Exclusive: Anna Konkle on Pen15’s Brilliant Animated Special

Pen15 is getting (even) weirder.

Hulu’s critical darling, just nominated for an outstanding-comedy-series Emmy for the first half of its second season, is finally gearing up for its next run of episodes. But before season two returns in earnest with seven new installments, the show, written and cocreated by stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle and director Sam Zvibleman, will debut an animated special—and Vanity Fair has the exclusive first look.

“Jacuzzi” takes place in the immediate aftermath of Pen15’s midseason finale, wherein Maya (Erskine) and Anna (Konkle)—vividly drawn preteen girls portrayed by adult actors—jet off from a school-play afterparty in Anna’s father’s new Solara. The action morphs from live-action to hand-drawn, with “Jacuzzi” following Anna and Maya on a dinky family vacation in Florida. Naturally, the thrilling possibility of a getaway becomes a breeding ground for insecurities and unresolved emotions.

“The basic premise was going on vacation in Florida, and it never really being what you thought it was going to be,” Konkle tells Vanity Fair. “For me, it was staying at these economical—whatever my parents would call them—hotels and waiting for the fun to start and being like…it’s never going to start.” 

Courtesy of Hulu.

Initially, “Jacuzzi” had been slated as a stand-alone, 40-minute live-action episode, with planned camera tricks and prosthetics to visualize Maya and Anna’s surreal Sunshine State experience. “We got really excited about prosthetics. Before COVID, we were on the track. We were getting fitted for prosthetics; we had all these amazing digital pictures made of what we were going to look like. It was killing me, I was so excited,” Konkle says. “We had the choice when COVID happened: Should we try to wait and do this when things open up, or should we get this out sooner and just do it animated? We needed to be passionate about it being animated to do it; it couldn’t just be like second fiddle to the ideal. So we started digging in creatively.”

They fell in love with the new idea, commissioning hand-drawn animation from an artist in Ireland and playing with the sorts of exaggerations and surrealism that are already core to Pen15—just in an entirely new format. 

Konkle remembers her own family vacations as trips to “reject Florida,” as she puts it with a laugh. “I grew up going to Fort Lauderdale, where my grandparents lived in a retirement facility. I was excited to go, but then I would get there and remember, Okay, Anna, you’re sleeping on a mattress in the sunroom. So you’re going to wake up in a pool of sweat on rubber. And you will not see a person your age for a week, and if someone agrees to play cards with you, you’re lucky.”

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