Big Mouth – Season 1

Big Mouth

For all of its crassness, this feels like it has the makings to be an important piece of television. Hell, if it wasn’t so unabashedly vulgar, it would be a great substitute for whatever passes as “sex ed” nowadays. But maybe the target audience is supposed to be adults for no other reason than that we’ve already been through the pains of puberty and can watch these episodes with a sigh of relief. There’s a surprising amount of heart and sympathy put into this show when it comes to portraying the struggles that teenage boys and girls go through. I love that their hormonal desires are represented by an imaginary monster who knows no boundaries, even as the kids themselves try to remain as wholesome as possible.

Granted, the hormone monster is often overused in an attempt to squeeze more jokes into each episode. The humor is pretty hit and miss, actually. There are some funny, self-referential gags about Netflix and TV, and anything that directly relates to the overall theme of growing up is grossly charming (and I do mean grossly). But there’s also a lot of filler that bogs down everything else the show is trying to accomplish. The constant shoehorning of secondary characters, for example, can be grating. The show really wants to make Coach Steve a thing, much like Coach McGuirk in Home Movies, but Coach Steve is seriously the worst.

It doesn’t help that Coach Steve is voiced by Nick Kroll in his go-to “this is my funny voice” voice. Kroll plays several characters, and while I love his work as the hormone monster (so much so that I didn’t even know it was Kroll at first), I hate Coach Steve and Lola. Big Mouth has so much respect for its other female characters that I don’t know why Lola had to be voiced by a man. I’m also not a fan of Jason Mantzoukas’s Jay. Mantzoukas is just never funny as a cartoon character. The real standout, however, is John Mulaney as Andrew. He so perfectly captures teenage awkwardness and that relatable pit of wanting to be a good, straight-A student while having dirty thoughts about everything. We’ve all been there, right? … Right?

Bojack Horseman – Season 4

Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman has become such a tonally disjointed show. The wackiness has only gotten wackier while the sadness has only gotten sadder. This juggling act of emotions is what made Seasons 2 and 3 so endearing, but the doubling down on these extremes has created a somewhat rocky Season 4. Don’t get me wrong, though. Season 4 is still great overall and has some very funny moments to counter the ones that hit you in the feels. But the serious moments are really depressing while the lighthearted material is so zany, it might as well be a different show. The fact that Bojack and his friends rarely cross paths this season reinforces that idea, that you are practically watching two separate shows at once.

The sadder stories are saved for Bojack and Princess Carolyn while the Saturday morning cartoon shtick orbits around Todd and Mr. Peanut Butter. It’s more jarring than usual to watch a full episode of PB hijinks and then cut to Bojack at the end, where shit’s getting real. Thankfully, the sadness that typically follows Bojack isn’t due to his own self-sabotaging behavior anymore. The guy’s actually trying to be a better person in this season. We get a rare glimpse inside Bojack’s mind, though, as well as a glimpse at what his mother’s childhood was like, that explain why Bojack and his mom are the assholes that they are. A whole show of just that would obviously be too heavy, of course, but there’s no reason why the B stories have to be so segregated and outrageous to compensate.

The Tick – Season 1

The Tick

Amazon’s new rendition of The Tick couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve grown a bit jaded by the slow, brooding pace of the Marvel/Netflix shows. The Tick is nearly the polar opposite with a protagonist (Tick) who is overly optimistic all the time, even as real-world violence takes place around him. That can be a little jarring at times, since the show’s heroes and villains are so goofy yet revel in the occasional F-word and blood-spurting murder. But I also really appreciate that the show’s universe allows these super characters to be goofy and over-the-top while the civilians are still regular, old, normal people. The Tick’s “Saturday morning cartoon” behavior can be pretty funny when the people around him look at him like he’s crazy.

On the topic of crazy, though, the show first suggests that Tick is nothing more than a figment of Arthur’s imagination, and I was really worried that that would end up being the case. The Tick needs more people than just Arthur to play off of his childishness. Fortunately, they drop the “imaginary friend” angle by the end of the second episode. However, it does still take a long time for Arthur to not only realize that Tick is real but that he’s not going away. I know it’s important to establish Arthur’s character and motives, but with only six episodes, I didn’t want us wasting the whole season on the reluctant hero storyline. It’s in the final episodes where Arthur accepts his destiny that the show becomes really fun and funny.

What also makes the show work so well in the second half is that we have a much bigger cast of characters by then. Anti-hero Overkill is a great addition, because his brutal methods are so at odds with Tick’s. It smells of Daredevil vs. Punisher, sure, but it’s played for laughs. I think my favorite thing about the show, however, is the main villain: the Terror. He doesn’t even have much screen time, but he’s honestly the best comic book villain I’ve seen since… I don’t know, the Joker from The Dark Knight? What made the Joker effective was that he would do random, crazy shit purely for the fun of it. He loved being bad. The Terror is the same way. And isn’t that the perfect foil to a sugary do-gooder like the Tick?

The Defenders – Season 1

The Defenders

The Netflix Marvel shows have had their moments of greatness but were pretty rocky overall. Still, I was really looking forward to The Defenders, because (particularly in Danny Rand’s case) these heroes needed to be able to play off of each other to truly shine. The Defenders doesn’t have the characters meet up until the third episode, though, in an already shortened season. But when Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Danny finally come together, it’s definitely fun. Luke and Jessica really help balance out the mythical nonsense that bogged down Season 2 of Daredevil and Season 1 of Iron Fist. Danny Rand isn’t nearly as insufferable when Jessica Jones is there to roll her eyes.

Unfortunately, that mythical baggage is the heart of the threat here, which means sitting through more Hand drama. Seriously, can we please move onto better bad guys? These resurrected ninjas are getting boring. I thought putting Sigourney Weaver at the head of the Hand would mean we’d get some actual substance, but she didn’t even do anything. All of the leaders of the Hand felt useless, since the “Black Sky” carried most of the conflict. Considering who the Black Sky is, though, the conflict felt fairly muted throughout. I knew things would end in a tepid showdown where nobody dies, despite how much the show wants you to think someone dies. And I bet that means we haven’t seen the last of the Hand. If that’s the case, I think I’m finally done with these shows.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later – Season 1

Wet Hot American Summer

The creators of Wet Hot American Summer are really milking this thing, aren’t they. The First Day of Camp prequel alone was hardly necessary back in 2015. To be fair, however, that ended up being a really funny season of TV. I’m not even a fan of the original movie, but First Day of Camp proved that you could successfully bring an ensemble back together years later in ways that Arrested Development’s Season 4 failed to. First Day of Camp was clearly an anomaly, though, because Ten Years Later is the kind of flop you would expect when resurrecting past properties.

One of the big jokes in First Day of Camp was that these actors were playing younger versions of themselves, but in Ten Years Later, that doesn’t quite work anymore. The characters are older, and the actors are (significantly) older. They couldn’t even get Bradley Cooper to make a brief cameo in this one, but instead of writing his character off, they replaced him with Adam Scott, who’s also not in it that much. It’s impressive the talent they brought in, but given everyone’s obviously busy schedules, the show is less an ensemble and more a series of unrelated “where are they now” vignettes.

What’s even stranger is that they shoehorned in two new characters who weren’t in the original movie or prequel and then spent a huge amount of time with these people we have no reason to care about. Their love triangle isn’t interesting. Coop’s new love triangle isn’t interesting. Hell, none of the side stories are interesting. It all feels so… pointless. It’s just snippets of, “Hey, remember this? Hey, remember her?” with the very occasional, actually funny joke. While those few good jokes did make me laugh, the season as a whole simply didn’t need to exist and sours the goodwill First Day of Camp generated.

Friends From College – Season 1

Friends From College

For a TV show that has the word “friends” in the title, this is some of the most unbelievable camaraderie I’ve ever seen. These people don’t feel like friends at all. Sure, the dialogue constantly reminds you that they have history, and the montages scream, “Look, we’re having fun together!” but it’s all so forced. I guess you could argue that, being horrible people, they don’t have many other options. But the characters aren’t comically horrible like the gang from It’s Always Sunny. They’re more like the characters from The League: upper-class assholes who get enjoyment out of sabotaging each other. At least The League was pretty funny in its first few seasons. Friends From College simply has no sense of humor.

I’m actually confused how I should have approached this show. Was it supposed to be a comedy? It seldom tries to be funny, and when it does attempt comedy, it fails on cringe-worthy levels. I think the show would have been better received if it just went all-out drama and re-cast everyone. I don’t know why you would bring in actors like Keegan-Michael Key and Billy Eichner if you’re just going to subdue their normally manic personalities. Occasionally, Key will talk in a funny voice or flail around, but those moments of “levity” are so out of place with the rest of the cast. His random, jokey behavior doesn’t excuse the fact that his character’s a dick, anyway.

So one of the main story threads is that Key’s character has been cheating on his wife with another woman… who happens to be in the same circle of friends. Yeah, hard to root for a guy in that situation. And if watching one affair isn’t bad enough, the show introduces a second affair within the same circle of friends in the last few episodes. Seriously, these people have no respect for each other. At least the friends from It’s Always Sunny and The League had something in common to keep them together. Here, I just never saw a connection. They were friends, because it’s a TV show. They were cheating on each other… because it’s a TV show. A pretty bad TV show, to boot.