Are we living through something of a golden age of adult-oriented animation? Look at the landscape these days—everything from Inside Job and Archer to Tuca & Bertie and Rick and Morty—and you’re witnessing a wealth of options for those of us who enjoy the elasticity of the format and mature, if not exactly mature mature, storytelling.
It’s in this context that a show like Little Demon emerges. Created by Darcy Fowler, Seth Kirschner, and Kieran Valla, this FXX series imagines a world where an estranged father (Danny DeVito) attempts to reconnect with his teenage daughter Chrissy (voiced by DeVito’s daughter Lucy), much to the chagrin of Chrissy’s mother, Laura (Aubrey Plaza). Their triangulated dynamic is a familiar one, where the teenage kid feels torn between the domestic safe haven their mom has created and the delightfully bonkers free-for-all their father promises and delivers at every turn.
Oh, only DeVito’s character is, uh, Satan. Which makes Chrissy, well, the Antichrist, and Laura just a very overprotective mother, the kind who keeps weapons in her house that would make Sarah Connor proud and who sports a white tank top, ropey muscles, and tattoos all around that would also make that very same Sarah Connor proud.
As a premise, the battle between Laura’s no-nonsense parenting and Satan’s more id-driven fathering (she forbids Chrissy from using her Satanic powers, while he encourages her to possess any and all souls she encounters) offers plenty of possibilities for a welcome twist on a two-household domestic comedy. And so, Little Demon is caught between treading familiar ground while hopefully adding some rather off-kilter humor to go along with it. Its pilot episode, for instance, turns a well-worn “bullies getting their comeuppance” plot into a literal bloodbath—as in, the bullies get dismembered as both Chrissy and her new friend Bennigan (Eugene Cordero) get covered in their blood. That the show treats such violence as the backdrop to a lovely meet-cute on Chrissy’s first day at her new school is indicative of the R-rated world Fowler, Kirschner, and Valla have created.
It’s also a world where Laura doesn’t hesitate to strip down to nothing, decapitate a chicken, leave her lifeless body to be cared for by her oblivious neighbor (Lennon Parham’s boozy Darlene), and perform a spell that allows her to track down Chrissy in another realm and make sure her soul is not being corrupted by Satan. It’s in moments like that when you realize just how much Laura has sacrificed for Chrissy and why she feared the moment during Chrissy’s teenage years when Satan would come back into their lives. (There’s a reason episode one is titled “First Blood.”) Not that she has it all figured out; she’s clearly battling some inner demons of her own. And she’s not afraid to let them loose when alone. “Raise your hand if you fucked the devil,” she instructs/bullies herself in the mirror. “Now raise your hand if you knew this day was coming. Now let’s go smash some stuff that makes a difference.”
Here is a mother who’s hardened herself to an unfathomable degree (it’s why Darlene has such a hard time bonding with her neighbor!) so she could fight the very forces of darkness that now also make up part (well, half) of her beloved, if angsty, teenage daughter. Watching her slowly dive back into the dating pool is arguably one of the highlights of the series, combining the humor and empathy that comes from the drama-riddled life she leads.
That these characters prove to be pretty compelling is in no small part because of the voice actors bringing them to life. To say a role like Laura’s feels tailor-made for Aubrey Plaza is not so much a compliment as a given. The Parks And Recreation actor has long been able to capture a prickly type of strength that’s as awe-inspiring as it is terrifying. Meanwhile, just the concept of Danny DeVito as Satan should tell you everything about how Little Demon conceptualizes this most evil of beings: He’s charming and yet a bit of a deadbeat, and it makes sense he’d wear a green cardigan and a polo and would get a thrill out of introducing Chrissy to the metaphysical realm. (“It’s like the central hub for all unearthly realms: Think of it as Port Authority but with much much more urine and fewer bomb threats.”)
With a premise that necessarily involves crazy demonic threats and a body count to match to metaphorize co-parenting a teenage daughter, Little Demon at times struggles to blend its tenor with its comedic ambitions. As its ongoing arcs surrounding a mysterious “Unshaven Man” (Michael Shannon, in full Michael Shannon mode) and Satan’s not-so-altruistic reason for wanting to be in his daughter’s good graces reveal themselves, Little Demon shows its grander designs. And it must be said that there’s plenty to pique one’s interest, especially if demons voiced by RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Shangela and would-be-suitors made in Patrick Wilson’s likeness are your thing. And why wouldn’t they be, right?