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‘Animals’ co-creator from Long Island brings talking critters to HBO


HBO's "Animals" features such big-city inhabitants as pigeons, rodents and cats. Photo Credit: HBO

HBO debuts “Animals,” a new animated series, Friday night at 11:30 p.m. But that’s not the big news here, which in fact would be this: Co-creator and producer, Mike Luciano, 28, is a native of Sea Cliff and 2005 graduate of North Shore High.

“Animals” is about a New York menagerie of anthropomorphic animals one typically associates with the grit of urban life — rats, pigeons, dogs, cats, and (yes) even bedbugs. Luciano and his co-producer, Phil Matarese, handle the voices, along with a few “guest voices,” including Aziz Ansari, Wanda Sykes, Kumail Nanjiani and Molly Shannon. After a successful premiere at Sundance, indie-prod stars Mark and Jay Duplass helped Luciano and Matarese find their way through the Hollywood jungle. The happy result: A two-season deal with HBO for 20 episodes.

We spoke earlier this week with Luciano, and an edited version of our chat follows.

How did you get started in this racket?

All through high school I filmed for school projects any chance I got — and just loved making comedy films, and taught myself how to edit and had a group of friends who became my little gang of repertory players.


After my first year at [Manhattan’s] School of Visual Arts, I dropped out, [and] went to Nassau Community and while there ended up making this public access show called “I’m On Public Access.” My friend and I were into this phase where we were so loving Long Island public access [and]then made a show about a guy who loves public access.

After NCC?

Graduated from Northeastern, moved to Brooklyn — Bushwick — and had all these random jobs, and also spent a year interning on “Saturday Night Live,” my favorite show in the world. [Cast member who joined the show long after his internship] Kate McKinnon is from my hometown and her younger sister is in the movie I made my senior year in high school.

How’d you and Phil come up with this idea?

It was a month after we knew each other [working in a New York ad agency] and we shared this office with a huge panoramic window. One day during break, we saw these two pigeons sitting across from us, and we started riffing on what they might be talking about. Phil [later] made a little animation of it and he sent me a screenshot: It just blew my mind. It was so rich and it suddenly had a whole world to it, and we pretty quickly realized this is a show.

Pretty impressive getting the Duplasses behind this. The short version of that story?

Mark said he and his brother [Jay] will help you get funding [and]to make all ten episodes right now. He said, “I can’t promise you it’ll wind up anywhere. [But]I can promise you’ll have full creative control.” We moved out here [Los Angeles] in February of 2014.

The show is very amusing but also twisted. What’s the overall idea?

It’s just like going into the idiosyncratic brains of what it’s like with various animals that live in the most man-made environment in the world. What is it like to live here as a pigeon or rat and spend your whole life avoiding trains? Twisted? Yeah, that part of the thing we don’t question too much.

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