'Inside Job' Part 2 Tackles the Mandela Effect and a 'Party Down' Reunion

'They're all kind of the broken toys in the toy box, and it was a plot exercise of what would have happened if they had never gone down that path,' creator and showrunner Shion Takeuchi tells Metacritic.
by Danielle Turchiano — 

'Inside Job'


Warning: This story contains spoilers for the second season of Inside Job, streaming now on Netflix. Read at your own risk!

What if the Mandela Effect was a result of a mad man purposely toying with the fabric of the world in order to create a specific set of circumstances that would better his own life? That's an idea Netflix's animated comedy Inside Job explores in its second season in a story line that sends up some of the most famous false memories from this effect, but also includes one very special creation all the show's own.

If you're not familiar with the Mandela Effect, let's start there before diving into the details of the show: It is the phenomenon that causes large quantities of people to incorrectly remember the same thing. It gets his name from the fact that there are scores of people who remember hearing Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s, when in fact, he lived until 2013. But its tentacles touch a lot more in pop culture, including how people think the book series The Berenstain Bears is spelled, whether Pikachu has a black section of his tail, if Sinbad ever starred in a movie about a genie titled Kazaam, and if Mr. Monopoly wears a monocle.

On Inside Job, specifically the episode titled "Project Reboot," things start simply enough with some of the above changes occurring in the team's world because of a device that Rand (Christian Slater) and J.R. (Andy Daly) created years ago that Rand is now controlling. 

"After we wrote that script, I read some like article that was like, 'There's gonna be a lot of alternate universe content in pop culture because everyone imagined, during the pandemic, the life that they were supposed to be leading and then the life that they ended up leading. I don't remember who wrote that article but I was like, 'That's super interesting,'" creator and showrunner Shion Takeuchi tells Metacritiv. "When you when your life is one way you're like, 'Wait, could I have led a different life by making different choices or if the world had made different choices or if we stopped the madman earlier?'"

The ripple effects cause global changes, including Russian winning the Cold War and Mikhail Gorbachev extending, rather than tearing down, the Berlin Wall. But most pressingly, they seemingly give various members of the team better lives than the ones they were living working for the shadow government in the so-called real world, which raises a temptation to not try to reset things.

These ripple effects carry over into the finale, titled "Appleton," both in a literal way, with one very special anomaly left behind for Brett (Clark Duke) to deal with, but also in the choices Reagan (Lizzy Caplan) makes.

She's always been determined not to be like her father Rand, and she just witnessed him literally altering everyone's world so drastically just so he could try to find one in which both his wife and daughter loved him at the same time. And, perhaps obviously, he doesn't find one. So, when her new boyfriend Ron (Adam Scott, marking a voiceover Party Down reunion for him and Caplan) asks her to move away with him and Reagan searches all of the possible universes (in a non-destructive way) and can't come up with one where they stay happy either, even though it hurts her now, she accepts that and lets him go on alone.

But she has bigger issues to contend with anyway as the Shadow Board, which has been watching over humanity and unleashing seemingly bad things to serve a greater good, is ready to unleash the secretive Project X37.

Here, Takeuchi talks to Metacritic about her inspirations for this story, including the surprise anomaly; if Rand really learned and grew from his experience facing the harsh truth of "Project Reboot"; and if the way Reagan left Ron allows for him to return.

What came first in deciding to tell a story about the Mandela Effect: Was it the desire to comment on these weird pop culture phenomena we're always talking about or was the entry point the desire to see Rand struggling with how far he's fallen from his family?

We wanted to do something that would be surprising and emotionally true. I think the audience wants Rand to be this mega villain and for Reagan to take him down in an epic battle, but the truth is more nuanced than that. It's subjective: Reagan has built him up in her head and built the baggage up in her head, and so, I think like the "Project Reboot" episode came from both a place of what would be really surprising to find out what Rand's motive is, and also we wanted go against expectations for exactly how their conflict would resolve.

Admittedly the alternate-universe lives for the characters only seemed better for a minute before they all realized there were darker things lurking, but how did you come up with the specific details of who would be doing what and how it would all go wrong?

It came from the question of, "How do people who are clearly gifted and smart end up working at the shadow government? They must have taken a wrong turn somewhere!" They're all kind of the broken toys in the toy box, and it was a plot exercise of what would have happened if they had never gone down that path. A lot of it was wish fulfillment stuff, and to see the characters getting a silly version of exactly what they want is satisfying. But ultimately, no reality is perfect, and because no reality is perfect, it's the strongest reason we should fix our reality instead of living in other things. Obviously the reality of our world, things are not great, but we need to come together to fix them.

There are a lot of different false memories the world really does share, but you also created a new one in Air Bud being a documentary in one universe and then having the dog get left behind as an anomaly Brett has to deal with. What inspired that?

Even though there isn't one about Air Bud, it felt perfect for Brett because he has an Air Bud jersey hanging in his office and he's felt an emotional attachment — there's even a joke that he sees himself in Air Bud — so it just felt like, to tell the story right, Air Bud would be perfect to pull on Brett's heartstrings.

You also had Gigi leading the Illuminati and getting Lin-Manuel Miranda to kneel before her, in a way. What made him ripe for such jokes?

It's because he's so well-liked and nice and famous for that. Seriously, no beef with Lin! It's the conceptual flip that we would show you this alternate side to him.

Reagan sees how much her father is willing to change to have the women in his life love him, but it's all stuff that changes the outside world, not him changing. But by the end of the episode, he does tell her she was right, which feels like growth she wasn't expecting. Is that a sign of deeper respect he does have for her that she will have to wrap her mind around, or is that just one of the anomalies that will soon fade from memories?

That is an interesting question. I think that their relationship arced vis-a-vis the betrayal from the end of Part 1, but it's no means a fully repaired relationship. And I think there's more to tell between the two of them, for sure, so I'll leave it at that.

How important to do you feel it is to walk back progress they have made for comedy?

I don't know if it's hard to walk back. People are complicated and they'll sometimes have brief moments of clarity but then go right back to how they are. That's extremely true without it being a forced television plot. I know from personal experience that totally happens! But it's really important to me to track the characters' growth along the series. Rand will never be a little teddy bear — that's not who he is — but I think there's definitely ways to remain true to what has unfolded and still have a fun time with him being who he is.

And Reagan does learn from the bad things her father does. Still, though, when she leaves Ron, she reads him a new story about his life for when he wakes up that still puts herself in it, just in a mysterious way. When he wakes up, does that instill a drive in him to find this mystery woman? What are the plans to see that character again?

Sometimes things are decided by story, sometimes things are decided by pragmatic production reasons, so the question mark is, "Can we get Adam Scott to return?" I don't know that we had initially discussed more than one batch of episodes, but I love Adam Scott and always need more Adam Scott!

Do you already have Project X37 arced out in terms of how it ties to the disasters they've prevented before?

I do think there are some things that will tie together going forward. I have an idea of where the series should ultimately go that we've had since the beginning. The exact details on the way may shift — disclaimer — but in terms of what these characters need to do to find themselves, I have a pretty clear idea.

Get to know Shion Takeuchi:
Inside Job is the first television series Takeuchi created, but she came up as a writer in the world of animation on projects that include Regular Show, Gravity Falls, and Disenchantment (Metascore: 56).