On the Set of Adult Swim's The Heart, She Holler With Patton Oswalt
Nut Roaster Stages, where Adult Swim's bizarre live-action backwoods soap opera The Heart, She Holler shoots, is located in a part of Brooklyn seemingly untouched by the tendrils of gentrification. The stages are small, a converted nut roasting factory in what looks like an industrial wasteland. Once inside the graffiti'd walls, you're greeted by the likeness of Patton Oswalt's severed head resting on a folding table.
Within the stage doors, the living, breathing Oswalt sits at a desk in a light brown Prince Valiant-ish wig and gnarly prosthetic teeth, apparently receiving instructions from an older gentleman in a cowboy hat on a TV screen. Fifty feet away in a different part of the stage, the man in the hat drawls his lines into the camera so Oswalt can react in real time. The camera operators struggle to contain their laughter at Oswalt's stammering delivery.
The Heart, She Holler is the brainchild of Vernon Chatman, John Lee, and Alyson Levy, a meandering exploration of the supremely messed-up Heartshe clan: Deceased patriarch Hoss (Jonathan Hadary), whose video will provides his heir, man-child Hurlan (Oswalt), with advice on how to run Heartshe Holler; terrifying albino matriarch Meemaw (Judith Roberts); slutty sister Hurshe (originally Kristen Schaal, now Amy Sedaris for Season 2); and creepy, supernaturally gifted sis Hambrosia (Heather Lawless). Like the creators' previous shows (Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel, Delocated), the 11-minute episodes are aimed at the insomniac 18-34 crowd that can appreciate a blood-covered Hambrosia emerging from a large pie in the middle of a beauty pageant.
The first six episodes aired in November 2011, beginning with Hurlan emerging from the cave he'd been hidden in his entire life and ending with him being driven from the Holler back into his old home. Of course, Oswalt's presence on set indicates we haven't seen the last of Hoss' only son. "We can reset at any time," explains executive producer Levy. "It's like those classic nighttime soaps, Dynasty, Falcon Crest." Season 2 will run over three weeks, starting Tuesday, Sept. 10 (12:30 a.m./11:30c, Cartoon Network) and airing a new episode every weeknight until the finale on Sept. 27.
New cast member Sedaris comes out of hair and makeup bewigged and with a face made up so thick you might think her character moonlights as a clown. "They sent me the first six episodes," Sedaris says. "I watched them and thought, 'This is perfect for me! Why didn't they call me first?'" Though the part was originally written for Schaal, Levy says Sedaris — part of the Wonder Showzen repertoire — was a natural fit. "She should always have been in the show," she adds.
Oswalt wanders over with a cup of tea in one hand, his wig in the other. He was the first to sign onto the show, back when it was still just an idea based on an old Wonder Showzen sketch and a family tree scrawled on a scrap of paper. "We were at breakfast, and they showed me the tree and then invoked this photobook that's one of my favorite, favorite things," Oswalt recalls. "It's called Wisconsin Death Trip, and they're the eeriest, most disturbing photos of people at the turn of the century just thinking they're taking normal pictures. There are a lot of Hambrosias in that book. As soon as I heard that I was like, 'I'm in. Let me know when the scripts are ready.'"
Whereas the first six episodes saw Hurlan mostly reacting in his own infantile way to the surrounding insanity, we'll soon see him get a little power-hungry, a little more eager to influence the action. Since this is Heartshe, the consequences are both dire and impermanent. "He's like, 'I need to broaden my horizons,' and holy s--- is that a mistake," Oswalt says. "He learns in some pretty brutal ways that it's probably better to keep your mouth shut and not try to affect anything" — a lesson he'll hopefully unlearn by season's end.
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