Krapopolis on FOX.

Dan Harmon’s Latest Effort, The Animated ‘Krapopolis,’ Is A Middling Effort With Potential

Dan Harmon was once viewed as a comedy savant for his hand in the cult project, Heatvision & Jack, the hit NBC sitcom that dressed itself in cult clothes, Community, and bro favorite Rick & Morty. This view was predicated on an absurdist (good), at times ironic (cringey) comedy sensibility that was still en vogue with the Gen X/elder millennial alt sensibility seen in The State, Mr. Show, Andy Richter Controls The Universe, and The Office. Put another way, Harmon’s work was a product of a comedy ethos that takes effort to find now, as mainstream comedy has largely become more about the idea of jokes rather than having them.

With this in mind, Harmon’s latest endeavor, an animated sitcom for FOX entitled Krapopolis, tries to compromise between sentimentality and real inventive comedy, situating itself oddly, but not hopelessly, in the ‘Animation Domination’ lineup. In many ways, the show serves as an examination of Harmon’s obsessions and hang-ups, and for better and ill, may be the truest distillation of what has made him such a looming (if aging) figure in network comedy.

Krapopolis on FOX.
The series premiere of Krapopolis. Courtesy of FOX.

The voice cast of Krapopolis is dynamite. The characters they play leave a lot to be desired.

Richard Ayoade, Matt Berry, Duncan Trussell, Pam Murphy, and Hannah Waddingham all lend their voices to a family off odd, mixed-species individuals trying to find themselves in Tyrannis’s (Ayoade) attempt at starting the first real democracy-adjacent empire. It’s an utter delight to hear Waddingham, best known as the anchoring force on Ted Lasso, cut loose as matriarchal, selfish goddess Deliria, primarily because we haven’t had the opportunity to before. As for Ayoade and Berry, however, it’s a bit of a different story.

In all Harmon creations, there needs to be a protagonist with parental issues struggling to feel happy. It falls on Ayoade to be that character this time, but here he’s not finding new shades of himself as an actor, or displaying the breath of his talent. Instead, Ayoade is stuck doing the old Ayoade “thing” — whining and feeling undermined despite his brilliance. This would have been fine some years ago, but at 46, the actor simply deserves better. As for Berry, who plays the human-centaur/horse-lion-scorpion-dragon patriarch, Shlub, he’s unfortunately cast as a fatherly cad not dissimilar to his What We Do In The Shadows character, Laszlo Cravensworth. While Berry is charming enough, the portrayal boxes him in, and it makes his character in a family that includes a strong, sweet cyclops (Murphy), and a fish-creature genius (Trussell) feel one-note. 

Interestingly, the plots are fun and inventive, finding new twists via their setting.

Despite the characterization issues, the ancient Greek setting has proved to be a fertile ground for premise.“The Stuperbowl” and “Wife Swamp,” the second and third episode, respectively, feature plots involving the invention of forensics via examining the guts of a body to determine criminal thinking, and an attempt from characters in a love-triangle to fool Poseidon and avoid death. The show isn’t yet dialed into its own frequency like Bob’s Burgers’s weird small-town idiocy, or Praise Petey’s upbeat cult freakiness, so its interest in running with big concepts until it finds itself is admirable, and the attention to emotional beats is on par with Krapopolis’s only contemporary, the BBC sitcom Plebs. Both take a clever look at life in an ancient civilization, and while Plebs found its voice more quickly, both prioritize character and feelings in a way that feels helpful, rather than tacked-on.

The comedy is both by-the-numbers and incredibly original, in frustratingly equal measure.

FOX’s ‘Animation Domination’ comedy block was created to accommodate their commitment to Seth MacFarlane, who built his empire on gags that went on for too long. For whatever A&R reasons that exist, Harmon’s Krapopolis finds itself trying these jokes at times to varying degrees of success. In one sequence involving a lute player being covered in spiders, we watch him panic and ask questions about whether they bite, if they’re poisonous, etc, while Waddingham’s Deliria sits there blinking. The comedy doesn’t really land in this scene, and for a show otherwise packed with clever jokes (recently invented megaphones are advertised as “cones of wood that make you loud,”) the Macfarlane of it all feels tedious.

The show is at its best, however, when finding its own tack with the ‘Animation Domination’ format. In a sequence involving an attempt to deliver a Trojan horse filled with a bomb to unusually emotionally-evolved cannibals, Hippocampus (Trussell) and Stupendous (Murphy) fight their way out of the settlement while both teams cry and share positive affirmations. It may be the first sequence like this ever filmed, and its originality makes it a standout in terms of its comedy and inventiveness. Hopefully the show finds its way to this more often. 

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