Dan Harmon’s comedy – sometimes childish, sometimes erudite, usually with both sensibilities involved in a graphic wrestling match on screen – is not for everyone.
Even the shows of his that I love the most – Community And Rick and Morty And The Sarah Silverman Programthe usual stuff – lose me here and there.
It comes down to
Not Krappy, but surprisingly uninteresting.
Broadcast date: Special premiere 8:00 PM ET Sunday, September 24 (Fox)
To vote: Richard Ayoade, Matt Berry, Pam Murphy, Duncan Trussell
Creator: Then Harmon
There’s one thing I’ve never accused a Dan Harmon show of: bland.
Krapopolis, a long-running Fox animated comedy notable for its off-screen trivia — it’s already been renewed for a third season, plus it has a connection I don’t understand to the blockchain — is lame. The three episodes sent to critics make it look boring, the stories it tells are boring, and, strangest of all, the thematic underpinnings of the series are boring.
Krapopolis It’s never boring and I had to chuckle here and there. But I suspect most of my laughs came from the show’s exceptional vocal cast and not from the ideas, dialogue, or references contained within. Remembering the show doesn’t cause any animosity or pain, just general forgetfulness.
Our apparent hero is Tyrannis (Richard Ayoade), king of Krapopolis. In a mythical version of ancient Greece, populated by barbarian hordes, packs of rabid wolves and vengeful gods, Krapopolis is a beacon of civilization. Or at least Tyrannis wants it to be a beacon of civilization, which is confusing because no one knows what civilization is. Currently, Tyrannis is narcissistic and a bit spineless, and prone to using his powers of diplomacy to make the rest of the world like him – much to the chagrin of his overgrown warrior half-sister Stupendous (Pam Murphy) and undergrown scientist half-sister. -brother Hippocampus (Duncan Trussell).
Enter Tyrannis’ insecure goddess mother Deliria (Hannah Waddingham), who just wants to be worshiped, and his half-centaur, half-manticore father Shlub (Matt Berry), who just wants to have sex with everyone and everything.
In various episodic plots, Tyrannis negotiates with a rival king named Asskill (Keith David) – the percentage of things and jokes in this show that refer to butt stuff is almost 25 – Tyrannis falls in love with a nymph after killing a krab, and Tyrannis has invented a modern Olympiad that is not violent enough for its citizens.
I suddenly had to look this one up less than a week after watching it.
The strange thing is that Krapopolis is almost aware that it’s disappointing – and when I say “almost” it might be an understatement, because if any modern showrunner would make a series that was deliberately boring as a sociological experiment, it’s Dan Harmon. The first episode has a bit about how a joke at some kind of roast was “not funny out loud” and it’s not! The third episode opens with a reference to the city of the same name and a character insisting, “I swear it’s not as bad as the name sounds,” and it actually is!
Harmon has been interested in jumbled versions of history and civilization throughout much of his work. It is the primary plot of almost every episode of Rick and Morty and part of the plot of a dozen Community episodes.
In this series, however, the humor is mostly in the style of flat dramatic irony, using the past to make completely superficial observations about the present. This is a chance to see the birth of sports announcers, the first domestication of canines, the various ways vases were the tabloids of their day and, through one of Hippocampus’ investigations, the origins of criminal forensics. Civilization is represented by things like: refusing to move, filling houses with sticks and… yeah, I don’t know what else.
With that ‘using the past to comment on the present’ structure, Krapopolis does nothing more innovative than what The flints did many decades ago and what Disillusionment did quite recently on Netflix. But it is striking, or perhaps not striking, how sparse the visual and verbal landscapes are. This isn’t a show that rewards frequent pausing to catch background jokes, nor does it require you to rewind because chuckling at one joke made you miss the next. More often I was glad I missed lame jokes, like Poseidon’s cousin being called Bro-seidon.
Animated shows and comedies often take the most time to find their voice and their style, and I’m not entirely intolerant of Krapopolis requiring a similar grace period. But it does Krapopolis really establish much of anything in these first few episodes? Not really. Tyrannis is a whiny and wishy-washy leading man, so that puts him at odds with Stupendous. He doesn’t like how his mother inserts herself into every situation, so that puts him at odds with her. Shlub is horny all the time, so that makes Tyrannis… nothing special about him. And Hippocampus, with its head in a fishbowl and limbs that can’t support its body, would be a creepy creation if it weren’t so cute.
Hippocampus and Shlub, with his anatomy taken from his diverse assortment of biological ancestors, are the only characters whose basic design I found interesting and, thanks to Berry and Trussell, they are the only characters I found consistently funny. Shlub may feel like a variation on half the characters Berry has played – including, most obviously and recently, Laszlo from What we do in the shadows – but Harmon and company have a good idea of what a Matt Berry character should sound like, and it’s a blessing that Berry is there to say things like, “Son, as monsters, we have to be careful with our messages.” Evil monsters kill people. Good monsters have sex with people. Trust me, that’s where the action is.” The extremely performative Deliria, who can transform into a variety of animals, but most notably an ostrich, gives Waddingham a lot to do, but if the press releases sent out by Fox didn’t say her character was “goddess of self-destruction and questionable choices,” I wouldn’t have known.
There are some decent early vocal cameos, starting with David, but also including Yvette Nicole Brown, Dave Franco and Daveed Diggs. They’re all fine. None of them make it right away Krapopolis worth watching. For now, the show establishes a world that you can imagine Rick and Morty visiting at the beginning of an episode, but not a world that you can imagine them wanting to spend much time in.