FX’s “Unsupervised” finds humor in the children left behind

Gary and Joel (Justin Long and David Hornsby) receive some drunken advice from Martin (Fred Armisen) in FX's "Unsupervised."

By Stacey Harrison

There is a lot of talk about how today’s kids are too protected, hampered in their path to maturity by so-called helicopter parents who hover around every second of their precious little ones’ lives, making sure they never feel a moment’s discomfort and that they know they are special.

The characters in Unsupervised are not those kids.

The animated FX comedy, which premieres tonight at 10:30, follows the exploits of Gary and Joel, two best friends who must forge through adolescence and the snake pit that is high-school society almost completely without parental guidance. Yet despite their bleak circumstances — Gary’s father deserted him years ago, leaving him with a stepmom who couldn’t care less about him, and Joel’s elderly parents have pretty much checked out on his life — the duo remain eternally optimistic. It’s that contrast between their attitude and the harsh reality of the world around them that creates the show’s humor and heart, says creator/executive producer David Hornsby.

“All their adventures start from a very earnest place,” says Hornsby, who also voices Joel. “We see how they take care of themselves, how they learn how to behave, and learn about the world without any adult supervision. They have to deal with some big issues on their own, and usually they’re trying to — just like any teenager — either be cool or be more adult while doing it.”

Don’t expect the humor to shy away from sensitive areas. Hornsby, along with co-creators and executive producers Rob Rosell and Scott Marder, are also writers on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is known for poking fun at taboo subjects and pushing the boundaries of what can be done on television.

But Hornsby says while the two shows share some DNA, they branch out in very different directions.

“You can’t help but bring over some qualities of writing that you love, but it’s a very different show, just in the nature of who the characters are,” he says. “[Gary and Joel] are very earnest and upbeat and always stay positive. The Always Sunny characters are the complete opposite. They’re all very active in pursuing what they want, but each works from a very different place. That leads us to a very different type of humor.”

It’s Always Sunny fans will, however, be happy to know that the stars of that series, Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton, also serve as executive producers on Unsupervised, and Sweet Dee herself, Kaitlin Olson, provides the voice of two characters on the show.

Other voices include Justin Long as Gary, Kristen Bell as Megan — whom Hornsby characterizes as “like the girl from Election, but just not as smart” — Romany Malco (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) as Gary and Joel’s friend Darius, SNL’s Fred Armisen as the helpful neighbor Martin, Alexa Vega (Spy Kids) as Martin’s wild-child daughter Christina, and Sally Kellerman as the stern leader of the high school, Principal Stark.

And as if Hornsby isn’t doing enough on the show, he also draws the characters before handing them over to the animators. That way he gets to design Unsupervised’s particular look, which he describes as “trying to show as real a world as we can. That’s why all the sets feel dark … to make the world be contrasted with these characters.”

The animation also allows more freedom for Hornsby and company to deliver the kind of edgy content they want.

“This is the perfect way to do it,” he says. “The show fits in an animated world because you can get away with more things with kid characters that you couldn’t do [if it were live action]. It’s funnier animated, and you can do some larger than life things.”

Photo: Credit: FX