Tv Review: The Shivering Truth – Tow and Shell

After the surprisingly upbeat ending to the fourth episode of the series, Constadeath, I was expecting the fifth to double down on the bleakness. But once again Vernon Chatman defied expectations, there’s plenty of darkness during the episode but the ending is somewhat positive, even if it does mean that a young boy will be pointing a gun at the sea for the rest of eternity. It also has one of the most consistent narratives of the season, the pre-credits sequence only has one link to the rest of the story, but the events after that is one long tale, and despite (or maybe because of) the fact that it’s all but set in one location it’s the most enthralling yet.

It begins with a short tale of a man calling 911, where the narrator informs us that “Lies attract bunnies” but in this case it means they fall from the sky and die instantly as the caller informs the 911 operator (Janeane Garofalo back once again and still fantastic) that his wife has fallen in love with another man, and she gives him advice on how to win him back which he claims works, but given that the only thing we see is that the man is a horrific floating monster it’s impossible to know what’s true and what isn’t. Which is something of a running theme in the series.

After the credits the main story starts with a boy, Paulie, presenting a shell as part of a Show and Tell lesson at school. Unfortunately for Paulie he can not only hear the sea through it but a conversation two people are having on the beach, and it’s quickly revealed that one of them is his father who is cheating on Paulie’s mother with another woman (Maria Bamford, amazing as always), albeit not for long as he quickly shoots her, all the while insulting his son and fantasising about his death. We also hear the call he makes to 911, and the return of the operator, but it turns out the woman isn’t dead and she shoots Paulie’s father, with blood then pouring out of the shell. Another 911 call is then heard and eventually a cat emerges from the shell, which the teacher (Andy Daly, as great as everyone else is) tears open, discovers treasure, and quits his job. Before crashing the car and slowly dying as a wolf attacks him and the 911 operator fails to help him. And because making sense is the opposite of what this show wishes to do, the wolf emerges from the shell, but before it can attack him the shell bites the child, giving him quite the unusual superpower.

Visually this is a lesser effort as most of it’s set in the classroom as we listen to the horror taking place, but there’s still much peculiarity including a classmate suddenly ageing to the point that she’s an elderly lady, blood pouring out of the shell and spelling the insult “Solidface”, and also the appearances of both the kitten with treasure in his belly and one very angry wolf. But the episode does rely on the dialogue present far more than any other in the series and fortunately it’s extremely strong stuff. The father’s verbal cruelty towards his son is inventive and funny despite it’s meanness, and the 911 operator’s reactions to the calls she receives generate a lot of laugh out loud moments. There’s also the inclusion of a luxury 911 service, 911 Deluxe, for rich people which Peter Serafinowicz voices deliciously, offering a variety of options for those well off enough to afford it even if they are at death’s door at the time. Chatman also throws in a brief reference to a pen which in the future will be responsible for more deaths than eight nazi holocausts, and the episode ends with the sea uttering unsettling noises and so Paulie sticks his hand through the shell and points a gun at it, ensuring it’s obedience, and though it might not be the best of fates for a young child by The Shivering Truth’s standards it’s something of a happy denouement.

There’s a couple of recurring themes throughout, with child abuse being at the fore once again and perhaps it’s a well they’re dipping in to a bit too often, but at least it’s only verbal here and the boy ultimately doesn’t suffer too much. Blood gushing out of unusual places is also seen again, and authority figures are shown to be somewhat useless, at least in the case of the teacher and the luxury 911 operator, though on the flip side the standard one is oddly helpful which suggests PFFR don’t despise every single person on this planet.

Even though it’s largely set in one location the episode it’s even more absurd than usual, and the harrowing deaths make it one of the most disturbing, but at the same time it’s the funniest yet and my favourite of the season so far. All of the voice cast impress and I hope Chatman brings them back if there is another season, as fond as I am of his own vocals the episodes with a variety of guest stars do seem to be the best, but perhaps that’s just a coincidence. Either way this is television of the highest order, and some of the best that Adult Swim have ever shown.

Alex Finch.

Related Links:
You can watch the episode on Adult Swim’s site here.
Our review of The Shivering Truth – Fowl Flow.
Our review of The Shivering Truth – Constadeath.
Our review of The Shivering Truth – The Magmafying Past.
Our review of The Shivering Truth – Ogled Inkings.
Our review of The Shivering Truth – The Nurple Rainbow.

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