daniel ferrer reviews the newest animated addition to FX …
If you yearn for a simpler time when South Park was more about swearing children than biting social commentary and The Simpsons satirized the American household rather than influenced it, you probably had high hopes for Unsupervised. Or at least you would’ve, if you’d heard about it. FX proved it can stand in league with AMC when it comes to quality cable programming, but it just doesn’t seem to have the promotional budget to draw a crowd. Thus, Unsupervised sat patiently behind Burt Reynolds’ Archer episode ready to collect the leftovers. Frankly, it deserved better.
Created by three of the writers of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (no, not the three you’re thinking of), the show follows two best friends: the hyperactive Joel (voiced by creator David Hornsby) and the more pragmatically reckless Gary (a nasally Justin Long). They come off as a more amiable but equally irreverent Beavis and Butthead, building lighting rods on the roof and coming up with colorful nicknames for breasts. I’d consider it an endearingly familiar territory, if it weren’t for the original duo making their return last year. The show places them in the universal fish-out-of-water story that is the ninth grade. The boys are transplanted from their comfort zone of DIY conductors and bad hygiene to a world rife with cigarettes, hypersexuality, and hormonal violence. While the boys don’t have the maturity it takes to fit in, they do have an ace up their sleeve: extremely neglectful parents. The complete absence of guardians or even a proper role model renders the boys adults in the eyes of even the much older students. Of course, that only lasts until they lose their cool.
I won’t go into specifics, because there aren’t many to go into. The events play out in a predictable fashion, abandoning an arching conflict in favor of a sequence of awkward mishaps. The writers seem to be focused on setting a precedent. They want to make sure you’re okay with the idea of Unsupervised before they start getting creative. That’s fine, but it makes the pilot somewhat redundant. It’s much more satisfying to understand the characters and their universe by watching a story unfold around them than it is to watch a 20-minute exposition.
It does have an undeniable ’90s charm that really makes it hard to change the channel. It reconciles the all-too formulaic animated sitcoms of FOX with the all-too bizarre eleven minute curios of Adult Swim to recall a time when cartoons where foul, uncivilized shows made by foul, uncivilized people.
It some respects, I’m still anticipating Unsupervised. The pilot doesn’t show us a whole lot of humor or creativity in its writing, but it feels less like incompetence and more like cautious restraint. But cautious for what reason? With an all-star cast (including Kristen Bell, Romany Malco, and Fred Armisen) and a solid, familiar hook, the show can easily push limits without risking alienation. And the given that the creators’ alma mater is the most wonderfully alienating show on television, it’s a disappointment that they didn’t. It seems like it might take a few more episodes before the show finds its pace.