Friday, August 29, 2014

Animation Round-Up: The Awesomes, BoJack Horseman, Fugget About It

Small disclaimer here: Not everything on my blog is created equally. Entries vary by how much thought into them, how confident I felt about my analytical and putting-words-together skills, and the simple matter of time constraints. In other words, I'm not entirely sure this entry measures up to my other ones and I especially am conscious of this because I told several AV Club commenters who I met in real-life (along w/my boss at my retail job) to check out my blog, and I advise them all (as well as potential employers) to skip to the next entry if they want to see me supremely pwn the blogosphere with my critical mastery. At the same time, I did go through the trouble of putting some words down and I view this blog as a sketchpad for my critical thoughts. Why delete them?

BoJack Horseman
The rap from several reviews I've read on this show is that it fits in more with the height of the Adult Swim reign of animation and not the intelligent cartoons of today like "American Dad" or "Archer" (I’d insert Bob’s Burgers in here except I personally don’t agree with the assessment of the show as amazing).

The show stars Will Arnett as a washed-up actor (who also happens to be a horse, more on that later. I promise) 20 years after his heyday (or should I have gone with hay day for the easy pun?) as the star of a TGIF-like sitcom.

"BoJack Horseman" suffers from a slow start out of the gate with a couple substandard episodes and that is generally all the time a critic can give a show in a TVscape as crowded as this one.

The pilot episode, heavy with exposition (which is understandable), zeroes in on protagonist BoJack Horseman before all the character development kicks in and he's as uninteresting as a seemingly irredeemable jerk can be. The jokes and pacing are somewhat awkward here.

The second episode tries to mine humor out of a taboo topic: Political correctness and how we regard the military as heroes and not only fails. When handled well (See "30 Rock") something like this kills but it just paints BoJack as somewhat of a buzzkill a la one of the Crane brothers (from the Frasier era, NOT Cheers) at a Tiki bar (or pick whatever plebian setting you want to complete this analogy).

The show's primary gimmick-- anthropomorphicizing (I wrestled spell check for a while on that one) the characters in subtly clever ways and mixing them into the human world-- is enough to pique one's interest during the early episodes but if one quits the series early, that's all they'll find: An only occasionally funny Hollywood satire that's been done before.

"BoJack Horseman" isn't particularly easy to get into, but a few episodes in, the show's pathos and interesting character dynamics shines through. Like Will Arnett's previous work, "Arrested Development," the show features characters who aim to be dynamic and get out of their ruts in life. Unlike "Arrested Development" however, the show dares to give them, and us hope, at actual improvement and toys around with the idea of whether the characters are going anywhere at all. Either way, there's a definite investment to the characters by season's end that gives the show life.

The satire also starts getting sharper once the hidden jokes and the parallels to ABC's TGIF line-up of the 1990's start to reveal themselves. People might not notice on first viewing how spot-on "Horsing Around" gets.

The character dynamics also offer a lot. Mr. Peanut Butter (another TV has-been who happens to be a dog and is a great people pleaser) as a mirror universe version of BoJack and the two have an odd rivalry that occasionally bleeds into friendship.

The latest to get in on the superhero parody trend is Seth Meyers who developed this show during his days in the writer’s room of SNL. Apparently, he still has room for the show in a busy schedule that has included running the SNL writer’s room and launching his own talk show in the last 12 months.

In the superhero universe of “The Awesome”, the world is overwrought with superheroes who are heavily regulated by a bureaucracy that subdivides superheroes into classes. At the bottom of the barrel class is our mild-mannered hero Prock (Meyers) who compensates for his lack of an effective superpowers through intelligence (Prock stands for Professor Doctor). When Prock's dad, a highly revered God-like superhero, announces his retirement, Prock begs him to take over but must build a team from scratch.                        

The superhero spoof genre is becoming pervasive enough that it's hard not to notice overlap between any number of movies or TV shows including "Sky High", "Mystery Men" and "The Incredibles." At the same time, the more superhero stories pervade our TVs and movie screens, the more room there is for entries in the superhero spoof subgenre to find their niche.

The show is capable at times of being clever which is what's to be expected from a self-professed comic book geek and SNL head writer.

The problem is generally that many of the characters are weak and uninteresting and those characters take up a lot of the screen time. Taran Killam plays a one-note redneck speedster, Keenan Thompson plays a mama's boy who sounds like Kenan Thompson always does, Rashida Jones is little more than the girl-next-door who makes the protagonist lovesick, and Bobby Lee plays a boy who turns into sumo wrestler. His character being the kid on the team seems like it has some potential to be any sort of character dynamic but it's quickly dropped (ed. note: I wrote this review before the Sumo-centric episode) .

Ike Barinholtz is moderately potential-filled as the sidekick, and a lot of the more interesting characters come from outside the superhero team: Bill Hader as supervillain Malocchio and Josh Meyers as rival Prock..

Interestingly enough, a couple of SNL's writers Emily Spivey and Paula Pell voice characters here. Pell's character is equally one-note with a moderately gross angle about an old woman being sexy and Spivey's character, a super-secretary of sorts with a charming Southern accent named concierge, is the kind of character who feels like she belongs in a more well-rounded cast.

The second season takes a few more risks and branches out in a few more directions. So far, none of the episodes have left any lasting scars like the episode last season in which Barinholtz's muscleman is dragged into a paternity suit with an alien race and it's revealed he has a thing for houseplan----oh God, I don't want to talk about it anymore (This episode made the 26 worst of the 2013-2014 season list by The AV Club).   The funniest running gag to date is Rashida Jones' Hotwire coming back to life in disguise and awkwardly attempting "Dudespeak" around former love interest Prock.

While the show is moderately watchable, it still has to work extra hard to convince us it's not just something that the "Saturday Night Live" cast threw together between the Wednesday night read-through and Friday's rehearsal.

Fugget About It

A hitman for the mob goes into witness protection and hides out with his family in Regina, Saskatchewan. The show gets down and squicky in a way that cartoons are allowed to get away with these days: Blood and guts usually feels more comic in animated form, although is it really necessary? The show is watchable and has its moments but the show suffers heavily from being in a genre where it's hard to differentiate oneself from the many imitators that have come before it.

Whereas "The Awesomes" gets away with genre humor (or rather genre parody humor) because the thing being parodied is continuing to evolve and comprise an increasingly large share of the cinemascape, the mob parody film has been done to death.

From "Analyze This" (or for that matter, everything Robert De Niro has done since "The Score") to "Kiss Me Kate" (I'm referring to the play, although I believe there's a movie or three?) to "Bullets Over Broadway" (once a movie, now a Broadway play, will probably get a movie eventually), mafia parodies are as old as time.

While the show even has some pretty ambitious plots (the elder daughter joins a menomite clan in one, the Queen of England accidentally comes to Jimmy's house, etc.) and delivers on them with satisfying comic execution but with a genre like this, the show falls well into the "comfort food" category of viewing.

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