SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Speaking as someone who has created two hit animated TV shows and is about to introduce his third series, Matt Groening has some advice to ensure a successful pitch meeting.
“This is my Hollywood tip,” he said earlier this summer. “You can say, ‘It’s ‘The Simpsons’ meets anything’ or ‘It’s anything meets ‘Game of Thrones,’ and you’ve got a deal.”
Mr. Groening was gently ribbing his new show, “Disenchantment,” which Netflix will release on Friday, Aug. 17. His latest series certainly shares a satirical sensibility and a distinctive curvy cartoon style with “The Simpsons,” his enduring Fox comedy that starts its 30th season in September. But while it takes place in a medieval realm of wizards and dragons, it is not exactly Mr. Groening’s answer to “Game of Thrones.”
“Disenchantment” is more like Mr. Groening’s comic amalgam of fantasy franchises like “Lord of the Rings” and the animated epics of Hayao Miyazaki, to name just two of its dozens of influences.
It is also Mr. Groening’s first show created for a streaming service — its initial 10 episodes can be consumed in a five-hour binge — as well as, consequently, his first to have a serialized narrative.
“I’ve been working for 30 years in sequential, weekly, prime-time animation,” Mr. Groening said. “To suddenly have a bunch of episodes that go up at the same time, you have to tell a big story. And it’s been really fun. However, it’s its own torture.”
For Mr. Groening, part of the challenge in creating “Disenchantment” has been attuning it to the tastes and pacing of contemporary television, which have changed considerably since the Simpsons were introduced in wiggly interstitial segments on “The Tracey Ullman Show.”
And part of the difficulty — and part of the pleasure — is doing something different from “The Simpsons,” the decades-old behemoth that is constantly judged by the standards it set, and against which every subsequent creation of Mr. Groening’s is measured.
As of 11 a.m. this June morning, Mr. Groening, 64, had already visited the “Simpsons” offices at the Fox studios in Los Angeles to give a couple of notes on an upcoming episode, and had dropped off his 5-year-old son, Nathaniel, at summer camp.
His wife, Agustina, an Argentinian-born artist, was home with their newborn twins, Venus and Sol. As Mr. Groening explained: “Spanish is the primary language in my house. I don’t speak a word, but I can tell when they’re talking about me.”
Mr. Groening was presently working from his personal office here in Santa Monica, a boxy building that does not exactly broadcast its Simpsons affiliations. Inside, the men’s and women’s bathroom doors are subtly distinguished with wavy lines suggesting the spiky haircuts of Bart and Lisa, and Mr. Groening’s second-floor work space is minimally decorated with Simpsons memorabilia, a few Frank Zappa albums and some dusty Emmy Awards.
The artifact he was most eager to show off this day was a weathered notebook in which, for the past eight years or longer, he’d scribbled down his ideas for “Disenchantment”: lineages of fictional royal families, lists of more movies to emulate (“The Princess Bride,” “Jabberwocky”) and sketches of a goofy elf named Elfo that he said he’s been drawing since the fifth grade.
“By the way, every character I draw is based on what I drew in the fifth grade,” Mr. Groening said. “They all have the big, round eyes, little nose and big overbite.”
From these disparate data points, Mr. Groening has built “Disenchantment” into a series about the misadventures of a rebellious princess (voiced by Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City”), that aforementioned elf (Nat Faxon) and a mischievous demon (Eric Andre).
Though each episode of “Disenchantment” tells a stand-alone story, Mr. Groening said: “Every single thing connects to things that will pay off later. There are moments from the very beginning — hints and clues and Easter eggs — that we lay in there for the people who really care.”
To construct and populate the show’s interconnected kingdoms, Mr. Groening had help from some trusted colleagues. Josh Weinstein, the showrunner of “Disenchantment,” was previously a showrunner at “The Simpsons” and a producer of Mr. Groening’s science-fiction follow-up, “Futurama,” which ran for seven seasons on Fox and Comedy Central.
When Mr. Weinstein joined “The Simpsons” in its third season in the early 1990s, he said the show was starting to perfect its comedic voice, one unlike anything on TV at the time.
“There were really big jokes, but there was also a comedy of realism and getting things just right,” Mr. Weinstein said, citing the rampant stupidity of Homer Simpson and the strange relationships between supporting characters like Principal Skinner and his mother, Agnes.
He said that even that early in the show’s run, Mr. Groening, a Portland, Ore., native who had moved to Los Angeles to become a rock critic and the author of the alternative comic strip Life in Hell, had already learned to navigate a strait-laced and demanding network-television environment.
“You might have thought Matt was Mr. Underground Cartoonist,” Mr. Weinstein said, “but he had a very organized mind for what he wanted.”
“The Simpsons” became a critical, cultural and commercial success, one that, in a pre-Internet era, was largely insulated from the opinions of its audience.
“We had no idea, really, what people were thinking, so we had total freedom,” Mr. Weinstein said. On “Disenchantment,” he added, “We have that feeling again, of absolute freedom to do what we want, which is so rare.”
The writing staff on “Disenchantment” consists of about a dozen people, about half who are veterans from “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” and half from animated shows like “Gravity Falls.”
“They haven’t heard of Mary Tyler Moore,” Mr. Groening said of these younger writers. “But I forgot to watch TV in the ’80s, so there’s an entire generation of references that have passed me by.”
Bill Oakley, Mr. Weinstein’s former writing partner, worked with him as a “Simpsons” showrunner and a “Futurama” producer. He said the directive from Mr. Groening on “Disenchantment” is that it shouldn’t “require the viewer to know anything about fantasy or even like fantasy,” adding that Mr. Groening “wants the show to be about the characters, about them growing up and going forward.”
It’s a lesson Mr. Groening said he learned, in part, on “Futurama,” which was set in a 31st century cohabitated by robots, aliens and lobster-people, and which was as much a sendup of genre conventions as it was of human interaction. On “Disenchantment,” he said, “We have to get past the fantasy jokes and into real emotion.”
His imperative also highlights the emotional investment that fans of “The Simpsons” have made in that show as it has grown and evolved over the years. Justin Roiland, the co-creator of the Adult Swim animated series “Rick and Morty,” said that, when “The Simpsons” is at its best, “the characters are more important than the jokes.”
“As you watch those first 10, 15 seasons, they really wrote up to those characters. They wouldn’t sacrifice the integrity of a character for a joke,” he continued. “You’d occasionally be surprised — oh, wow, I actually feel emotion for this cartoon.”
But as the “Simpsons” creative team has learned, its audience’s strong sense of connection to the show can cut both ways. For many months now, the show has been at the center of a debate over its character Apu, an Indian-American convenience-store owner (introduced in 1990), whom some fans feel is an outdated cultural stereotype.
Amid a longer discussion about the criticism of Apu, Mr. Groening said the argument had become “tainted,” adding, “There’s no nuance to the conversation now.”
“I think particularly right now, people feel so aggrieved and crazed and powerless that they’re picking the wrong battles,” Mr. Groening said.
Having become the longest-running scripted prime-time series in the television history, “The Simpsons” often faces questions about whether it remains as incisive as it once was, and whether it still has anything new to say. But Mr. Groening emphatically believes that it does. “I’m still crazy about the show,” he said.
“It’s not what it was back in its surge of insane popularity,” Mr. Groening said. But “it makes me laugh because it still surprises me.”
Mr. Groening said his interest in creating “Disenchantment” and showing it on a nontraditional platform came simply from a desire to try something new. “I just wanted to see what it was like to go someplace else,” he said.
But his colleagues suspect there is a bit more at stake for Mr. Groening, and that he wants to show he is as vital now as he was in past eras of his career. “If I had created ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Futurama,’ I might retire,” Mr. Weinstein said. “But he’s somebody who loves to work, to his credit. He wants to be judged for what he’s doing now. He wants to keep contributing.”
Mr. Groening has plenty to keep him busy: He is already working on a second 10-episode batch of “Disenchantment,” which Netflix will likely release next year. And he continues to contribute to “The Simpsons” — and is waiting to see how the Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of Fox might affect his best-known creation.
On the one hand, the deal triggers his innate suspicion of all things corporate. But if it means that “Simpsons” characters could someday appear at Disney theme parks, maybe he could live with it.
“It’s unknown territory,” he said. “I am dubious of synergy, creatively. But boy, I’d love to see a Simpsonsland.”