Out of all of the pilots that I’ve reviewed for this column Adult Swim tend to make the best ones which are never picked up, and with a cast list which included Keegan Michael Key, Andy Daly, James Adomian, Chelsea Peretti, June Diane Raphael, Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas, and with a script from Scheer and GTA:IV and Far Cry V writer Nick Giovannetti, I presumed that would be the case once again. And it is. Damn you Adult Swim, damn you to hell for making such fun shows that you then refuse to give a full series too.
Anyhow, for those who haven’t seen it, vaguely akin to Frisky Dingo this is another series which revolves around super villainy (although without the superhero aspect), with the villain “Mantis Commander” (Keegan-Michael Key) in control of a group of minions who are far better at their jobs than he is. Indeed rather than taking over the world he’s obsessed by creating merchandise as “It’s what Isis and Boko Haram are getting wrong”, apparently, and claiming that “I’m Jesus Christ meets Walt Disney meets Jafar” with him proving this by showing off “A gun that shoots miniature Pitballs” (as in the rapper rather than the dog, thankfully). He’s a fantastic creation and Keegan Michael Key’s superb in the role, beautifully deluded at least some of the time and absolutely full of himself in many hilarious ways.
His villainess co-worker Mistress (Chelsea Peretti, also fantastic) is pissed off by him though, largely because he’s wasted so much money that his throne has been repossessed and the organisation is desperately need of money and trimming the fat. Which is unfortunate news for the Commander’s assistant Donny, who he kills just to save cash (“He was an art history major, no one’s going to miss him”) but Mistress thinks he can’t just go around killing unwanted people as she’s crazy like that, and offers to help. True to character the Commander ignores it though, and decides that bringing down the credit card company they owe money to would be a much better way to solve their issues. He also has a couple of other ideas which sound terrible, the main one being to get “one of those Rumplestiltskins” (his mispronunciation, not mine) to make a golden throne for him. Naturally Mistress mocks such an idea and doesn’t believe in their existence, but the Commander is convinced they do and so kidnaps a woman presuming that Rumplestiltskins will come along to take her first born in exchange for making gold.
While this is all going on Doctor Doom lookalike Metal Lord (Paul Scheer) and his man servant / slave Piotr (Jason Mantzoukas) are given the job to go undercover at the Credit Card company, and are soon working alongside the ever perky Mitchell (Andy Daly). Mitchell’s an upbeat idiot who suggests putting up pictures of cats might help them enjoy corporate work, but instead they staple a cat to the cubicle because villains do tend to be a tad evil on occasion. Sadly for him Metal Lord decides they hate Mitchell’s presence, and so complain to a HR representative (June Diane Raphael) that he called Metal Lord “A Haggistani” – which is offensive as Metal Lord is supposedly part Scottish, and also said that another employee was an inverse radish – “White on the outside, but commie red on the outside”. The minutiae of super villainy in such circumstances is beautifully observed and very funny, made all the better by the fact that Andy Daly’s character is so relentlessly cheery, and the whole subplot is a fantastic one.
The same applies with Mistress’s antics as she’s forced to recruit a bunch of new minions from Craigslist and unsurprisingly struggles to find anyone suitable, partially as “When we take over the world you’ll probably get an island or something” rather than regular payment, but also because the phrase W4M was misunderstood as a sex thing rather than the intended “Work For Mantis”. Peretti is perfect casting for the role, once again pulling off the annoyed disdain for others that she does so well in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and again the day to day details of doing such a tedious task is mined for a lot of strong humour.
The weakest of the three stories is that of the Commander and his quest for a “Rumplestiltskins”, but it still has a fair few really funny moments including his disappointment that his victim called the police on him. When they arrive the sequence becomes a lot funnier however when the cop turns out to be a Rumplestiltskins (or, as they call him, a Rumplestilscop) and when he sees a loom and straw he can’t resist making gold. The jump cut which follows with the Commander in a golden throne is a great one, and everything is quickly wrapped up in an amusing fashion as he asks for a report on the progress of his minions tasks, and Metal Lord informs him that he will succeed by the end of the fourth quarter, while Mistress has found one candidate who is pure evil – Mitchell, which pleased me enormously as it meant Andy Daly would still be part of the show.
It’s inventive, it’s unpredictable, it’s often daft and silly, and filled with superb dialogue from all of the characters, who are established extremely quickly and with deft skill by Scheer and Giovannetti. The exploration of the lives of these super villains is a delight throughout, as is the surreal nature of the Commander’s subplot, while the voice work and the animation is consistently impressive too and I honestly can’t understand why this wasn’t commissioned. The only possible reason is that Adult Swim executives thought it was slightly too similar to some of their previous shows but I don’t think that’s really a good reason, especially as many of the series they currently air aren’t exactly based on the most original of concepts (well, some at least), and I only hope they one day change their minds as with a talented cast like this it could have been a fantastic series.
You can watch the pilot on youtube here.