Watching The Awesomes after watching Guardians of the Galaxy is a bit jarring: Both the cartoon show and the Marvel movie focus on unlikely superheroes who crack jokes while stumbling through life, making The Awesomes almost the perfect companion piece to the movie. If only it were funnier.
The show, co-created by Saturday Night Live alum and current Late Night host Seth Meyers, premiered a year ago on Hulu with 10 episodes and was liked enough to get a second season. It’s easy to see why it was popular: Its cast features a roster of past and present SNL players, including Taran Killam and Kenan Thompson, and it’s about superheroes—quirky, clumsy superheroes at that. And, as the success of Guardians of the Galaxy goes to show, all superheroes don’t have to be perfect.
This aspect of The Awesomes is part of its charm, and it’s something that shines in the show’s second season premiere, which went up on Hulu Monday. Muscleman, voiced by The Mindy Project’s Ike Barinholtz, is quite built, but doesn’t have much going for him beyond that: He tells his friend Prock (Meyers) that he’s expecting to eat “really delicious cookies” at a friend’s memorial… because he heard “memorial” and thought, “mmm, Oreo!” At first listen, this joke is impossibly cheesy and contrived. Who would really confuse “memorial” and “mmm, Oreo?” But it’s just one of many moments in The Awesomes where you have to step away, look at the individual character, and realize, “oh, yeah, Muscleman would totally think that.”
That’s a compliment to the character creation but not exactly one to the writing. It takes a well-defined character for an audience to recognize things that he or she would and wouldn’t say, and a lot of shows skimp on that, instead giving characters a free-form personality that can adapt to any jokes the writers want to show off. The Awesomes doesn’t skimp. The show knows exactly who its characters are, and that’s refreshing to watch, but it comes at the cost of jokes that land with a light thud rather than a bang.
In the season 2 premiere, the title Awesomes attend a memorial for a seemingly dead friend and Prock decides to get a bit tipsy following the ceremony. Meyers plays drunk Prock convincingly, slurring just enough, but the bit lags—mostly because its pure purpose appears to be exposition. Prock praises Malocchio for not going the evil route like his villainous father but unintentionally ends up convincing him to take that evil route in a conversation that didn’t need to be longer than a minute. Watching the scene, which is basically just Prock being drunk, is kind of like going to a bar and feeling trapped as an over-intoxicated person comes up to you and babbles on about something or other. No one likes to be trapped by a drunk person, even if it’s Seth Meyers.
But even if The Awesomes doesn’t inspire guffaws with each joke, it makes up for it with twists and turns. Hotwire is dead! Hotwire isn’t dead! Hotwire is dead, a large man was just wearing a Hotwire suit! Hotwire is alive—really! Prock’s crush on Hotwire (Rashida Jones) makes that whole plotline even more amusing: Malocchio, now evil, takes Prock hostage and threatens to kill Hotwire, so Prock uses his superpower to stop time and think over what to do—which is, of course, to save Hotwire but also includes him waffling on whether that’s the right think to do romantically. “Saving someone’s life might seem like I’m coming on pretty strong, and I don’t want to push Hotwire back in the friend zone,” he mutters to himself. Ah, superheros: They struggle with romance, just like us.
Sure, The Awesomes might not be the go-to cartoon for smart knee-slappers, but that’s probably not what it’s going for, anyway. What it does do is give comic-book fans a cartoon to watch when they need a dose of high stakes and plenty of comic relief. Plus, who wouldn’t want to watch a romance bloom between (the cartoon versions of) comic dreamboats Seth Meyers and Rashida Jones?