Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A nasty turn takes the fun out of this Moonbeam City

Illustration for article titled A nasty turn takes the fun out of this Moonbeam City

This week’s Moonbeam City offers a tantalizing glimpse into the titular location’s municipal workings, albeit in a solidly absurdist vein. The episode opens with a meeting of violent anarchists unable to call themselves to order, besieged by nitpicking before Dazzle Novak and crew accidentally blow them (and a bunch of their own officers) up. This introduces, in turn, the Moonbeam City fire department, which, it is revealed, is staffed entirely by topless, hardbodied heroes – mostly but not entirely men like muscular ringleader Sizzle Conrad – a name that would heavily imply this series creates characters just for the hilariously ridiculous rock-star-meets-porn-star names, if the series hadn’t been heavily implying that for the previous four episodes (or, really, since the opening credits of its first episode).

The fire department’s newest triumph in turn brings forth Moonbeam City’s mayor, who looks a bit like a mid-to-late period John Travolta, and threatens to shut down the police department. The cops wouldn’t be out of a job; worse, Dazzle, Chrysalis, Rad, and a visibly creeped-out Pizzazz (subject of unwanted leering from the mayor) would be reassigned to the hated fire department. It’s become a workplace-sitcom tried-and-true to establish a branch of seemingly innocuous public servants for the main characters to hate, like the Pawnee Library or the various straw-man jerk-cops of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but loathing the fire department is a particularly funny variation on this joke.

The mayor informs the police that a high-profile drug bust would really help them earn their keep, which of course is why Dazzle and company enlist the police chemist to synthesize a new drug, Glitzotene, setting up Rad as a phony drug kingpin so the cops can bust him up and get the credit. This plotline marks Dazzle’s most on-task episode to date, because while he does spearhead the introduction of a drug epidemic for his personal gain, he does so with the approval of his coworkers. Even Rad doesn’t object to being rebranded a criminal, reasoning that if he can’t be the main hero, being a notable villain is almost as good. This brings the invaluable sound of Will Forte singing his own montage song as he tries on different drug-dealer outfits.

For the most part, “Glitzotrene – One Town’s Seduction” represents a welcome return to actual cop-show-spoofing, and in what has become a Moonbeam City trademark, the episode contains traces of real satire, here a little stronger than usual: the cops create a war on drugs and a litany of human collateral so they can boast that they’re tough on drugs and crime. This isn’t the sort of show that will spin that out into a real indictment of any real policy, but it’s not really a problem when you’ve got Will Forte singing to himself.

And the fact that none of these threads really pay off in a big way might not be such a big deal, either – it’s fun to learn about the different flavors of sleaze that make up this very made-up city – if not for the episode’s sour excuse for a story-wrapping punchline. It involves the abject and, per the specifics of the gag, apparently ongoing humiliation of Pizzaz, a character who may not always get her way, but conducts herself with the delightful bravado of Elizabeth Banks in cartoon mode. While I realize Pizzaz is just a character in an adult cartoon series (which is to say, subject to humiliation at all times) and, more specifically, the co-architect of a blatantly immoral scheme to prove the police department’s usefulness, there’s something really nasty and not especially funny about giving her such a gross, borderline abusive comeuppance. When Pizzaz’s efforts to control Dazzle are stymied, it’s funny. When her efforts to not have sex with somebody she finds disgusting and hateful are stymied, it’s… actually kinda disgusting and hateful. It would be great if the debasement of Pizzaz for a cheap laugh didn’t register as particularly gendered (Rad certainly gets debased for cheap laughs on the regular), but sorry, Moonbeam City: we’re not quite there yet, especially given the fine character animation of Pizzaz’s uncomfortably body language when dealing with the mayor earlier in the episode, which only makes the humiliation feel more genuine later; it’s like an anti-set-up in the way it makes the final joke even less funny. The episode’s final turn can’t quite undo all of the good stuff in the first 18 or 19 minutes of “Glitzotrene,” but it sure makes an attempt, intentionally or not.

Stray observations:

  • The best line of the episode may be Dazzle’s enthusiastic response to the fact that the team needs a patsy for their plan to work: “Yes! Blame it on the Irish!”
  • This week in Moonbeam City names: Rad’s drug-dealer alias is Raduard Glitzcobar. This show loves goofy aliases maybe even more than New Girl.