Digman!: Season 1 REVIEW – Shovelware

Digman! moves a lot of earth, for not much gold.


Andy Samberg is Rip Digman in Digman!. As one-word encapsulation of ‘we’re doing a jokey version of Indiana Jones’, full credit to them, they’ve got that down cold. The issue is, they seem to think that’s all they needed to get down on paper, and the rest would take care of itself.

Digman! makes the odd choice to include an overriding story, despite the episodic format, its blithe cartoony disdain for things as concrete as an overriding story, and the pell-mell of different writers. These things can gel, if done right, but here they aren’t and don’t. The two strands are clearly at odds with each other, and when this finally comes to a head and the desire to move the story on crashes into its sitcommy inertia, they have to resolve this by pulling a clumsy twist out of nowhere.

The adventure-of-the-week format should be child’s play to work with here. Each week, there’s a new locale, a new artefact — you know the drill. But Digman! runs out of steam quickly here, with each week’s new particulars hemmed in by their concessions to the larger plot, and actually finds itself repeating one of its stronger concepts (a lost civilisation of funny little creatures, which turns out to be deeply socially conservative) with severely diminished returns.

By and large the writers are all following the right voice, but one or two will occasionally slip up and throw in a dreadful rambling patch of nothing – the sort of dialogue that’s aiming for a laugh by being so pointless, but ends up only being pointless. Or if not that, some piece of wordplay that is slightly too convoluted to be anything other than forced.

But while that is clearly an indulgence, oddly Andy Samberg’s own self-indulgence provides a positive boon. Overacting, here, merely makes him more powerful. He does have the advantage that, even more than Indiana Jones, his performance is drawing on Nicholas Cage, a style it’s impossible to make over-the-top because it already is.

Samberg’s performance is, in all honesty, better than Digman as a character deserves. He’s at his absolute strongest when his flighty manchildishness is tempered by actually knowing the business of archaeology – which, sadly, isn’t all that often. More often he’s like some kind of enormous, flailing baby who has been rendered the protagonist for basically arbitrary reasons.

What’s really disappointing about the occasional useless tangent is how well the material’s judged elsewhere. Digman voicing a solution to the plot’s latest problem with the words “and luckily, I know just the new character!” perfectly nails the kind of irreverence they’re going for, the sort that will actually name-check Indiana Jones and change the tone at the drop of a hat and, yes, occasionally tap on the fourth wall with a smile.

But more often it courses past irreverent, and ends up in irrelevant. A bit too much of the wacky, too far a surrender to the search for the next punchline, no matter how badly it fits in with what’s going around it.

Speaking of wackiness: of the four characters of the main group, precisely two are actually characters. The others are undressed plot devices who the show tries to give the occasional plot of their own, but simply do not have the substance for that. At one point we actually have one of them volte-face on a position they’d adopted only minutes earlier, and explain this by declaring “I always say crazy shit like that, I was just being random,” which sums their existence up nicely.

Meanwhile, anyone who was a fan of Samberg’s chemistry with Melissa Fumero in Brooklyn Nine-Nine will come away disappointed. Fumero is, technically, in the cast, but her character spends almost all of the show literally frozen in ice, and given how much the press releases made of her presence I’m not inclined to give the production a lot of credit for honesty.

Even the villains – roles which are usually an excuse for an actor to roll out the ham and enjoy themselves – are pretty flimsy. As antagonists they go through the motions, fine, but you’d never in a million years see them laughing maniacally or twirling their moustaches.

The odd thing about Digman! is how obviously suited it would be to being a children’s – or at least all-ages – production. Aside from an occasional f-bomb or bit of cartoony gore, it’s broad, wacky stuff that could easily go out at 9am on a Saturday. Even some of the edgier material, like the episode which plays with the idea of Digman hitting a child (significantly funnier than I’ve made it sound, by the way), is the kind of knowingly nasty stuff that a lot of children really enjoy.

What makes it most suitable for a young audience, though, is its restless hyperactive energy. When things happen, they happen loudly and rapidly. This is a style Samberg’s no stranger to, but here it’s dialled up to a near-constant 110% speed, to the point that those rambling digressions I mentioned seem like the show crashing out for a quick disco nap.

And, make no mistake, this would have been to its credit. With our hypothetical PG-rated Digman!, the occasional flash of brilliance would have blown the kids’ socks off, and kept the mums and dads in the audience interested. Meanwhile, the more threadbare section, well, wouldn’t have been any better, but would have faced a less discerning public.

(Although one which would have never accepted a particularly excellent joke involving an abortion clinic.)

If there’s a reason it didn’t take this route, then beyond any of the more earthy humour, it’s likely because of the waning cultural cachet of Indiana Jones, Digman!’s parodic cornerstone. There is a fifth film in the works, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge towing the decrepit Harrison Ford around, but the average child audience has decent odds of thinking that, if anything, Digman! is riffing on Spelunky.

As a whole, Digman! can turn out some very good moment-to-moment stuff, but when it does it only goes to show up the far-less-good stuff around it. The central thesis of ‘what if, uh, it was like, Indiana Jones? But a cartoon?’ is, at most, about half an idea, and that’s reflected in the generally half-baked nature of the production.

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There is enough material, and genuinely good laughs, present in Digman! for a pretty good one-off short, maybe even a 90-minute Saturday matinee. Unfortunately this has been spread thinly over eight half-hours.