Given that Comedy Central has somehow managed to milk three seasons out of the one-joke animated Drawn Together, expectations have to be somewhat higher for David Cross and H. Jon Benjamin’s Freak Show, an erratically zany new series that has at least two or three jokes going for it. Unsure if it aims to be a Saturday morning superhero parody, an unfocused political satire or just the sort of random non-punchlines Cross fans have come to love, Freak Show has the look and pacing of an Adult Swim segment or one of Robert Smigel’s TV Funhouse shorts, spread thin to a half-hour.
The Freak Squad is a team of second (or maybe third or fourth) tier superheroes. By day, they’re exhibits in Bob and Helen Hartsdale’s Funtyme Freak Show, the nation’s last truly independent roving presentation of the unusually-abled, but when the Pentagon needs the fulfillment of missions that are less impossible and more irrelevant, they call in this "M:I" team. There’s The World’s Tallest Nebraskan (voiced by Brian Stack), capable of shrinking six inches. There’s The Bearded Clam (Janeane Garofalo), gifted with blinding bitch juice. Primi, The Premature Baby who offers pinpoint vomiting. The Log Cabin Republican (Jon Glaser) turns into Burly Bear. And Tuck and Benny the Siamese Twins (Benjamin and Cross) can separate.
Each episode features a different government task for the Freak Squad (catch phrases include "Freak Squad are on it!" and "Freak Squad are go!") — in the first, they have to track down the president’s favorite nut, while in the second they have to roll back the odometer on the president’s Trans-Am to increase its Blue Book value. Meanwhile, an ongoing plot finds these unusual heroes battling Duncan Schiesst (Will Arnett) of Freak-Mart, a vast corporation attempting to buy out the Hartsdales.
It feels a bit like the Venture Brothers crossed with Mystery Men, which means that it’s aiming for a very limited demographic.
There isn’t much more to it than that. If a premature baby complaining about hunger in an Italian accent strikes you as funny (which it should… at least for a while) or you get the giggles from a team of heroes being transported via a smelly port-a-potty (I wouldn’t begrudge it) or the idea of a giant Princess Di eating Austrians is your idea of a hoot (the jury’s still out), there’s ample broad humor. There are also more subtle bits, including verbal gags (if neologisms like "thromise" [one part threat, one part promise] and "sholphin" [half shark, half dolphin, the perfect killing machine] can really be considered wordplay) and out-of-left-field absurdity (my biggest laugh came from baseball journeyman Marquis Grissom doing a signing at a Glaucoma Ball).
The animation’s intentionally ugly, the sensibility intentionally crude, half of the voices sound (for good reason) like Cross and Benjamin and after the initial premise is set out, the laugh-out-loud moments are a bit rare, but I guess its charm is in how roughshod it all is and how, after two episodes, it manages not to wear out its welcome entirely.
Freak Show premieres on Wednesday (Oct. 4) night at 10:30 p.m. ET.