Friday, September 5, 2014

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

It looks like she's talking to somebody's ass.
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 Sopranos is back in the limelight again, not because another one of its stars died, but because of a Vox writer's misguided attempt to create click-bait for the crazy "Tony got whacked in that diner, and we've got proof!" conspiracy theorists. So "MadeMan," a mob genre-influenced Awesomes episode where The Sopranos happens to get mocked, has wound up becoming kind of timely, and what I like about "MadeMan," which was written by Ben Warheit, is that it parodies the elements of The Sopranos and The Godfather that other animated comedies usually don't pay attention to whenever they riff on either of them.

Instead of spoofing Tony, Big Pussy or the HBO show's frequently parodied final scene, "MadeMan" spoofs Dr. Melfi. (Is that Kate McKinnon or Cecily Strong voicing Dr. Romano, Impresario's therapist? Whoever she is, she's come up with the best impression of Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Melfi since Debra Wilson's uncanny impression of her during MADtv's classic "The Sopranos on PAX TV" sketch.) And instead of doing tired gags about Don Vito Corleone's wheezy voice (although "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" and "No Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day" get referenced), the horse's head scene or any other violent moment from the two Godfather movies (The Godfather Part III never happened), the episode focuses its attention on a minor section of the first Godfather, Michael's romance with Apollonia while hiding out in Sicily.

Another thing that's enjoyable about "MadeMan" is its visual sense. The episode displays a confidence in both its visuals and storytelling that The Awesomes didn't quite have when it started out ("MadeMan" juggles three different plots--Impresario's mama issues, the love life of Josh Meyers' Perfect Man character and Gadget Gal's mentorship of Tim into a skilled gambler--and intertwines them more smoothly than most animated comedies that attempt to juggle the same amount of plots). The show has come a long way since its cheap-looking, straight-out-of-a-2002-webtoon sewage monster in the first episode. Bento Box shows like The Awesomes and Bob's Burgers have a tendency to start out looking unremarkable, but then as their seasons unfold, their animation quality and visual sense both improve (to the point where the rough animation quality of an early Bob's Burgers episode like "Art Crawl" becomes really jarring upon rewatch, much like the animation quality on many first-season Simpsons reruns).

We only wanna see her blasting at the purple reign.
The whole section of Perfect Man the fugitive laying low in Sicily and falling for a local businessman's daughter who's not unlike Apollonia is done mostly without dialogue and was handsomely realized by the Bento Box animators (it's letterboxed too, which enhances the Sicily section's '90s Miramax chick flick vibe as the section becomes more than just a Godfather riff). The images of the city being flooded with Impresario's infinite clones of himself are also quite impressive for an animated show produced exclusively for a streaming service (although the lack of bystanders while the Awesomes attempt to clear the streets of Impresario clones is kind of distracting).

The flood of Impresarios is a result of a fed-up Impresario finally getting rid of his smothering mama Annabelle's presence from the magic jewel she gave him, which supplies him with his Green Lantern-style power of conjuring up purple energy constructs that all previously carried the visage and voice of Annabelle. Now that Annabelle is dating one of Gadget Gal's poker buddies and old Awesomes teammates, the gangland-themed retired superhero MadeMan (Bobby Moynihan), and focusing all her attentions on this other man in her life, her new relationship gives Austin an excuse to free himself of his ubiquitous mama and turn into the kind of independent grown man he's always wanted to be. An especially observant and amusing touch in Warheit's script is that Austin is so stunted as a mama's boy that one of his first acts of freedom is to fill his home at Awesome Mountain with arcade games, pinball machines and oversized toys, much like what 12-year-old Tom Hanks did when he got his first apartment in Big (the scenes of Impresario being ecstatic over all the new belongings he's conjured up, including the "Walking Piano" from Big, are particularly amusing for me because I happened to catch for the first time the expanded cut of Big on DVD right before I watched "MadeMan"). It's such a mama's boy's idea of parentless freedom.

This shit ain't the same without Robert Loggia as a duet partner.
Without the jewel version of his mama, Impresario becomes irresponsible and reckless and creates countless clones of himself to pamper both himself and his teammates. But he loses control of his duplicates and isn't able to make them disappear, so he turns to Prock for help, and Jeremy reveals to his teammates that, much like Batman does with his Justice League teammates, he keeps secret files on them that list how to defeat them if any of them ever becomes dangerous and needs to be stopped (example: trick Frantic into running into flypaper and then light his dick on fire). Prock may be far better as a leader and strategist than as an actual superhero, but apparently he dozed off on the day the lecturer at Sky High (or wherever superheroes in the Awesomes universe go for superhero school) told aspiring leaders to never divulge to their teammates that they keep secret instructions on how to take them down because revealing to them that they keep such secrets about them would just creep them the hell out.

Impresario's A-story in "MadeMan" is a good example of how, on screen, the superhero genre is really at its best when it's handled as a satire or comedy that embraces the inherent absurdity of the genre and makes the characters' battles with their own neuroses more engrossing than any of their battles against crime, like The Incredibles, The Venture Bros. or The Tick (which, by the way, made news last week when Amazon expressed interest in reuniting the live-action Tick's cast). When the genre becomes a completely humorless glorification of superheroes--like any Zack Snyder-directed comic book movie where, as Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu once put it while elaborating on his hatred of superhero movies, "the human quality" becomes so de-emphasized that the heroes wind up being unrelatable as characters--the genre's interminable as hell (as we saw in his lead-footed take on Watchmen, Snyder's one of those neo-con directors who's too dumb to handle satire; I'm now convinced that all the witty moments in Snyder's first and best movie, the Dawn of the Dead remake, were James Gunn's doing, not Snyder's). This all reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Playlist film critic Gabe Toro: "Why do they always have to 'fight crime'? I want to see a superhero movie where they join the circus."

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