For an episode that begins on the toilet and ends as Victor and Polidori dissect a still conscious Dr. Jekyll, “Gaston Leroux’s Je Ne Sais Quoi!” is a fairly sedate episode of Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole. Victor wants to behold his magnificence through his own eyes, so he figures out how to regenerate a doppelganger, which is basically a brain in a wheelchair with eyeballs and a horn. He doesn’t get along with himself, because both Victors are so self-absorbed, so Jekyll suggests redoing the experiment with the brain and eyes of an admirer, someone like Jekyll himself. Roll credits. Gaston Leroux has no discernible influence on the episode, Jekyll never transforms, and we don’t even get a “You got it!” from Igor (or, for that matter, Ken Jeong’s impression of Igor). For a season finale, it lacks a certain—forgive me—je ne sais quoi.
The seasons of Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole have most of the same personality but completely different structures. In season one, a new historical figure would visit Victor each week, usually to some dark satirical end. For instance, Barack Obama helps Thomas Jefferson find a suitable black penis transplant to impress Sally Hemmings with. Michael Jackson abandons his son for more interesting companions, like the elephant man. The Mother Teresa episode is reportedly banned from airing, though I can’t find any official confirmation. It’s the kind of show you accidentally happen across late at night, and you’re not sure if you’re dreaming (or if you’ll ever see it again). A handful of the episodes even open with lo-fi, Elvira-style introductions performed by creator Dino Stamatopoulos with fake Vampire teeth that would make Ed Wood proud. I quickly fell in love.
With the exception of the John Belushi episode, season two is more about playing with the richly established Frankenhole universe, retroactively turning the anthology style of season one into elaborate set-up explaining, among other things, why Michael Jackson’s son owns the local tavern and why Gandhi is a vampire. Mother Teresa and Thomas Jefferson crop up now and again, but the satirical bite has mostly ceded its ground. Now the show is about common sitcom structures, mostly about the relationship between Victor and Elizabeth, filtered through the same demented sense of humor. Victor is still a bored immortal who has to mangle his testicles for sexual pleasure, but now he’s trying to make things work with his wife, too.
That’s not to say the show is worse. It’s just different now, less rebellious and more established, and “Gaston Leroux’s Je Ne Sais Quoi” is a solid example of what the show is like without pushing the absurdist edge. The comedy tends to come from character, playing mostly with manifestations of Victor’s narcissism. But tonight offers some excellent wordplay courtesy of Polidori: “Remember that man’s taint we turned into a ‘twas?” And there’s a fair amount of ribaldry with Elizabeth having sex with the regenerated Victor and the opening toilet scene. On the other hand, the episode is light on the always dependable vocal incongruity, like Gandhi’s Italian accent, and horror gags, like the Invisible Man exposing himself.
As always, it looks incredible. The expressive power of the origami puppets puts most animation to shame. In any scene between Victor and Jekyll, the eyebrows alone tell the story. Jekyll’s Chemical Emporium makes for a fun set, a foggy Diagon Alley shop full of enticing props. And, I have to say, the stop-motion sequence of Victor and Polidori surgically rummaging through Jekyll’s organs is a terrific closing gag, though I hope that’s not the last we see of the ingratiating doctor.
I also hope that’s not the last we see of Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole. I love exploring the dark alleys and pink Frankenholes of this universe, which is crawling with entertaining riffs. Where else are you going to see Nosferatu speaking in silent movie title cards or a surprise cutaway to Blacula, Count Chocula, and the Count from Sesame Street sitting at a table drinking together? If the cultural parody is mostly done, then at least it allows the show to focus more on its other two influences, television and horror. I miss the introductions, but we get occasional treats like the classic transition where the image collapses toward the middle and expands to reveal the next shot as a quick sound effect chimes, tonight deployed right in the middle of a sitcom couple’s fight. And I still want to see that Gaston Leroux episode, not to mention a real Kafka tribute, however much I enjoyed the episodes named after them. So my fingers are crossed for a third season. The show might change again, but I can safely say there’s nothing else like it on television.