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How Seth Rogen Became a Stealth TV Powerhouse

With his new HBO Max film An American Pickle, Rogen continues doing what he does best lately: producing TV.
  • Seth Rogen produces and stars in the new HBO Max film American Pickle. (Photo: Good Universe/Point Grey)
    Seth Rogen produces and stars in the new HBO Max film American Pickle. (Photo: Good Universe/Point Grey)

    In the realm of TV uber producers, some names loom especially large: Dick Wolf. Ryan Murphy. Shonda Rhimes. Greg Berlanti. These are the names behind some of the biggest TV empires of the 21st century, and every new project they develop is something that gets attention. While Seth Rogen hasn't yet entered the pantheon of those most elite of TV executive producers, he has quietly become a TV producing powerhouse in his own right, with the balance of his career shifting fin recent years from acting with producing on the side, to producing and sometimes acting.

    Producing isn't something Rogen came to late in his career. After making his acting debut on the short-lived NBC series Freaks and Geeks and the FOX's Undeclared, both produced by Judd Apatow, Rogen signed on for a small role in Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a film where he also received a co-producer credit. This was followed by a starring role and executive producer credit on the 2007 hit Knocked Up. That same year, Rogen had a small role in Superbad, another huge hit that he and his childhood friend Evan Goldberg wrote together. The next year, their script for The Pineapple Express was made into a movie, this time starring Rogen. followed by another Apatow film (and another producing credit) on Funny People, which was then followed by Rogen and Goldberg teaming up again to write and produce the superhero film The Green Hornet in 2011. Later that year, Rogen and Goldberg's production company, Point Grey Pictures, produced its first feature, the cancer dramedy 50/50, in which Rogen co-starred with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

    That's an incredibly short time span in which to enjoy that much success as an actor, let alone a writer and producer, and we probably don't make as much hay about that as we should. It was one hell of a hot streak, and while Rogen's acting career cooled off some over the next decade, he and Goldberg have kept up the pace on the producing end, branching out from such Rogen-starring films as Neighbors, Neighbors 2, The Disaster Artist, Long Shot and The Interview (which they co-directed), to other hits like Blockers and Good Boys.

    Since 2016, the duo has been been heavily involved in television as well, but since Rogen hasn't been in front of the camera, you may not have noticed that he's had a hand in some of the most interesting and offbeat shows of the last decade. A quick overview:

    Preacher: Based on the comic book series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, Preacher was a supernatural quasi-western about sexy, violent priests and alien entities. Starring Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga (among others), the show was the definition of an acquired taste, especially for AMC viewers who had been groomed to expect shows on the level of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and even The Walking Dead, which was supernatural but not remotely as heightened or campy as Preacher. Still, the series lasted four seasons and helped to launch eventual Oscar nominee Ruth Negga, so you have to call that a success.

    Future Man: Premiering on Hulu in 2017, Future Man starred wee Hunger Games heartthrob Josh Hutcherson as a time-traveling gamer who is called upon to save the world. Despite the appealingly eclectic cast (Happy Endings' Eliza Coupe; Oscar nominee Haley Joel Osment) and good reviews, the show never truly took off, and it ended in April with its third season.

    Black Monday: Rogen and Goldberg's best-received series to date has been Showtime's Black Monday, a lowkey, hilarious take on the 1980s, finance culture, excess, race, homophobia, and any number of other rather surprisingly weighty topics for a show this fundamentally silly. Featuring flawless performances from the likes of Don Cheadle, Regina Hall, Andrew Rannells, Casey Wilson, and more, the series is two seasons deep and remains one of TV's most underrated pleasures.

    The Boys: Continuing Rogen and Goldberg's streak of backing shows that might not be the biggest hits but occupy rather fascinating little corners of the entertainment landscape, The Boys is a hyper-violent take on superhero fiction, envisioning a world in which superheroes are unaccountable menaces to society. Its second season is set to premiere on Amazon Prime in September.

    What's especially striking about Rogen and Goldberg's television work is that their series have been distributed all across the TV landscape: basic cable (AMC), premium cable (Showtime), and streaming (Hulu and Amazon Prime). Which makes their latest project, for HBO Max, make all the sense in the world. An American Pickle comes across like a goofy premise, with Rogen playing double roles as an Eastern European immigrant in the early 1900s who falls into a vat of pickle brine and is preserved for over a hundred years and his own aimless Brooklynite of a great-grandson. While the pitch feels like it could be prime territory for a lot of "younger generations are soft" humor, the trailer promises something with a bit more wisdom and generosity. And if not, hey, there's always Succession's Sarah Snook.

    With American Pickle, Rogen's TV work is starting to feel more Rogen-centric, but don't be surprised if his producing acumen isn't what ends up being his most lasting contribution to TV in the long run. At the very least, you may want to start looking closer at those producer credits the next time you get into a TV show.

    An American Pickle is now streaming on HBO Max.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Seth Rogen, An American Pickle, Black Monday, The Boys, Future Man, Preacher, Evan Goldberg