Friday, August 15, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: The Awesomes, "Destination Deading"

Seth Meyers channeled his frustration over his Late Night bandleader Fred Armisen's frequent absences for this scene.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

The superhero sitcom The Awesomes, about a cash-poor team of misfits and their equally inept adversaries, is easily the best of Hulu's batch of original animated shows--a batch of mostly horrendous, often Canadian-made shows. I can't say The Awesomes is a great show quite yet, but it might be getting there. The first season of The Awesomes was marred by animation by Bento Box that was as rough-looking as the Burbank and Atlanta animation studio's work on Bob's Burgers was during that now-great Fox show's first season, as well as the stilted, Jerry Seinfeld-during-Seinfeld-ish voice acting of Awesomes co-creator Seth Meyers, whose previous experience with the superhero genre was co-writing a Spider-Man comic with Awesomes co-star Bill Hader. In the second season, Meyers has clearly been growing a little more comfortable with the voice work, plus Bento Box is starting to play around more with shadows and shading, so The Awesomes has been looking less and less like a visually flat Flash webtoon from 2004.

Meyers and co-creator Mike Shoemaker just need to ditch the annoying device of having Meyers' neurotic and meek team leader character Prock always use his superpower of freezing time, not to perform heroic tasks but to monologue, and not to the audience like how Zack Morris monologued on Saved by the Bell but to himself for some weird reason (perhaps Meyers is trying to avoid making Prock resemble Zack by having him talk to himself, but it just continues to remind me of Zack). The big running joke in these time-freezing scenes is that there's always some sort of dangling opportunity for Prock--who has to follow his doctor's orders about not using his superpower for too long because it gives him nosebleeds--to make that superpower useful, but he keeps ignoring it. It's a good running joke that's reminiscent of self-important Maxwell Smart's ineptitude on Get Smart, but it can't disguise the fact that these scenes are such a clunky exposition device (Jody Schaeffer and George Krstic were better at the self-monologuing thing when Coop always did it in the middle of robot battles on Megas XLR). The device shows up in every Awesomes episode, and it briefly mars "Destination Deading," a solid Awesomes episode that riffs on both Andy Serkis' unexpectedly popular Planet of the Apes prequels and the absurdities of expensive and tedious destination weddings, from $800-a-night hotel rooms to $18 glasses of lemon water.

Fox says that Wedding of the Century on the Planet of the Apes will be the much-ballyhooed follow-up to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Recently on Late Night with Seth Meyers, the host told the audience that much of "Destination Deading" was lifted from an Awesomes staff writer's terrible experience as a guest at a destination wedding. "One of the writers said, 'Oh, [the Awesomes] should have to go to a destination wedding, and that will be worse than any supervillain they've ever fought because nothing's worse than when you get invited to a destination wedding.' And what made that hard for me to hear was he had been a guest of mine at my destination wedding," said Meyers.

The Awesomes co-creator's willingness to make fun of himself and own up to the mistakes he and his bride put their wedding guests through ("It was a nightmare. We were awful people," added Meyers) is one of a few reasons why I can't get mad at The Awesomes, even whenever Prock is awkwardly rattling off exposition to himself or when Prock, who's saddled with daddy issues, and his season 2 nemesis Malocchio Jr. (Will Forte)--the Black Canary-inspired accountant son of Malocchio (Hader, terrific as always), season 1's big bad (and now maybe a season 2 ally)--both come off as Venture Bros. lite. Another thing that helps The Awesomes through its rough spots is the simple fact that the members of the Awesomes are likable without being bland, as well as flawed without being as detestable as the characters of Hulu's other animated shows Fugget About It and Mother Up!, which both follow the increasingly hackneyed "let's make everybody an asshole for the sake of shock value" model of animated comedy.

Impresario (Kenan Thompson), a magician-themed hero saddled with a smothering mom (also voiced by Thompson), Concierge (Emily Spivey), Gadget Gal (Paula Pell) and Sumo (Bobby Lee) are my favorites of the team (which, fortunately, is as diverse as Meyers' unexpectedly diverse Late Night writing staff). Impresario's Green Lantern-style constructs always take the shape of his mom, and they're an amusing and effective running gag (Impresario's construct in "Destination Deading" turns into a mash-up of Mom and Godzilla, complete with Japanese lettering beside her). The Awesomes' efficient secretary Concierge--who was promoted to official Awesomes team member in the last episode despite not having any superpowers and was also given a snazzy new jumpsuit to replace her standard secretary outfit--borders on Mary Sue territory. But Spivey--a veteran SNL writer who created and then fled the sinking ship known as Up All Night and was recently involved with the equally troubled How I Met Your Dad pilot that didn't sell--imbues Concierge with a nicely irascible Southern voice that keeps the character from being Blandy McPerfectshoes.

'Wedding planner' is second to 'all-knowing gay BFF' as 'most overused rom-com character.'

Enjoyable voice work by another veteran SNL writer--Pell, who wrote two of my favorite SNL commercial parodies, Litter Critters and Homocil--also distinguishes Gadget Gal, an elderly heroine in a rejuvenated body that's modeled after the look of the '40s Silk Spectre from Watchmen. And Daily Beast contributor and Jeopardy! champ Arthur Chu has been wishing for an Asian Hulk (after Marvel gender-swapped Thor and made Captain America black) because Hulk's identity crisis reminds him so much of the cultural baggage of being an Asian American male who's constantly stereotyped and emasculated, but Chu clearly hasn't been aware that The Awesomes already features an Asian Hulk. He's in the form of 11-year-old Tim, a.k.a. Sumo, a mash-up of Hulk (brute strength) and Shazam (a little boy in a big guy's body).

Scripted by Dan Levy, "Destination Deading" continues the running joke of everyone on the team (except for Ike Barinholtz's supportive best friend character Muscleman and Taran Killam's deferential-to-Prock speedster Frantic) finding Prock to be a dorky stick in the mud, exemplified in this episode by the schmoopy talk between Prock and his new lawyer girlfriend Jaclyn Stone (Meyers' old Weekend Update partner Amy Poehler). But the team's dislike of Prock's mushy phone conversations with Jaclyn is immediately outweighed by their dislike of the overpriced drinks and suites during the wedding of Muscleman's sister Abby (Meyers' old Chicago improv partner Jill Benjamin), who had an unrequited crush on Prock and isn't quite over him, and David Apelstein, a mild-mannered chiropractor from the ape nation of Apesylvania. An Awesomes episode wouldn't be complete without a battle between superheroes and supervillains, so "Destination Deading" pits the team against the groom's grumpy uncle Elliot Levy-Apelstein (Colin Quinn), who uses his nephew's wedding to plot an ape uprising against humans.

Absent from this episode is Hotwire (Rashida Jones), an Awesomes member who turned out last season to be a reluctant mole for her dad Malocchio and is currently thought to be dead by her teammates, including Prock, who fell in love with her. Rescued off-screen by drunken Teleportation Larry (Bobby Moynihan), Hotwire has kept herself hidden and is pretending to be a male armored hero named Metal Fella. Jones excels at playing awkward--one of my favorite Jones scenes on Parks and Recreation had Ann Perkins trying and failing to bond with Ron Swanson's little stepdaughters--so Hotwire's awkward attempts at dudebro talk with Prock while she was suited up as Metal Fella last week marked the first time that this show has used Jones really well as a voice actor. Also absent from "Destination Deading" is Bob's Burgers voice actor Dan Mintz, who joined the Awesomes writing staff this season and voiced several different side characters in the episode he wrote, "Hotwire's Funeral," so it was kind of bizarre to hear Tina Belcher's voice--which is basically Mintz's normal speaking voice--popping up on another show and emanating from people who don't look like Tina. But "Destination Deading" is worthwhile for nailing the tediousness of weddings, especially destination weddings. "It's like a vacation, but at an inconvenient time, twice as expensive, not where you actually want to go," grumbles Concierge, "and instead of having a vacation, you go to a wedding." I've never been invited to a destination wedding, but if I had to pay $18 for a glass of water, I'd rather stay parched.

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