Reviews

New Fox Animation: 'Axe Cop' + 'High School USA!'

Pete Ski

Axe Cop and High School USA! recapture a sense of insanity that hasn't been seen in cartoons since the heyday of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.


Axe Cop

Airtime: Saturdays, 11pm ET
Cast: Nick Offerman, Ken Marino
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Fox
Creator: Malachai and Ethan Nicolle
Air date: 2013-07-21
Website
Trailer
Amazon

High School USA!

Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Fox
Creator: Dino Stamatopoulos
Airtime: Saturdays, 11:15pm ET
Cast: Vincent Kartheiser, Mandy Moore
Trailer: /2013/07/watch-the-trailer-for-dino-stamatopouloss-high-school-usa/
Air date: 2013-07-21
Website
Amazon

For more than a decade, Adult Swim has had a monopoly on late-night surreal and absurd cartoons for adults. Finally, a challenger has arrived in the form of ADHD, the Saturday night branch of Fox's Animation Domination lineup. With its first two offerings, Axe Cop and High School USA! (both 15 minutes each), Fox recaptures a sense of insanity that hasn't been seen in cartoons since the heyday of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

The concept of Axe Cop is very simple, and explained in an incredibly brief introduction to each episode: at the scene of a house fire, a cop finds an axe and becomes Axe Cop. Based on a webcomic written by five-year-old Malachai Nicolle and drawn by his 28-year-old brother Ethan, the show looks like what might happen when children play with action figures. Anyone who made He-Man team up with Barbie to fight the Thundercats as a kid will appreciate the mentality behind Axe Cop.

Axe Cop (voiced by Nick Offerman) is an absolute psychopath in the funniest way possible. His logic concerning every decision is completely twisted, from his general fondness for chopping off heads to more particular situations. These tend to involve characters as odd as Axe Cop: when a young woman asks for help, Axe Cop demands first that she tell him whether he'd look good with a Mohawk and handlebar mustache (her answer: "Not as good as you'd look with crazy pizza hair and a super-curly beard and mustache with a robot ghost inside"). Axe Cop's plan to defeat the King of All Bad Guys is to summon dinosaurs to eat the King's brain, since "all his brain cells are evil."

Of course, we expect that Axe Cop will defeat evil whenever necessary, but he consistently finds amusingly bizarre ways to do it. It's exactly what you'd expect while listening to a kid make up a story: when she's stuck for a next plot turn, she'll just make something up. The brilliance is precisely a function of its incongruity.

Such charming childishness stems from the series' origins as a webcomic written by Malachai Nicolle (five years old when he started writing the series, now eight) and illustrated by his brother Ethan (29 at the start). The TV series does occasionally give in to slightly more "mature" material. By mature, that isn't to say blue or dirty, but more adult concerns. A store clerk and Axe Cop argue over whether renting a Giant Dinosaur Horn makes more sense than buying one; this leads to Axe Cop's sidekick Flute Cop (Ken Marino) haggling with the clerk over late fees, a concept that might not interest a lot of five-year-olds. Luckily, Axe Cop soon enough moves on to a new adventure, contending with the world's smartest poop, defecated into being by a zombie who ate the world's smartest man.

Whereas Axe Cop is designed to seem silly and spontaneous, High School USA! is more plainly calculated. A perverse satire of the Archie comic books, it follows the adventures of Marsh (Vincent Kartheiser). While he manifests an Archie-like wholesomeness and can-do attitude, he also displays the consequences of being so relentlessly upbeat, suffering from an eating disorder (being three pounds overweight keeps him home eating cheesecake rather than going to the school dance) and other neurotic behaviors.

The first episode of High School USA! begins with Marsh and his pals Blackstein (Nathan Barnatt), Cassandra (Mandy Moore), Amber (uncredited), and Brad (T.J. Miller) attending a school assembly about bullying. Brad learns that he is in fact a bully, and more specifically, that mocking Blackstein as "Brainstein" isn't just good fun. His horror is compounded when he's disinvited from the school dance, the theme of which is "It gets better after high school." As it parodies both the trendy focus on bullying in schools and the "It Gets Better" project, the bit is sure to enrage someone. But most viewers will recognize the South Park-like humor, critiquing the problem by critiquing the mainstream response to it.

But unlike South Park, which usually offers something like "hope"(however sarcastically rendered), High School USA! is mostly just bleak. In this episode, for instance, Marsh explains extolls the value of bullies (pecking orders are set) and so gets Brad back into his classmates' good graces. Marsh's sad sack of a father (the show's creator Dino Stamatopoulos) comes up with the episode's final line -- "It doesn't get better" -- just after he receives a bullying text message, at the same time that he's eating his son's discarded cheesecake out of the trash. It's almost obscenely depressing.

This is the key difference between Axe Cop and High School USA!: the first is a set of jokey bits, and the second builds slowly to deep, sometimes painful laughs. Their similarities are just as obvious: both feature stellar animation, a boon even as they also offer storytelling as cleaver as that in Sealab 2021 and Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. Both also feature top notch, big name casts (Axe Cop's guest stars include Vincent Kartheiser, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tyler the Creator). In other words, both shows display effort while looking like they're easy, an effective combination for animation. It's commendable too that Fox has found an alternative to its other Animation Domination shows, all about family units and buffoonish fathers. Maybe Saturday night is the new Sunday night.

9

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.