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February 12, 2019

Outside the Lines, Into the Twisted and Strange

Writer/Creator Charlie Sanders welcomes us to Weird City.

Greg Ehrbar
  • Scott MacArthur and Charlie Sanders

  • Charlie Sanders and Amy Heckerling

  • Charlie Sanders

  • Ed O"Neill and Dylan O'Brien

  • Gillian Jacobs, Hannah Simone, Malcolm Barrett, and Steven Yeun


Charlie Sanders has been watching Weird City for years. In his head.

At last, the rest of us can experience this eerie, stingingly funny world when all six episodes of Weird City premiere Wednesday, Feb. 13, on YouTube Premium.

The "building blocks" for the new anthology series were laid in place as the three-time Emmy-nominated and WGA Award-winning writer wrote for the hit sketch series Key and Peele. During the series run, Jordan Peele (Oscar winning Best Director for Get Out) encouraged a distinct pattern in Sanders' work.

"Anything with a sci-fi bent was probably written by me," Sanders said. "Jordan said, 'I love your sci-fi stuff!' So we started talking about how, if Key and Peele was successful, we'd do these kind of sci-fi ideas, but blown up into half hour episodes. We referred to it back then as 'Amazing Stories, but funny.'"

Weird City is set in a slightly futuristic environment, filled with people whose situations and relationships take highly unexpected turns. Guest stars include Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Steven Yeun, Ed O'Neill, Yvette Nicole Brown, Laverne Cox, and Awkwafina.

"The first story is about a young man named Stu Maxsome, played by Dylan O'Brien," Sanders explains, "who is looking for love. He hears about a dating program called 'The One That's The One.' The next one is about a wimpy, very odd guy played by Michael Cera who joins what appears to be a cross fit gym and starts to max out. In both cases, very strange stuff happens.

"A major thing about Weird City is a thing we call 'The Line.' The middle class has disappeared. There are just really rich people and poor people, with a literal physical barrier between them. The stories are about people on both sides of The Line.

"Some people cross over The Line. In our third episode, "Go To College," Auli'i Cravalho [the voice of Moana] plays a student from below The Line who gets a scholarship to a school located above The Line. She has to sort out the differences between between the world of the rich and the relationships she leaves behind."

Weird City takes the sci-fi/fantasy/thriller anthology in a new direction from classics like Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone and Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories. Weird City is crafted for the age of streaming, binging and full-season episode premieres. While each tale can stand on its own, the city and its main citizens are ongoing.

The possibilities are endless for threads and Easter Eggs that bob and weave throughout the episodes.

The trailer introduces a few of these elements. One of them is a maniacal TSA-like woman who cackles at Cera's character. "She's played by my friend Pam Murphy, a wonderful comedian from the Upright Citizens Brigade," said Sanders. "I've known her for close to 20 years now. She's one of the guards at The Line. She appears somewhere in three of the episodes."

Sanders is particularly pleased that the need for new characters in each new Weird City story offers opportunities for actors. "I knew we would be going after stars for the main characters, but for the others, some are UCB and other comedy friends—plus I met a whole bunch of new actors who were just fantastic.

"But honestly, I did think with that many famous people, I'm going to leave shooting Weird City with at least one story of one of them being a nut, but everyone was really cool. I was so grateful for them. They were wonderful. They seemed to like the material."

So does Peele, who co-executive produces the series with Sanders.

"He was shooting Us while we were in production, but he was very helpful when I would bounce ideas off him, riffing about stuff. And he was especially great with casting. He's a big name, so he could call people up and say 'Hey, read this script.' Creatively, I could call him up and say 'I think I want to do this thing this way' and he could say, 'Okay we can do it.'"

Despite the level of outlandish events in a show like Weird City, Sanders believes in judicious use of special effects. "I love practical effects, so we have a mix," he said. "We have a particular creature that I will leave a mystery right now, but it is done right on the set, practically. And it looks super creepy. But then we also use CG for things like making the city skyline. I just tried to have a blend.

"I enjoy a creative challenge and I had a lot in this show, when they'd say, 'We thought we had the budget to do this special effect, but now we're out of money, so now you've got to write something else.' But we got something great out of it! I think I work really well when someone says, 'OMG there's an emergency!' I can run to a trailer and start writing."

As a special preview, the first two episodes of Weird City are streaming free starting Wednesday, Feb. 13. Subscribing to YouTube premium subscription includes the entire Weird City series, plus features that include ad-free videos, YouTube Music Premium and Google Play Music.

Sanders is sure that the first six episodes will be worth watching more than once, and he hopes to create a lot more with that quality. "I love the kind of stuff that you could watch 50 times and you keep seeing things you didn't notice before. I tried to layer that into this show. I think it's got real re-watch value."

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