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"Superjail": Visually Insane But Comedically Average

Adult Swim originals, even to this day, are often exceedingly low-budget affairs with stiff-as-a-board, Flash/After-Effects animation. Sure, there are a few highlights like the visually rich Boondocks and co-productions like Family Guy and American Dad, but the 11-minute shows don’t typically get smooth animation.

That’s not at all been a bad thing, as the writing and timing often make up for it. No one cares if Aqua Teen Hunger Force looks stiff because the dialogue is good, and the visual gags are so tightly timed that the stiff animation doesn’t hurt it. But the new Adult Swim series Superjail, while a visual feast of fluid, nearly non-stop animation, manages to somehow make its great animation a detriment rather than an advantage.

“Combaticus,” the episode we got for preview, probably has more visual gags per minute than any animated short I’ve seen in years. It’s just that they lack punch. Maybe ultraviolent anime and independent animated shorts have dulled my response to “violence = hilarious” by setting the bar a bit high, but I’m more inclined to think the timing is off. They have these outstandingly animated gags with people getting their whole skeletons ripped out, and yet it just doesn’t elicit more than a chuckle. Superjail is not all bad in that regard: there are a number of pans that are just loaded with gags (stuff viewers will probably have to freeze frame to enjoy the full flavor of), and some really subtle but admittedly cool scene transitions. But one of its slowest and least violent moments is also hands down its funniest. There’s your proof that timing may be everything.

Now, I want to emphasize that SuperJail features some of the most expressive animation on TV. It not only holds its own against mainstream, gag-centric series like Chowder, Spongebob and Flapjack, it even gives the late Ed, Edd and Eddy a run for its money, and if you know me, that’s very high praise. A lot of love and attention has gone into Superjail, and the animators deserve a huge amount of praise for proving that you can make an insanely animated show entirely in the US using the often-maligned Flash software. One can also tell they’ve been inspired by the animation greats, with the movement of the Warden alone owing a huge debt to the Fleischer Brothers and Tex Avery. There are lots of other little nods as well.

As is stands, Superjail feels all too often like you’re flipping through a great animator’s portfolio. It has tons of awesomely grotesque scenes with very little pace or flow. Maybe that kind of non-stop flavor is what they were looking for, and I have little doubt that it’ll find an audience, but personally, I hope they learn to let more of the humor breathe. Sometimes stillness is golden; or, at least, it’s the difference between getting a laugh and falling flat.

Superjail debuts Sunday, September 27, at 11:45pm (ET)

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