Webisode Review: The Awesomes Pilot (2013)

“The Awesomes: Our Bar is Lower”

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If you ever wished for the old-school cartoon shorts on Saturday Night Live to become a regular web series…you musta wished upon the right star or something.

My big sister was pushing for me to review this show, and, as you all know, I am a critic who takes requests.  So, this week, I decided to take a look at Hulu’s original animated sitcom, The Awesomes (which you can watch for free HEREEEE).  So, without further ado – but actually, because midterms are kicking my ass – let’s see if this little web series is worthy of its title.

THE PREMISE/PILOT

In a world where superheroes are idolized like movie stars, Mr. Awesome (Steve Higgins) – leader of the most famous superhero team, the Awesomes – retires as an old man after sixty years of service.  Enter his “everyman” son, Prock (Seth Meyers), who is about as extraordinary as the slightly whiny voice behind his character – it’s Seth Meyers doing Seth Meyers…while I love him as a writer, why is he voice-acting?  Anyway, while Prock lacks speed, strength, and er…bravery in general, he has smarts (he’s a professor and a doctor…get the name now?), and Prock intends to use those smarts to take Dad’s place.  Yep, he wants to be a superhero, and, technically, he is one: his one superpower is the ability to freeze time.  Even his delightful ignoramus of a friend, Muscleman (Ike Barinholtz), thinks that Prock is a shoe-in for the new leader of the Awesomes.  Does this set-up sound familiar to you too?

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Okay, there’s no fox-wearing mother nor is there a gay pride boat.  But, yeah, as you can guess, Prock doesn’t get the job…at least, not immediately

When Mr. Awesome’s first choice, Perfect Man (Josh Meyers), turns down the gig, Prock talks Dad into letting him take over.  When the rest of the team bails under Prock’s leadership, it’s up to Prock and Muscleman to recruit a new team of Awesomes.  It’s your standard “getting the team of misfits together” plot, but it provides a solid introduction to the series’ premise, which, honestly, is what a pilot should do.  Here, I wasn’t expecting big laughs just yet – with any sitcom, the big laughs usually don’t come around until two episodes or so in…because we’re finally familiar with the characters, the situations, etc.  Nevertheless, I think there’s definitely enough to like about the pilot of The Awesomes.  Let’s get into The Good.

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THE GOOD

With Seth Meyers’ name slapped on this thing, what else would you expect but FUNNY?

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Aw, geez.  Well, Seth Meyers AND Lorne Michaels’ names are slapped on this thing…so, yeah, it has to be funny.

As I just said, there aren’t HUGE laughs here, but that’s okay for a pilot – the show’s just starting out.  But, there sure is some promising set-up for comedy…and that begins with the characters.

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Prock is likable enough for your average everyman/straight man/whatever in your typical sitcom.  He’s cute, dorky, a little incompetent, but determined – which you can’t help but admire.  The show also uses his one superpower as a clever narrative device – whenever Prock freezes time, he engages in a sort of soliloquy to let the audience in on his thoughts.  Although it’s primarily used for some needed exposition this time around, I have hope that with great soliloquy-power comes great comedy.

Put Prock together with Muscleman, and you got some great contrasting character dynamics…man, I am looking forward to big things from Muscleman.  He’s as positive, dopey, and naive as a little puppy…a grade-A man-child, if you will.  He’s Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec.  I personally LOVE these guys.

Then, there’s Concierge (Emily Spivey), the Awesomes’ dry and vaguely Southern secretary.  Her slight deadpan is a decent start, but I hope she takes it even further.  Oh, but who even cares when BILL HADER IS HERE.

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You heard (read?) me: Bill Hader plays the hilarious villain, Dr. Malocchio – he basically does his Italian talk show host, Vinny Vedecchi…my SNL nerd is showing.  And, the great news is, there’s more to Dr. Malocchio than some lively and creative voice-acting, right off the bat.  The character also has a compelling story…compelling villains FTW!!!  You guys know how I love my villains.  Anyway, Malocchio was once Mr. Awesome’s arch-rival, until he was defeated and tossed in jail long ago.  Now out for revenge, Malocchio uses his wonky ability of mind-control – through his eye – to convince the world that he’s actually not such a bad guy…that, in fact, he wants to rid the world of superpowers, in order to eliminate super-villains and superheroes alike for peace on Earth.  You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?

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Please give me a moment, while I mourn for the second season of Legend of Korra.  Click here for details.

But I digress.  While we know that Malocchio is full of it – and so does Prock, who’s immune to the mind-controlling eye – it’s still a cool alibi for a bad guy.  And, the way he uses his superpower to bully the other characters is hysterical…I won’t spoil it for you, watch the pilot for yourself.  In conclusion, hail to the Hader.

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But, the SNL love doesn’t stop there.  Kenan Thompson plays one of the Awesomes’ newest recruits, a conjurer named Impresario.  While the character himself isn’t all that memorable, his superpower certainly is – he can conjure anything out of thin air, but, being a bit of a mama’s boy, his conjurations always involve his sassy, overbearing mother (who’s also voiced by Kenan…just so much yes).

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I have high hopes for these two…high hopes indeed.  The gag is HYSTERICAL and, as far as I know, it’s as original as any superpower can be.  Great idea, great voice-acting, and it probably got the biggest laugh out of me.  I can’t wait to see where else this joke goes.

Besides a strong villain and a few enjoyable heroes, there’s also – you know – the rest of the team!  Here’s where it gets Not-So-Good…

THE NOT-SO-GOOD

The Awesomes is a team of eight.  But, honestly, a few of them are forgettable.

It’s difficult to remember all of these characters, which is somewhat tolerable for a pilot but…eh.  Taran Killam plays the hyperactive Frantic, who can run 500mph…to me, he’s more irritating than funny.  There’s also Gadget Girl, an original Awesome who was hit with a rejuvenation ray – she rejoins the team in the body of an attractive 25 year-old.  Again, there’s promise for comedy, but the pilot just didn’t deliver with this character.

There’s also Tim, an 11 year-old boy who transforms into a gigantic sumo wrestler when emotionally unstable.  He’s a Japanese Incredible Hulk, and, speaking of unoriginality, I really hope the character’s humor will eventually lie in more than ethnic stereotyping.  Yeah, it’s kinda funny, but this isn’t much of a character right now…again, it’s a pilot, so obviously there’s room for development.

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Rashida Jones also appears near the end of the pilot to play Prock’s love interest, a new recruit named Hotwire.  It’s Rashida Jones being her sweet-old-self, and, unfortunately, there isn’t anything terribly interesting about her – except she’s beautiful and, therefore, Prock’s instantly in love with her.  There is a funny twist, however, when we find out that she’s dating Perfect Man, a superhero who’s going solo to spite the Awesomes.  Because of the competitive dynamic between Perfect Man and Prock, I’m somewhat interested to see who gets the girl…but, man, Rashida Jones is a FUNNY actress – it’s a waste, somebody put her comedic powers to use!  Again, for a web series like this, I have hope for the future.

THE BAD

This may be a personal preference…but I do not like this animation.

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I get that there are animated shows and films out there that aim for a rougher look.  Bob’s Burgers, King of the Hill, take your pick…I get the appeal.  But, man, something about this animation just looks lazy.  Everything is very flat and…strangely angular and stiff – for a series about SUPERHEROES.  Some of these characters have BIG personalities, and, for an animated sitcom, the animation should serve as a sufficient vehicle for those personalities.  But, man, this misses the mark for me.

Some of the character designs are kinda nifty, I guess…but I can see why this kind of animation is online instead of on television.  There’s something amateurish about it all.  I don’t know, it’s just my opinion.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Poor animation and forgettable characters…you’d think I’d steer clear in the future, right?  Well, I’ll conclude with this: it just so happens that The Good is SO good that it makes up for this pilot’s flaws.  Partly because, since this is a pilot, I expected serious flaws.

I firmly believe that no one can get EVERYTHING right on the first try.  The same goes for a TV show/web series/whatnot.  The first episode is usually a little shaky because everything’s brand-new.  I dare anyone to watch the pilot of their favorite TV show and NOT feel like something’s…off.  Because, as a series develops and grows and continues, it changes and fleshes out.  All a pilot needs to do is set up the premise and have a little hook to keep you coming back for more.

So, did The Awesomes suit up and rise to the challenge with their pilot?  I’d say yes…because, in the end, Seth Meyers’ writing, Bill Hader’s voice-acting, and the just-plain-fun universe of superheroes and super-villains has captured my interest.  The comedy has some solid potential too.  In my opinion, if you love parodies of comic books, old superhero shows, and the like, this could be a great, grown-up cartoon for you.  While it’s not the most awesome pilot I’ve seen, the show has promise.  For me, maybe that little hook is Impresario’s bossy, conjured-up mother…either way, I’ll likely be back for more of Seth’s superheroes.

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3/5

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