Ultra City Smiths, an animated drama from Steve Conrad, premieres on AMC Plus July 22. There are six episodes and they drop on Thursdays. The first season airs on AMC in the fall.
The stop-motion series features baby dolls made to look like grown-ups.
Ultra City is a gritty environment, with tons of crime and corruption. There’s a murder of a prominent citizen, and a couple detectives hunt for the perp. Conrad likens Ultra City to New York in the ‘80s, but “ten times as dangerous, ten times as corrupt.”
Conrad created the Amazon Prime drama Patriot, and has brought much of the Patriot cast on board at Ultra City. That includes Chris Conrad, Terry O’Quinn, Kurtwood Smith, Debra Winger and Hana Mae Lee. Also in the voice cast are Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Alia Shawkat, Tim Meadows and John C. Reilly.
Patriot, about an intelligence officer posing as an employee at a Milwaukee piping firm as he aims to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, premiered on Amazon in 2015 and lasted for two seasons. Asked if he had more story to tell, Conrad responded, “yes and no.”
Its audience may not have been huge, but Patriot developed a base of diehard fans who loved the show’s funky mix of slapstick comedy and spy drama. The Hollywood Reporter called it a “gem.” “Arguably the best drama you're not watching, or haven't even discovered,” that review said.
Conrad mentioned leadership changes at Amazon when Patriot was on the bubble. “I didn’t have the same connection with the new leadership,” he said.
One fan of the show was singer-songwriter Tom Waits. Waits and his wife had sent a letter to Conrad, expressing how they appreciated all the work that went into Patriot. Conrad called himself “an intense fan” of Waits’ music. “It meant a great, great deal to me,” he added.
Years later, he asked Waits to be the narrator on Ultra City Smiths, a role he described as “an omniscient guide to Ultra City and its many dark corners and alleyways and dead-end streets.”
Waits was interested. “I was happy to invite him into this group,” said Conrad.
Conrad said he hustled for eight years to find a home for the offbeat animated show. “It took a while, but we sure wound up in the right place,” he said.
Conrad is the showrunner. Stoopid Buddy Stoodios’ Seth Green, John Harvatine IV, Matthew Senreich, Eric Towner and Chris Waters also executive produce, along with Jennifer Scher.
Conrad said a motto has followed him from show to show: Let’s make it look like hard work. That M.O. fell into place right away on Ultra City Smiths. “Stop motion has that in spades--it is hard work,” he said. “But it can look kind of beautiful when it all clicks.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.