Allie Tollaksen | Tuesday, April 8, 2014
After a streak of smart and successful programs on Comedy Central, including new acclaimed shows “Broad City” and “Review,” the network appears to have made a misstep with the premiere of its new cartoon show “TripTank.”
The show’s pilot, which aired April 2, jumps immediately into a bizarre, self-aware cartoon world with a short attention span and some seriously disturbing imagery. Jumping from one twisted, trippy animated skit to another, it becomes clear within the show’s first few minutes that “TripTank” is a response to the success of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim shows, like “Robot Chicken” and the new “Rick and Morty.” Like these shows, “TripTank” is violent, wildly inappropriate and entirely nonsensical, appealing to the adult crowd that is awake late (and likely not sober).
Responsible for this half-hour slot of chaos is a team of incredibly talented comedians, including Zach Galifianakis, Kyle Kinane, Wayne Brady, Bob Odenkirk, Kumail Nanjiani, Wayne Brady and Larry David. Each is responsible for writing or voicing one of the dozens of gruesome skits, which include a rocket ship that cheerily, irresponsibly brings children to space without spacesuits and a homeless, schizophrenic talk show host, tastelessly propagating any and all stereotypes about mental illness and homelessness.
It is clear that these comedians are taking a stab at a level of anti-humor and absurdity they can’t exercise in regular roles. Late-night animation means anything goes: there are infinite possibilities in animation and no face to associate with such offensive and appalling jokes. This combination with such a brilliant group of comedians seems like it should be an unwavering success, but “TripTank” didn’t hit the mark.
The issue was not the gore, filth or offensiveness; the problem was that, for the most part, the show simply wasn’t funny. Most skits felt more self-indulgent than humorous, as if their creators were simply reveling in the possibilities brought on by the anything-goes style. Like preteen sneaking a car for a joyride, it may be plenty of fun for the kid, but no one is enjoying his driving.
Continuing with the self-indulgent feel of “TripTank” was show’s overemphasized self-awareness. Every few skits cut back to “TripTank” employees in the office, who take calls of complaints about the skits. The act of poking fun at itself and anticipating a negative response seemed funny at first, but becomes too frequent in the show. The recurring bit is also an opportunity to really take a jab at those who take offense at the show or the show’s creators itself, but complainers instead are just as awful as everyone else on the show. These skits end up self-congratulating and self-encouraging instead, and the joke is on us for expecting anything else.
Despite a largely unfunny pilot, there is some definite raw potential for “TripTank.” First of all, the animation was diverse, interesting and often the best part of a skit. While the skits are distractingly jumpy and scattered, the variety of animation was the plus side. From classic “Loony Tunes”-style to computer animation to a “Napoleon Dynamite”-esque aesthetic in the office skits, it was at least entertaining to see the range of animation, the distortion of childhood cartoons and the show’s take on the grossly-detailed, unappealing style seen on other adult cartoons like “Rick and Morty” or “Beavis and Butthead.”
A few skits stood out as gems as well, though almost drowned in a sea of nonsense. A skit in which two bees try to determine whether they’re killer bees and go out on a violent murdering spree was short and clever enough. A skit in which a doctor tells a mother her son has been in a terrible accident sings, “So make another boy!” and another skit, in which parents describe “the birds and the bees” to their young son and take the metaphor too far are two examples of how “TripTank” has the potential to be funny rather than simply shocking.
What makes “TripTank” so upsetting is that I want so badly for it to be funny. It has network and team of comedians too good to simply be played in background of a faded night. While the show’s format has clearly been an exercise so far in pushing limits, it also has the potential to be something better. But for now, “TripTank” is, disappointingly, just okay.