usually Danny and Future-Worm, but in the B story you’ll usually have Bug [Danny’s friend, based in part on Quincy’s daughter] or Danny’s parents. So it’s a lot of stuff to keep track of.” (The richness of the world also allows time travel to not be a part of every episode. “It’s so diverse that you don’t always have to go back in time or forwards in time; it’s more of a backdrop to this friendship,” Quincy noted.)
So, yes, saving the world from those gloopy aliens is part of the first episode, but so is a futuristic talk show hosted by a self-help guru who also happens to be a giant dinosaur (his name is Dr. D and the segment is called “Healin’ Touch With Dr. D”), and a more complex segment where Danny and Future-Worm want to try out a new chemistry set but also have to cook Danny’s parents dinner. It’s a blast. And as it should be, since the initial conceit for the series was, according to Quincy, “If a kid had a time machine, what would he do?”
What can you expect from this first season? Well, time travel for one. “A lot of it is weird future civilizations and dimensions and if they do go into the past, it might be a past that we don’t know about, like a past that used to be lobster people. The only historical figures we deal with are Christopher Columbus in the second episode, and later, Amelia Earhart. We don’t really deal with what they did; it’s more about forward momentum.” There will be more Steak Starbolt cartoons. And guest stars! “John Waters plays a character named Manchove. He used to be Future-Worm’s boss and he’s this Bond villain. His sidekick is a mini-snowman. Paul Williams is Future-Danny and he’s amazing. We have Chelsea Peretti, Frakes, Selma Blair plays a Mad Max-type character, and Bill Nye, continuing that science tip.”
If you can’t tell, Future-Worm! is truly unlike anything you’ve seen before, both in its irreverent humor and its revolutionary structural format. In fact, Future-Worm! is so forward-thinking that it’s positively futuristic.
Future-Worm! debuts on Monday at 11 a.m EDT.