It seems like every other day there’s an announcement for a new film or television project from Jordan Peele. In fact, he has a new series dropping this week on YouTube Premium, a sci-fi comedy called Weird City. Co-created by Peele and former Key & Peele writer Charlie Sanders, Weird City is an anthology series “set in the not-too-distant future metropolis of Weird.” The middle class no longer exists, and Weird is separated by a literal line right down the center: with the upper-scale, futuristic area known as Above the Line, and the relatively normal (at least from outward appearances) area known as Below the Line.
Uproxx recently spoke with Weird City co-creator Charlie Sanders about the show and what to expect, both in terms of world-building and the obvious comparisons to other major anthology series. Mild spoilers ahead for the pilot and season finale.
As a contemporary anthology series, you have to be pretty aware that there are going to be some Black Mirror comparisons when Weird City drops. Were you and Jordan Peele both aware of that going into this? And did you try to do anything to avoid those comparisons, or were you just doing your thing?
Charlie: I mean, we were largely just doing our thing. We knew that Black Mirror was out there, and we both like Black Mirror. The thing that makes our show different is … Well, it’s a comedy for one thing … And then also in this anthology, although all the stories are unique, they all take place in the same city. So there’s a lot of connective tissue underneath the stories that link them together. So I think those things will set it apart.
Keeping that comparison going for a moment, you guys essentially started the series off your own version of “San Junipero,” which I think really set the tone for what the show is. Is that something you were definitely thinking about just to make sure that people know immediately, not just that this is a comedy, but it’s very light-hearted too?
Yeah. Like, I love all sci-fi. I’m a sci-fi nerd. But you know, 70-80% of it, I feel, is pretty dark. And so this a semi-testament that it can… You know, I’m just an optimistic person so I wanted our show to talk about both the good and the bad of tech in the future. And the first episode is especially optimistic. There’s a couple episodes that are darker stories than that, but largely across the board, we comment on both the good and the bad of the future.
What was the creative process behind the show like? Did you have this idea originally or did Jordan or someone else approach you with this idea? What were the steps to get this series to be a reality?
It took seven years to get the show made. The very origins of the idea were in 2011 … I was a writer for Key & Peele for all five years, and the first year of Key & Peele, I would write a lot of sci-fi comedy sketches. And Jordan really liked them, and we just started talking about them and had this idea — all the way back then, we were already calling it Weird City — he was blowing those ideas out into their own episodes for a comedy sci-fi anthology.
And what made YouTube Premium the right fit for the show after these seven years?
YouTube Premium was the right fit because every other TV company in the entire universe said “no.”
What do you think it was it about Weird City that spoke to them?
I think they just liked the inventiveness and I think they liked it was like no other show that had been made before.
The fact that there is this connective tissue within the show since it all takes place in the same city and presumably all around the same time — you’re not jumping back and forth — does that seem to provide seemingly infinite possibilities for stories?
It does. And that’s something I really like about it. You can go anywhere in the city to find some kind of sci-fi story and put a comedy twist on it.
I want to talk more about the pilot, because it’s definitely not something you’re expecting going into it and I’m kind of fascinated how you made a genuinely touching romantic comedy between Dylan O’Brien and Ed O’Neill. Can you just talk about the whole process of that episode?
Yeah. That episode we hashed… This was after Key and Peele, before we started pitching it. Me and Jordan and Sam Hansen, who was the executive producer for Mosaic … we all met up for a lunch to talk about the idea and we were just throwing around ideas for episodes and we came up with, “Well, what if there was this machine that extracts your DNA and you don’t get 10 people like at a regular dating site. You get your ‘the one’.” And so we were talking about that idea and then — and this is largely how a lot of the show worked — we select a sci-fi premise, then we really put the comedy twist on it. So it was like … if you had, you know, a leading man-type who would do this DNA machine, “Who would be the most unlikely person to show up at the door that night?” And so then we were just cracking up about that. And so we came up with that first episode.
And how about character names on the show? Because a lot of them are just normal enough, before they get weird. In the finale, there’s Sammi and Tymmi and then… Glail. What were you thinking when it came to naming characters in this world?
Well, for one, I don’t know why but names just crack me up. Like when you meet someone and you’re like, “Yes, you are definitely a ‘Ned’.” I don’t know why, but it works perfectly. It just like makes me laugh. So I’ve always thought names were funny, so I get a kick out of coming up with some weird names. And then a little bit of the commentary as we’re writing more episodes was that Above the Line people are so desperate to be unique that they name their kids really weird names to get attention for it, so having a weird name … It’s not that all Above the Lines have weird names and all Below the Line have normal names, but Above the Line, you’re more likely to encounter people with [these names].
That makes sense actually. And what about the mysterious location Irmingblam? Is that going to be looked into more in the season?
You kind of see a few other references to Irmingblam, but nobody’s gonna get to go to Irmingblam until maybe the second season.
And is it really humid this time of year or is that a lie? What is the truth?
It’s humid. The state is humid this time of year.
How much of the show do you think is going to appeal to the Easter Egg-loving crowd? In the finale, there’s an album where all the songs were based on the things that happened in past episodes, right?
Yes, that’s right. You noticed it, cool. I think there might be a couple of just random, “I thought they were funny” songs in there, but largely, they reference other things. I think the show is gonna really appeal to the Easter Egg-viewer, but I think the show’s great if you want to watch one a week or if you wanna watch one a day. But the most rewarding way to watch it would be to binge all six of them, because there’s a lot of that stuff where it seems like an off-hand joke in episode two, plays a big part in episode four or gets re-referenced, so there’s a ton of that stuff in there. And I think repeated viewing will be really rewarding too because you can pick up … I mean, that’s the kind of stuff that I like to watch, where you re-watch it a third time, fourth time and you’re like, “Oh my god! I never noticed that they reference the same thing here and there.”
One of the songs is clearly a reference to the toe shows in the pilot, which made me wonder: Why the toe shoes in the pilot?
I’m gonna let you discover that when you watch the show. You find out more about the toe shoes. … There’s gonna be more weird toe shoes [in the season].
So it’s part of the narrative. Good to know.
It’s part of the fabric of the city.
Okay. It’s necessary. What episode are you most looking forward to people seeing?
I can’t pick a favorite. I love them all. … It’s like picking your favorite kid or something.
Well, the finale… I’ll try not to spoil it too much, but did that episode actually come out of the idea that, “Oh, we don’t really have a budget for another episode, so this is what we’re gonna do”?
No, it wasn’t born of that, but we benefited from the fact that it seems like that. ‘Cause we were running out of money.
The Twilight Zone is the other anthology that, obviously, everyone’s going to talk about in comparison to this. Was that also one you had in the back of your mind? Do you just have a list of anthologies that you maybe looked at or that you love in general?
Yeah, I mean, I love Twilight Zone, too, but I liked a lot of different ones. The one that me and Jordan talked about the most actually back in 2011 was Amazing Stories. Do you remember that show?
So when we first thought of the idea for Weird City, that’s what we referenced the most. We called it “an Amazing Stories but funny.” And you’ll see there’s some stuff different. We have a lot of tech stuff in our show, but there’s also just weird things that you don’t know. There’s a lot of possibilities in Weird City that aren’t just tech-related and so that’s why we were talking about Amazing Stories, because Amazing Stories did horror, they did sci-fi, etc.
In the pilot and also the finale, we see things like required restaurants to dine at and required TV viewings in Above the Line. Will we learn more about that in the season?
Yep. You’re gonna find out more about the required viewing in a particular episode.
Is there any of that really going on Below the Line?
No. Below the Line people are not required to go to certain restaurants or see certain shows by law, they’re allowed to live a little more freely down there.
Those Below the Line people — they’re so boring.
Yeah, there’s no requirements down there.
The first season of ‘Weird City’ drops Wednesday, February 13th, on YouTube Premium.