Shion Takeuchi is tackling television in a wider sense with Netflix’s Inside Job. Takeuchi is a veteran TV writer. She’s written for shows such as The Regular Show and Disenchantment, among others. With Inside Job, however, Takeuchi holds the creator/executive producer title, along with Alex Hirsch. The series follows the employees of Cognito, Inc., an organization responsible for committing the world’s conspiracies.
We sat down with Takeuchi to discuss creating the world of Inside Job and the show in general. Read on to see what she had to say!
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Nerds & Beyond: Where did the idea for Inside Job come from?
Shion Takeuchi: I’ve been interested in the paranormal and conspiracy theories for a long time, and I remember the moment that I was introduced to the concept of the shadow government. It was told to me that it would be some kind of group of geniuses secretly pulling the strings and playing four-dimensional chess beyond our human comprehension. At the time, that concept really scared me, and I actually stopped delving into paranormal conspiracies for a while.
Then, I thought about that concept more and broke it down. And I realized that if there is a shadow government, it has to be run by people, and people like you and me, which means small stakes, jealousies, rivalries, your work being affected by whether or not you ate a sandwich that day or if you didn’t have time. [laughs] There would be human beings behind it, and if that’s the case, it’s probably just as chaotic as any workplace that you or I are a part of. That means that if there was a shadow government, they’d probably be barely controlling the world instead of, you know, incredibly controlling the world.
Nerds & Beyond: Speaking of that sort of chaotic nature, I did notice this show can be completely absurd at times, but it does still have a lot to say for itself. How did you go about finding the balance between showing the more absurdist, chaotic side of it, and balancing it with the more serious messages embedded within?
Shion Takeuchi: I think that it just comes from where my taste lies. I think that the stuff that makes me laugh is often either really absurd things or really small internal struggles that a character has and their reactions to things. Especially when the world is so high concept and heightened and surreal, I think that grounding it in relatable characters is something that gives the show a sense of palatability and makes me invested in the stories that are happening. ‘Cause I feel like if you layer too much crazy on top of crazy, then it can be exhausting.
Nerds & Beyond: Speaking of, there really is just a great variety of characters in this show who have a lot to contribute. Can you explain a little bit about the process of crafting these different characters?
Shion Takeuchi: Sure, yeah. So, I think that I started with some of the core relationships, and the series does explore a lot of Reagan’s issues with her dad and her struggles in the workplace. Her relationship with her dad came early, and her relationship with Brett also did — her counterpart that has all these qualities that she wishes that she had.
Then in terms of the broader world, there was so much to uncover and hash out. What exactly is a conspiracy company like? What departments are there? What do they do? How are these missions created or subdivided, and who operates them? All of that kind of brainstorming and discussion kind of had to go hand-in-hand with filling out the rest of the cast. So, the rest of the cast speaks to both what are the imaginings of what the rest of that company might look like, and also who are the people that would be funniest being in charge of that department, you know. Like Glenn Dolphman is a hyper-emotional, conservative dolphin man that is in charge of nuclear warheads. Well, that’s horrifying. [laughs] Just getting that sense of tension of like, “Oh, wow. Should these people really be in control of these things” was kind of the genesis of it.
Nerds & Beyond: This cast does a great job bringing them to life. Did you ever have an idea of who you wanted to see take on these characters, or did that come later?
Shion Takeuchi: I had a pretty good idea for a lot of the characters. Some other ones were delightful discoveries. And I also think that once you do cast actors, there’s another chapter of discovery of once they are cast, you kind of like keep refining and honing the characters on screen with what the actors do best. Lizzie [Caplan, voices Reagan] was someone that I had in mind from the beginning. That’s probably just because I connect with her kind of vibe and perspective the most, and she’s playing a character kind of loosely based on me. So, that was pretty easy. And then there’s a few others that initially when I was like, “Who would be the perfect office asshole psychic mushroom,” I was like, “Oh, Brett Gelman! [laughs] It’s gotta be Brett Gelman. We gotta get Brett Gelman on the phone.” [laughs]
Nerds & Beyond: Going off of what you just mentioned about how Reagan is loosely based on you, did you find that that made it easier to construct her character arc, or was that something that posed a lot of challenges for you at all, or a mix of both?
Shion Takeuchi: I’d say a mix of both. I think that was definitely the starting point, and then as the show keeps going, characters take on their own life. I think that what I was trying to explore with Reagan is a sense of someone who is driven and has lots of ideas and wants to make the world a better place, but still is kind of pragmatic and almost cynical in a way. You know, what kind of maniac decides to join a somewhat evil company to try to change it from the inside to try to make the world a better place? That’s a pretty monumental task. And the irony of believing that you could bring good the world, while working at some place like that, is also interesting to me. And Reagan is not the personality type you think of when you think of a leader. She’s not super popular or gifted with social niceties. So, having that be an interesting conflict in how she is going to navigate the workplace was compelling to me, too.
Nerds & Beyond: You’ve been a part of other TV staff before, but I think that Inside Job is quite separate in terms of content and tone. How did you go about creating something that caters to a much different audience?
Shion Takeuchi: Well, I’d say that I do feel like there is some lineage. Every job that you take, you learn a lot from. You kind of bring that to your own creative process, so I see the threads in a lot of the stuff that I’ve worked on. But obviously, if you see it all on IMDb you’re like, “Wow. Pixar! Disney!” And then [laughs] Inside Job. And I get it. I get that. But the things that I took from all these different experiences that I’ve had as a writer are all about — you need characters that people can get invested in, because you relate to the stories and the struggles that they’re going through. I think that having heart is an important kind of aesthetic that I’ve taken from various things that I’ve worked on, because I think I connect more to shows when people like each other.
Nerds & Beyond: This show really does jam every possible government conspiracy theory into it. Do you have a favorite one that pops up either as a central plotline or in the background?
Shion Takeuchi: [Laughs] At the risk of giving spoilers away, I’m not sure I can talk about all of them specifically. But I will say there is an 80s themed episode where it’s discovered that Cognito has been using chemtrails on the town in order to convince them to buy more expired 80s products that aren’t sold in the rest of the country. The reason that I like that one is because I think the most believable conspiracies, to me, are when there’s like a really dumb financial incentive attached to them. [laughs] You know, when you think about like the Panama Papers or whatever, it’s like, yeah, the answer in end is usually money or capitalism. [laughs] But then, we get to dress it up in these really absurd, outlandish — we get to pastiche the outlandish on top of that.
Nerds & Beyond: What has your experience been like watching this show come to life?
Shion Takeuchi: It’s been both a lot of hard work and also very gratifying. It’s important to me that I recognize all the people that put so much effort and hard work into it. The thing that’s been delightful about this idea is that I can tell when people get really excited about the show concept and the characters. It kind of energizes them and that in turn re-energizes me, which I very much need as a very tired person. [laughs] So, I kind of like lived through the excitement of others, and I think everyone who worked on it really sparks to this kind of content and subject matter and the characters. That’s been really enjoyable for me.
Nerds & Beyond: What do you hope viewers take away from the show?
Shion Takeuchi: What I hope viewers take away from the show is that much like Cognito, Inc., you may not feel like you have control over everything and may not know exactly what’s going on. You may be distracted by your personal lives, but if you all band together, you can work to make the world 1% better. And that’s at least 1% better than it was before, so that’s something.
Nerds & Beyond: Do you have anything else you want to add before we wrap-up?
Shion Takeuchi: Just tell everyone to put tape over their laptop cameras. [laughs]
Thank you to Shion for taking the time to talk with us! Inside Job is streaming now on Netflix. Read our interviews with cast members Brett Gelman here, and Christian Slater and Clark Duke here. Find our review of the show here.