We’re still feeling the trippy effects of Amazon’s Undone, the new series from BoJack Horseman’s Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy that combines computer animation with oil paintings to create gorgeous, shifting worlds. The show’s technical ambitions are clear from the first scene, in which an overcome Alma (Rosa Salazar) stumbles upon what could be a tear in the fabric of space-time: the rotoscoping perfectly captures her tear-streaked face while the animation blurs around her.
But look even closer at the beautiful landscape paintings and 2D animation, and you’ll find an equally arresting rumination on loss, mental illness, and heritage. Along with Bob-Waksberg, her longtime collaborator, Purdy ensures Alma’s personal reckoning is as rich and meaningful a pursuit as any time-traveling journey proposed by her late father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk), while never dictating the right path for its characters or the viewer. The A.V. Club spoke with Purdy—first, after a Television Critics Association screening of Undone’s first two episodes in July, then again after we’d gotten our head around the additional episodes sent out for review—about the show’s generosity and ambiguity, and how building a platform for underrepresented stories is one of the show’s many ambitions.
The A.V. Club: What made this particular story the one you had to dedicate yourself to after producing and writing for BoJack Horseman all these years?
Kate Purdy: Well, after what was I think the second season of BoJack, after I had written down our ending for season one, Raphael approached me and said, “Hey, we should really work on a show together where we explore some of the scenes that we explored in that first episode.” And I started talking to him about some of my own personal life experiences and own personal family history and background. And that’s really where we decided how the show should be and where it should live, which was exciting because we could kind of play with the ideas we’d already found together creatively, but use those concepts to branch off into a different show that has a different tone and a different level of groundedness and go deeper with those themes and concepts.
AVC: Did you originally envision it as a multi-season show? I know you can never tell when you’re getting renewed, but have you guys broken this out as a longer story?
KP: We have. We see all the places it could potentially go, that keep unfolding to us as we move forward. There’s a lot of support from Amazon, which has been tremendous—a lot of collaboration with Amazon, which we love. We’re hoping to get a second season so we can continue to keep making steps towards exploring the story in a deeper way. That will definitely be a challenge as we go forward, is how to continue to tell this story and what we’re exploring.
AVC: Having a multicultural family at the center of your show is still a rarity when it comes to TV, but it is something that’s reflective of San Antonio, where the show is set. There, Mexican culture is definitely a part of everyday life. What inspired that decision?
KP: It’s where I grew up. We lived in Mexico—in Guadalajara—for a couple of years. My dad was a Spanish teacher. He’s now retired, but it was an important part of our life, culturally. So many of my friends were Mexican American, and we had friends in Mexico we would go see every summer. And I just feel like [that culture] is underrepresented. We don’t have enough Latinx people on television, outside of TV stations that are dedicated to just Latinx programming. So I thought this was a great way to represent as much culture, diversity, and experience as possible. Because as Constance Marie said during the screening, it really is a melting pot. All of us here—you look around the room, and there’s all kinds of people. So let’s represent everyone, let’s tell everyone’s story.
This is just an opportunity for inclusion. You’re given a chance to have a voice on a larger stage and to put people into the spotlight who don’t usually get the spotlight, but at the same time, it’s not to showcase that aspect of them as the reason for doing it. Instead, it’s to say, here’s a family and they happen to be of Mexican American and Jewish descent. The kids are mixed and they’re dealing with that identity. We have to take that opportunity to give other people a chance and to show just lives being lived—not making it solely about their race or heritage, but to make it about the fact that they’re just like everyone because of their race and heritage.
AVC: Something that was touched on in the post-screening panel was the importance of consulting with experts and making sure Latinx voices are heard behind the scenes. I understand that extends to Undone’s writers room?
KP: Yes, so Raphael and I wrote on the show and then the other writers for season one are Joanna Calo, who’s a BoJack alum, and Lauren Otero and Elijah Aron, who is also a BoJack alum. Joanna and Lauren are both Latinx writers and actually both come from mixed backgrounds. So they also identify with this idea of having two kinds of ancestry and identities that you’re navigating.
AVC: In exploring what it means to be moving between worlds, the show sparks a lot of conversations about being othered but also which parts of our heritage, like language, we pass down. You make it specific to this Jewish and Mexican American family, but these discussions, you get the sense that they could really be of any background, but it still feels incredibly specific.
KP: We talk a lot about crossing over and integration and there’s even a metaphor we play with about the Wizard Of Oz, where you go to different lands but then you return and you realize what it means to be home and what is “home.” Our hope is to make it universal in its specificity, I suppose. I feel like that can be the case with writing—oftentimes the more specific you get, the more relatable it actually is and the more universal it feels.
AVC: Speaking for myself and probably a lot of Latinx folks, Constance Marie is this iconic mom, kind of like a Latina June Cleaver. We’ve seen her as Selena Quintanilla’s mom and the mom on George Lopez, which remains one of just a handful of shows about Mexican American families. Did you take that into account when casting her as Camila?
KP: Well, as you say, she is so iconic and she is so graceful, so elegant and so classy. And that’s definitely the mother character. She’s very refined, and she’s put-together, and she’s living life to her best ability. We thought she was the epitome of that. And she’s also very funny.
AVC: What made Rosa the ideal choice to play Alma?
KP: She’s just so incredible. She’s funny, dry, and sarcastic. She can be biting in a very delightful Alma way, but she’s also incredibly dramatic in her performance. She can access a real depth of emotion in a way that is mind-blowing to me and constantly surprises me. I think she just has tremendous range. She has an edge to her that’s really exciting and I think kind of cuts through the animation. Even I think she just punches through. So I mean once we saw her tape and she came in and met with us, we just felt like this is our Alma. I can’t imagine anyone who is a better fit. I mean, we have a tremendous casting director, Linda Lamontagne, but we’ve been incredibly fortunate. The cast all really love each other and that happened right away. There was just really great chemistry amongst all of them. I mean, they’re working together first at the table reads and then on set. They’re live-action shooting, so they’re really there doing scenes together. And then what you see is them there together, but now they’re just painted. So you’re getting all that micro-nuance of the emotions and the performance, and you’re feeling all those tensions that they’re creating right there in a studio—the very real chemistry that they’re creating.
AVC: Rosa Salazar and Angelique Cabral really do come across as sisters from the very beginning. Did they take any additional steps to help establish that bond?
KP: It was definitely written into the characters. I think it’s a funny dynamic because there is sort of this back-and-forth, in terms of who’s offering who advice based on their worldview and perspective. In the show, every character has a very strong perspective, and everyone believes their own reality is the real reality and the right path, but then ultimately everyone learns to question that, whether they know what the truth is or not. So it was really about having these two women, with their strong world views, each believing they have the answer and then realizing maybe they don’t.
AVC: What’s the most dad-like thing about Bob Odenkirk?
KP: He and Rosa love each other, and the two of them will be laughing hysterically and then arguing about which Beatle was the best, and then fighting about a lie. So they have just an instant connection and a wide range of emotions. I mean, she idolizes him, which is so sweet. She grew up in comedy. She grew up watching Mr. Show, then she got to watch sketches with him and talk to him about them. And he loves that she’s really into his work. So it felt like a father-daughter relationship right away. It felt like she wanted to be close to him, and he let that happen because he loves her, and they just had this really strong bond right away.
AVC: Early on, I got a Wrinkle In Time vibe, maybe because the film adaptation came out so recently. But you’ve got this mysterious father who kind of just vanishes, and a girl—in this case, a young woman—who doesn’t handle the absence as well as other family members. Did that book serve as an influence for you?
KP: It wasn’t a conscious choice or decision. Actually, we developed this before that film was released, but definitely I went to see it, and I realized, “Oh, we’re kind of telling A Wrinkle In Time story.” But I think it’s more that this is a subconscious thing from our childhood or maybe a common emotional story to tell about father-daughter relationships and how they want to recover that, that bond. But yes, there is weirdly a parallel.
AVC: The rotoscoping gives off a sense of recreating something you’ve already shot in real time, which feels really thematically relevant. We see Alma experiencing time in a very non-linear way, where she’s repeating things and recreating things. Did that inspire the use of rotoscoping at all?
KP: The idea actually came from our director, Hisko Hulsing, which was brilliant because he found a solution to a problem we were trying to solve, which is that we wanted it to be animated because we love his work first of all. It’s so rich and inviting and imaginative and brings you into this “feeling” space. Our concern was that if you animate characters, you lose all those micro expressions and emotions and the writing, which was intentionally very emotional. Hisko brought up rotoscope because he said if you do that, then you get the best of both worlds. You get these performances, you capture all that emotion, and it continues to be of an animated piece.
AVC: Is there ever a concern when you’re working on something that bends reality this way that you’re getting too far away from the human aspect of the story? How do you balance the two: the more surreal and the more grounded?
KP: That’s definitely the tension that we’re playing with throughout the entire season. Is this like A Beautiful Mind and she thinks this is reality but it isn’t, or is this The Matrix and actually she’s tapped into some sort of magical power and she’s seeing the truth behind reality? And what we’re saying is that we don’t know what the answer is, that none of us really know the answer to anything and that all of us experience reality in different ways. We all have different experiences, our own perspectives of reality, and maybe the actual truth is just a lively interaction of all those perspectives of reality. And if we can see that or know that or understand that, then maybe we could be a bit more empathetic with each other and be a little looser and more fluid—more loving, less structured in what we decide is the only truth.
AVC: Right now, it feels like discussion among viewers is peaking, whether they’re breaking down a plot-driven show’s twists or working out theories for the puzzle-box series. When your show is this ambiguous, how does it fit into that culture of discussion?
KP: I’m excited to find out! The show invites you to be an active participant: It’s for you to say what you feel, what you think how you experience it, and I think really great art does that. It doesn’t tell you the answer. It invites you to imagine, to be involved, to participate. I hope those conversations are lively and that people hash those out. Just having those different view points bounce off each other will create what we’re hoping the show creates, which is just this loosening, this openness and acceptance.