It may be set in a mythical long-ago, but the future of Krapopolis, which premieres September 24, has been foretold: three seasons greenlit by Fox before a single episode tickled the eyeballs of Community and Rick And Morty fans primed for Dan Harmon’s next brainchild. Clearly, somebody up there loves this animated satire of the ancient Greek world (and, by extension, ours). By “somebody,” we don’t mean Zeus; one prays the Olympian boss hurls thunderbolts at the writers’ room to juice up what is (from the three episodes provided for review) a moderately funny and naughty ’toon.
Like Rick And Morty (which Harmon co-created with Justin Roiland), Krapopolis rests on a foundation of family sitcom that spins off into adventures our heroes narrowly survive and barely learn from. Also like that show, it has a quailing youth as its semi-relatable center: the ironically named Tyrannis, voiced with bratty nasality by British comedian Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd). Although Tyrannis dreams of uniting Krapopolis with neighboring cities to form an empire, he doesn’t really have the brains or brutality to pull it off. For that, he must rely on his motley family of gods and monsters—who couldn’t care less about civilization.
It’s not clear what, if anything, Tyrannis (who sports an olive clasp on his tunic) has inherited from his forebears. Mother Deliria (Hannah Waddingham) is the classic overbearing narcissist, a goddess too self-adoring even for Olympian egos. Undermining her son’s adulting at every turn, she frequently dispatches mortals who displease her by turning them into snakes, telepathically flinging their bodies miles away or, in one amusingly protracted bit, transforming a bard’s lute into spiders. For all his bluster and sarcastic retorts, Tyrannis is a mama’s boy. His father, Shlub (Matt Berry), is a mashup of centaur and manticore, a monstrous Lothario composed of human, horse, lion, and scorpion parts. By far the chillest of the clan, Shlub is mainly interested in chasing tail—any species’ tail. “Son, as monsters we have to be careful about our messaging,” he offers as fatherly advice. “Bad monsters kill people; good monsters have sex with people. Trust me, that’s where the action is.”
In this quarrelsome blended family, Tyrannis is constantly competing with his half-siblings. Stupendous (Pam Murphy) is a dim-witted, musclebound cyclops who lives to fight and kill. Half-mermaid Hippocampus (Duncan Trussell) rolls about in a wheeled baby chair with a glass globe on his head. A scientific genius and socially awkward megalomaniac, Hippocampus is the brains of the family. “I didn’t become a scientist to make normal people smarter,” he says, scoffing at Tyrannis’ request that he create a written language. “I did it to make them terrified of my god-like power!”
The animation follows the flat, deadpan style standard these days: mostly static backgrounds with minimal movement by characters in the foreground. Snappy, joke-a-second dialogue toggles between pointedly dumbass lines—“I am Asskill,” roars a cannibal barbarian, “Son of Kill, slayer of ass”—and wittier quips. Tyrannis informs citizens that barbarians terrorize victims because they’re too lazy to fight. So, he reasons, they can beat the barbarians by greater laziness. “That’s the point of civilization,” he explains, “refusing to move. Planting your food next to your bed, eating it when you feel like it, and pooping it right where you buried your parents.” Cue crowd murmurs of approval.
World-building and characterization unfold efficiently enough, checking off milestones in human development. War is (kinda) averted with the cannibals next door; the Olympic Games are invented by accident; and humans and wolves learn to live together. Goodness knows there’s anthropological raw material to fuel multiple seasons, but the formula starts to feel tired. Partly it’s because everyone’s two-dimensionally vain and vapid, but also the sentimental lessons are half-assed and unearned. You wish Harmon and his team had come down in either the “humor and heart” or “sick nihilism” camp. King Of The Hill excelled in the former, and Family Guy tilted toward the latter. And although their voice work is deft, Waddingham and Berry mainly inspire thoughts of a Ted Lasso or What We Do In The Shadows rewatch.
The Flintstones with gore and raunch, plus a spot-the-mythological-reference game, Krapopolis is a pretty one-joke series: Look at what a random debacle ancient civilization was. Is there any wonder it’s falling apart now? Either there are endless savage variations on that joke or there needs to be characters so nuanced and vibrant that they rise above the limitations of the conceit. (We’re waiting for a clever recurring mortal.) Not all animation classics arrived fully formed in season one (The Simpsons, famously). And again, we were only given a taste of this new show. But let’s hope this mighty empire doesn’t take eons to materialize.
Krapopolis premieres September 24 on Fox