The Awesomes

The new animated superhero series The Awesomes, created and produced by Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers and Michael Shoemaker (producer, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon), has jumped on the online trend by being exclusively available on Hulu. Problem is, other than online streaming, The Awesomes adds very little innovation to the superhero canon. A misfit bunch of superheroes with a few odd powers? I liked it better when it was called Mystery Men.

The Awesomes does offer a shade of familial conflict into the mix, as Prock, voiced by Meyers (his name is a combination of Professor and Doctor, a nice nod to frequent uses of those titles by superheroes and villains) takes over the Awesomes team from his dad. The 90-year-old Mr. Awesome (Steve Higgins, sounding just like John Mahoney) would prefer to relinquish the team to the Superman-inspired Perfectman (voiced by Seth’s brother Josh Meyers), who declines. So Prock steps up, and the rest of the team quits. A reporter points out that when Prock joined the Awesomes, “Didn’t he break three fingers just by shaking hands with the team?” Prock’s only power is the ability to stop time, which he primarily uses for inane soliloquies wherein he tries to talk himself into something. I know it’s supposed to be the dumbest superpower ever, but it really is the dumbest superpower ever.

Meyers’ famous friends add a high level of vocal talent here: Rachel Dratch steps in as the Edith Head-looking government agent who insists that the roster comes back up to full speed for to keep their government funding. Aided by a fed named Concierge (Emily Spivey), Prock and his only friend, Muscleman (Ike Barinholtz), set out to find other superhero misfits: the speedy Frantic (Taran Killam); The Impresario (Kenan Thompson), who conjures things up thanks to an alien jewel (?); and Sumo (Bobby Lee), an 11-year-old who turns into a Sumo wrestler when angered, Hulk-like. Later episodes introduce Rashida Jones as Hotwire, Prock’s love interest with a possible secret agenda. Can we please put a moratorium on superheroes whose only powers are strength (Muscleman, Sumo) or speed (Frantic)? Pretty sure those rosters have been filled.

The only inventive hero is Gadget Gal (SNL writer Paula Pell), an 85-year-old original Awesome who gets blasted with a “rejuvenation ray” during a fight with Tomboy, so now she’s an old woman who looks 25. I like that Gadget Gal’s gadgets include an electric fan, a mirror, and hairspray, and her ability to spout lines like, “Superhero-ing is a young gal’s party.” But I’ve watched her battle sequence about five times and I still can’t figure out why Tomboy would hit Gadget Gal with a rejuvenation ray: wouldn’t that be a good thing? However, there would be no other way for Gadget Gal’s 85-year-old self to be trapped in a 25-year-old’s body, so logic be damned!

Another bright spot is the villain Dr. Mallochio, voiced by Bill Hader, who has been killing it in the animated world lately (here, the Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs movies, and he was a rare peak in the morose Turbo). The five-minute prologue that kicks off the series is the best bit by far: a bleakly apocalyptic Earth, with Prock in a showdown with Dr. Malocchio. So the animation can reach some heights, so then why is Concierge’s head twice as big as the other characters’? Why does Birdman’s hair conspicuously turn from white to black during his battle scene? Sloppy.

The other gimmick about The Awesomes, in a term that Gadget Gal would understand, is that it works “blue.” This is not a cartoon to show the young kids, due to frequent beeping and some mild gore. Which I guess is supposed to be inventive, but just seems gratuitous. Must the press guy Prock loses a fight to die of a heart attack right afterwards? Must blood gush out of the ambulance smashed by Mr. Awesome’s “A”? Muscleman likes “alien p__y,”; the number of times this is bleeped threatens the triple digits. In a future episode, Muscleman is kidnapped and taken to a planet where the aliens look like—not making this up—two boobs on top of a body. The nipples are their eyes. What were the writers smoking when they came up with this? The planet looks like a boob as well. Isn’t that funny? No. No, it’s not. Nor are lines like someone getting “crapped on like you’ve got the shits after a diseased Mexican dinner.” And there goes lunch.

Due to his love for “alien p___y,” Muscle Man is forced to appear on a type of Maury-esque paternity test “Who’s the Daddy” show on the boob planet. Fortunately for him, due to some shenanigans, the baby picks the boob alien as his daddy, who then gets eaten. Cue the obligatory blood splatter. The other storyline on this episode involves the team leader Prock learning to relinquish control so that his teammates can step up. It’s a sitcom plot as old as time itself.

The Awesomes’ unofficial team slogan is “Our Bar Is Lower,” and I wish it were higher. Meyers and Shoemaker need to step away from the lowest forms of comedy and the way-too-familiar retreads to invest some actual heart and humor into these characters. But being humorous is a superfeat The Awesomes has yet to accomplish.

Stray observations:

  • The effete man trying out for the team with a song and dance was done much, much better in Bring It On, thanks.
  • Gadget Gal wants to know where the nearest soda fountain is. Sumo replies, “1958.”
  • Um, the theme songs are catchy?

The Awesomes debuts August 1st on Hulu.