Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Hawk Ripjaw checks out Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. on Hulu and Lor Gislason recommends you revisit Alita: Battle Angel.
Hawk: So…I was going to do a WtB entry on the first episode of Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., but apparently the whole season dropped at once at around 10pm my time, and I kind of maybe stayed up super late to watch nearly every episode knowing full well I had an appointment in the morning for my second vaccine shot.
It was worth it: M.O.D.O.K. is a blast. It’s an unpredictable and hilarious sitcom that has M.O.D.O.K confronting dual midlife crises of his failed criminal empire and equally failed marriage, with his huge ego unwilling to face his failures. He’s a D-list supervillain going through the mother of all existential meltdowns. Patton Oswalt is terrific as the eponymous character, and his style of humor shines through the writing and production on the series.
M.O.D.O.K. will not appeal to everyone. This might be a Marvel show, but this is not an MCU show. It’s divergent enough to be completely removed from the main MCU canon, and it’s for the better. This is pretty much a straight comedy, but the humor goes to some very dark places without even blinking. It’s rated TV-MA for a reason. The three biggest comparisons I immediately thought of were Robot Chicken, Venture Bros. and Harley Quinn. There are some shockingly grim bits here, but they’re executed perfectly.
It’s not all gallows humor, though: the overall tone is one of goofy, bizarre humor with an ambiguity over which throwaway joke will eventually turn into a running one, and tons of really weird pop culture references. To boot, the animation style allows for some hilariously gruesome moments of sudden violence.
The style builds on Robot Chicken’s stop-motion action figure aesthetic and elevates it to a truly visually-enthralling show. I’m sure there’s a lot of CGI supplementing it, but there’s a real cinematic flair to to the show, with some genuinely impressive shots and camera movements. You can look closely and see how each shot has its own little physical element when a character’s expression changes: small seams in the changing of a mouth animation, or tiny detailed props, or how the creases in clothing move realistically with its character. It’s just great to look at.
The show moves at an absolutely breakneck pace, but it works for how quickly the jokes get cranked out. Each episode is a consistent whirlwind of M.O.D.O.K. schemes briefly but frequently derailed into a separate subplot for a (probably not long for this world) side character, while an overarching plot sneaks its way into the closing moments of each episode. It’s actually kind of a great setup, with the shenanigans of the episode proper giving way to a hook to hit that tempting “Next Episode” button.
M.O.D.O.K.’s colossal self-centerdness and relentless buffonery is initially grating, but the show quickly finds its balance to stay engaging. He’s such an unlikeable character that most of the plot payoffs revolve not around what he does, but what happens to him as a result of his childishness. The general trajectory of his schemes are essentially more science-y versions of those of Wile E. Coyote: doomed to fail, often in very obvious ways, with the intrigue being in how much the perpetrator suffers.
There’s clearly a ton of work poured into these 10 episodes, and with a second season contingent on viewership, I really want to see this passion rewarded. Absolutely check this out.