Art Prison was produced by Dan Harmon and written by Tom Kauffman (Rick and Morty) and Paul Isakson (New York Stories), with it being directed by Danny Jelinek (Childrens Hospital), and so clearly has some pretty heavyweight talent behind it. That also applies on screen too as it stars Fresh Off The Boat’s Randall Park, and given that it’s pretty amazing that it wasn’t given a full series by Adult Swim, beforehand I could only presume that was because it wasn’t very good.
I was wrong though, and how, as this is one of the best pilots that I’ve covered in One and Done so far. The set up is that after encouraging a pop singer to commit suicide, Randall (Randall Park) is sentenced to six to eight years in Art Prison, with the warden (Haneefah Wood) explaining in an introductory video that “You’re here because you’re a talented artist and a felon. A singer, painter or et cetera. You’re here because you’re special. Now remove your clothes so an officer can look inside your butt”, and so everyone in the prison is a talented creative type, and one who the warden plans to exploit.
Randall’s a little nervous however as it’s soon made clear that all of the inmates hate critics, and when they find out he’s such a thing as a punishment one of them “Poops through his legs”, which yes, does see Randall having to sit on the toilet while another guy voids his bowels, though it’s presented in a very funny manner rather than the sickening way it could have been, and afterwards Randall has to rate his work, commenting “4 stars – It’s a revelation, a triumph, a tour de force, it’s delectable”.
Fortunately things start looking up for Randall when the warden promises him his own cell and all he has to do is inspire one of the artists, Darjon (LeJon LeJon), to create more paintings so that the warden can sell them off. Randall manages to do so but of course it backfires when the new paintings are simplistic in the extreme, looking like something a drunk five year old child would produce, and so the warden plans to kill Darjon thus making his final work more valuable.
The whole thing is an absurd creation as you can tell from the above, but it is also a very funny and inspired one. The dialogue shines throughout and there’s many a fantastically quotable line, the warden briefly misunderstanding “Manslaughter” and not being able to understand why someone would be imprisoned for “Man’s laughter” being the best, but almost as strong is another of her lines where she exclaims “You’ve seen him on Jimmy Fallon, it’s the littlest auctioneer”, which has an adorable pay off.
There’s some great running jokes as well, including one where a background voice artist quietly describes everything that’s happening, and one where the first thing people notice about Randall is that he’s Jewish is laugh out loud material. All of the characters are well defined and even those who only briefly appear are often given very funny dialogue, the art work Darjon creates is extremely amusing, and the pretentious art buyers are sent up in a nicely satirical manner.
I really wish this had been given a full series then, if not several as it’s not only a very original concept but the various characters are ones I’d like to spend a lot of time with. Once again it’s an occasion where I really have no idea why it wasn’t commissioned, it would of course be libellous to accuse Adult Swim of being agents of the devil who hate all of humanity and don’t want us to laugh a great deal, and wouldn’t make any sense either given the great shows they do produce, but given just how good this is that’s the only reason I can think of.