Even as the pandemic wears on into August, the tentative predictions that all television will need to become animated or find some other way of working safely just don’t seem to have panned out. Why, three of the five shows we’re about to discuss aren’t cartoons at all.
1. Hitmen | August 6
You probably know Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins from a rather slow programme about pastry, called The Great British Bakeoff. This, in fact, is very clearly what this knockabout comedy is relying on. It’s an age-old formula of ‘here are people known for a certain kind of role, doing something completely different’ – you know, like how Bryan Cranston went from family dad to meth cook.
There is a select but ravenous appetite from the rest of the world for British folk being affable and bumbling and Mel and Sue have a proven track record in that regard. Nail that baseline and you’re away. You can have your chummy Brits travelling through time, robbing banks, or, as we do here, killing people professionally, it doesn’t matter, it’ll sell.
All told, this seems like a slightly grittier version of the quintessential action-buddy-comedy setup, and any grit provided by the violence of them being hitmen (bit of a misnomer here) will likely be leavened, if not negated, by the simple fact of them being Mel and Sue.
2. Star Trek: Lower Decks| August 6
Some years after Seth MacFarlane hit a winner with the same idea, the actual Star Trek franchise has figured out how fundamentally ridiculous it is and turned out a jokier, deconstructive, cartoon version of itself.
It’s created by Mike McMahan, who’s written for Rick & Morty (promising) and co-created Solar Opposites (less promising). The former has, throughout, been playing with sci-fi tropes in about the right way this project would need to succeed – but so was Cracked.com’s short-lived web show Starship Icarus, whose elevator pitch would read unsettlingly similarly to that of Below Decks, and that was back in 2014.
Where this will live or die is in just how ruthless it’s willing to be in taking the piss out of the Star Trek franchise. It could be a Mel Brooks-style combined love letter and parody, alternatively it could be the kind of lazy mockery which thinks a joke about red shirts dying often is a secret fandom in-joke. Though as living or dying goes, apparently CBS have already greenlit a second season, so they’re clearly pretty confident in the name-brand recognition if nothing else.
3. Upright | August 6
Comedians who incorporate music into their act are a bit of a novelty, but there’s an in-built quality threshold to such an approach – you have to do both things well, or one will irreparably scupper the other. Tim Minchin handily vaulted that bar with his song ‘Prejudice’ alone.
Upright bills itself as a drama rather than a comedy, but there’s an inherently wacky tinge to the idea of an odd couple thrown together by chance trekking a piano across the Australian desert. All manner of silly things and mishaps will, presumably, happen. And the piano itself will probably get trotted out at some point too.
4. Dallas & Robo | August 8
A bit of a cheat here, since this was originally a web show that first went out on YouTube in 2018 – but that means it’s one of the statistically insignificant number of Youtube Premium projects which have made the leap from the various tube websites to being actual telly. Stuff like ‘Scare PewDiePie’ certainly can’t say that.
This is in no small part due to being fronted by living meme and generally likeable guy John Cena. He plays a robot, him and his human sidekick (Kat Dennings) are space truckers who go through space getting into scrapes. In the wide world of sci-fi cartoons, it’s a more good ol’ boy approach than some of the unbearably uppity and smug offerings out there.
Between this and the sadly departed Mike Tyson Mysteries, turning a large, charismatic professional athlete loose in a cartoon world seems to be a surprisingly robust formula for adult animation. It’s remarkable to think nobody’s tried it with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson yet.
5. Lovecraft Country | August 16
It’s a shame to see Jordan Peele laying in the hammock of being an executive producer, since the man’s genuinely gifted – as a performer, we all know that, but also as a creator in the not-as-opposed-as-you-might-think fields of comedy and horror. And given the main example of the latter was his film Get Out, a blending of horror and racial politics, there’s really nobody better to tackle Lovecraft Country.
The lower end of internet comment sections everywhere are already accusing the creators of politicising Lovecraft Country – ignoring a) that Lovecraft’s work was already shot through with racial overtones, and b) that Lovecraft Country is an adaptation of an entirely separate work by Matt Ruff. Everyone fares badly up against Lovecraft-style gribblies, so how do those from an already-marginalised group manage? Tremble to think.
Heading the cast are Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett, Aunjanue Ellis, Jada Harris, Courtney B. Vance, and Michael Kenneth Williams, most of whom appear to be playing members of one family group. Focusing on a family, or indeed anyone, is a departure from the classically Lovecraftian style of cosmic horror, where the protagonists are little more than placeholders who bad things happen to. But given this, it seems like cosmic horror isn’t what they’re going for, rather a more straightforward horror experience a la The Haunting Of Hill House.
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