Ward Regan lived in 61A. In 1999, Greg Abbey moved into 66A. Abbey was depressed. Regan didn’t notice. Abbey wanted to be alone. Regan didn’t care. Abbey tried to avoid Regan. Regan, a big fan of Seinfeld, adopted Kramer-esque tendencies and showed up uninvited to Abbey’s apartment in boxer shorts to watch his cable TV. After getting over finding Regan in his bathtub—more spacious than his own—Abbey finally warmed up to his oddly instrusive neighbor and discovered they had a common interest: cartoons.
Regan, an NYU history professor, liked to watch them. Abbey, an actor, had done voices for some. Abbey was Duke in GI Joe, Rick Wheeler in F-Zero. But he’s proudest of playing Raphael, the disgruntled turtle in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Abbey got new friend Regan a voiceover part—as Cabaji, a juggling clown with an accent inspired by Jean Lefitte, the French pirate who attacked New Orleans in 1812.
Their two apartments became one. Abbey and Regan went to the gym and out to brunch afterward at High Life, an Upper West Side sushi bar turned breakfast joint on the weekends. It was there, in 2000, they hit on what they thought could be a blockbuster idea.
“What about a cartoon character named Wasabi who’s a superhero?” posited Regan. And The Sushi Friends was born. The show’s cast would be animated Japanese food: Wasabi, a serious-minded blob of horseradish; Kanikyu, the crabmeat roll and communications expert; Ebi E, a jazz-loving shrimp in a black tux; Tony Toro, a slice of grade-A sashimi with a thing for John Travolta; and Eddie Mame, a young soybean. The friends would cruise around in a bento box with wheels. Their main antagonist—”sushi gone bad”—is a fried dumpling named Gyoza.
The cartoon would be aimed at kids, adults, and the South Park demographic who come home at two in the morning, high and drunk, and flip on the TV. Regan and Abbey wanted the show to be as popular as sushi itself.
As the nigiri came to life, though, Regan started having second thoughts.
“This is ridiculous,” he said one night to Abbey. “Sushi that can talk?”
“Dude, we’re OK,” consoled Abbey. “There’s a show on TV about a sponge who wears pants and lives under the sea.”
They pitched The Sushi Friends to large networks in Los Angeles—Sony, Disney, Warner Bros. But the only thing they came home with was a taste for Arnold Palmers—half lemonade, half ice-tea—which replaced their usual Pepsi at High Life brunches.
The idea lapsed until last fall, when Regan and Abbey picked up the project again. They’ve created a website (thesushifriends.com) and come up with several new plot ideas-—Sushi Night Fever, Crouching Tiger Hidden Sushi, and The Good, the Bad, and the Sushi. In one episode the dumpling Gyoza hosts the Oscars. They’ve sent the revamped pitchbook out to an agent, and now they wait—two more show-biz dreamers in a city full of them (and sushi bars).
But there’s still one big issue to figure out.
“If every character in their universe is food,” ponders Regan, a philosophy buff, “what do they eat?”