Adam Reid had an emotional hangover on November 9 last year. As he grappled with the news that Donald Trump had prevailed over Hillary Clinton and realized Trump and Mike Pence would enter the White House in a matter of weeks, he felt deep pangs of premature nostalgia for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
“I think a lot of us wanted a time machine on November 9. It was like a car accident,” says Reid, a director and writer who co-founded the production company and agency Bodega Studios. He’s made M&M and Lean Cuisine commercials, as well as the feature film Hello Lonesome. He yearned for “the bromance and the comfort and character of Obama and Biden,” and he imagined an animated duo that could time-travel—à la the 1980s adventure Quantum Leap—to figure out where things went wrong and try to make them right.
The concept for Barry & Joe was fully formed the day after the 2016 presidential election shocked observers of all political stripes. But Reid says it felt, at the time, like a “stoner idea.” He set it aside.
What felt like an overreaction in November no longer did this summer, when Reid decided to see if perhaps he wasn’t the only one who missed Obama and Biden enough to want to turn them into time-traveling cartoon heroes. In early August, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise $100,000 to make a show opener and pilot. The project was funded with a little extra money (for a total of $107,904) on August 31.
“Now I get to actually go and make this beautiful thing,” Reid says. Following Trump’s inauguration, Biden will leap into the past and try to recruit Obama—who used to go by “Barry,” hence the name of the series—over and over again.
The first jaunt will likely be to Hawaii, where a 35-year-old Biden, who knows what the future holds, will approach a teenaged Obama, who doesn’t, to try to earn his trust and convince him to come help save the world. It will reimagine the story of their bromance, combining “Joe’s sort of passionate, volcanic, sensitive nature” and “Barack’s eloquence, grace and surefootedness.” Each episode of about 11 minutes will be a stand-alone, but the edges will connect.
Reid envisions another popular, albeit not political, figure as the guide in this time travel adventure: Neil deGrasse Tyson. “He’s bringing so much sanity and reason,” he says, calling deGrasse Tyson “one of many champions of humanity and science and logic. Our survival as a country and world depends on teachers and communicators like him.”
Reid dreams of having deGrasse Tyson play himself and, in a perfect world, would hire Jordan Peele and Chris Pratt to voice Obama and Biden, respectively, but he hasn’t asked yet.
The show is not meant to be an alternate history but rather a window into the actual histories of figures like Obama and Biden, as well as American society. As such, Reid doesn’t intend to shy away from unpleasant truths and difficult issues in our country’s past, including racism and sexism. But the series will also contend with the classic time travel concept where altering one small detail in the past can radically change the way the future unfolds. In this case, it could endanger Obama’s historic election as the nation’s first black president.
Every cartoon adventure also needs a villain. As Barry & Joe is currently planned, viewers will never see Trump’s face, only a “tiny orange hand,” says Reid. He explains that he’s styled the 45th president after unseen villains like Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the supervillain in Bond films who at first was never shown in full, just a hand stroking a cat, or like Dr. Claw in Inspector Gadget.
However, “the truth is, the show isn’t about him. It’s not even about demolishing his character and assassinating his brand,” Reid says about Trump. “He’s a footnote in our series. He’s not truly the larger villain, even though he comes back again and again. This is more about us versus humanity. Trump is just a symptom.”
Besides, “minimizing him is easy for me,” he says. “I don’t want to see him have adventures. I really just don’t have any interest in looking at his face more than I have to.”
Reid can’t say quite yet when or where this “ridiculous sci-fi nerd orgy” will premiere. He might produce it himself, but he’s hoping to find a production company and team to work with to make it bigger and better than he could on his own, and to help him get it on a popular streaming or cable platform.
The show may sound like a partisan echo chamber with an animated-time-travel-adventure veneer, and in some ways, Reid concedes it is a “liberal wet dream.” He knows that the premise of the series “might make anyone on the right side of the political spectrum want to vomit,” he wrote in his Kickstarter FAQ (now also in the FAQ section of a new website launched after the project was funded). “I can’t change that. I also really believe that anyone who watches it will also see that we’re making fun of ourselves, the left, so much more than the right. And THAT’s something that we’ve forgotten how to do in the age of Trump.”
And although the show is built on the idea that Obama and Biden might be able to go back in time and fix things, Reid isn’t convinced anything should really be changed. “The humanist in me is starting to come to terms with the fact that maybe we don’t really want to change the past,” Reid says. “It makes us who we are.”