Do you love comic books? Superheroes? Stop-motion animation? Jokes about religion? Jokes about prop comics? Seth Green? Any of these things? Then you should pay attention to Crackle’s new stop-motion original, SuperMansion. You know how Aaron Paul decided to take a (perhaps not-so-sharp) left turn after Breaking Bad with Bojack Horseman? Well, this is Bryan Cranston’s version of that, and you can go watch the first 4 episodes right now. But should you? Well I have, and I’m here to help you make that decision.
Just so we’re all on the same page, SuperMansion follows The League of Freedom (above, from left: Robobot, Cooch, Titanium Rex, American Ranger and Black Saturn. Not pictured: Brad) in their ongoing quest to save the world, stay financially in the black and stay off each other’s nerves. Much like in The Incredibles (and of course Watchmen), this is a world with no alter-egos, where superheroes are both known to the public and criticized by them. Nothing like The Incredibles, SuperMansion’s humor resides exactly where you’d expect it to considering its ties to Robot Chicken.
Anyways, the first episode starts in the middle of the action with an off-kilter, banter-filled jewel heist attempt by the Blue Menace. When he’s caught, the ensuing battle spills into the outside world, and the characters are slowly introduced (starting with Bryan Cranston’s Titanium Rex) through a battle scene that ends with them destroying a certain national monument (once Brad finally shows up.) They end up being scolded by Congress for all the public destruction they’ve caused, and they have to figure out how to become financially viable before being shutting down. This is where the robot formerly known as Robobot comes in to try and save the day in an absolutely bonkers, seemingly Metalocalypse-inspired montage. Meanwhile, Black Saturn faces his nemesis, The Groaner. It’s a fun, action-packed plotline that never even threatens to take itself too seriously (which is unequivocally a good thing.) This can be said for the next episodes as well.
These first few episodes definitely show a lot of promise, with a confident pacing that at times masks the fact that this is a brand-new show. Of course, it’s not as frantically paced as Robot Chicken’s short sketches are, but this is a much longer, singularly-focused narrative. A lot of Robot Chicken’s humor also comes from the slapstick nature of stop-motion animation itself, so SuperMansion doesn’t lose anything in that regard. While many of the greater plot points are extremely and intentionally clichéd, there are several unique sources of humor in the execution of these plots, showing that SuperMansion is trying to subvert superhero tales from the inside.
Titanium Rex is the one-time greatest hero in the world who has to deal with the fact that he’s just not that young anymore. The fresh-from-the-past American Ranger similarly has to deal with a world that’s new to him, with a President named Barack Obama and a Supreme Court Justice named Sonia Sotomayor, and he doesn’t do a great job of it (let’s be honest, we all know Captain America would be extremely racist if he was around today.) Brad is another in a long line of superheroes who have had to deal with, let’s just say, personal impulse control issues. Cooch is a not-quite human hero who doesn’t quite fit in, and Robobot is the robotic side of this same coin. Finally, Black Saturn’s inspiration is obvious the second you see him, except for the fact that he’s not an orphan. The very strong voice acting (courtesy of co-creator/writer/director Zeb Wells, Heidi Gardner, Bryan Cranston, Keegan Michael-Key, Tucker Gilmore and Tom Root, among others) goes nicely with the polished animation, and overall the production value is very high.
Conversely, the humor can get pretty lowbrow, often delving into the crass. These moments do not make up the bulk of the show (and so far they seem overrepresented in the first 2 episodes), but they’re certainly enough to make some cringe. I personally don’t really care about that type of thing, but it just seems like the show is really selling itself short when they hit some of these jokes. As long as they keep bringing the funny stuff (like a classic helicopter bit in the first episode), though, this won’t be too much of a problem. That’s because the heart of SuperMansion is a superhero world that may be irreverent but is still packed with adventure.
Now that you’re a little older and a little more cynical you know that real-life superheroes would be more like The League of Freedom than the Justice League.
Sure. maybe the adventure doesn’t go exactly by the book, but that’s the joy of SuperMansion. If you grew up surrounding yourself with the world of superheroes, this show is for you, because now that you’re a little older and a little more cynical you know that real-life superheroes would be more like The League of Freedom than the Justice League. If you didn’t grow up reading a lot of superhero comics, you’ll definitely still find some things to enjoy in this show (because everyone knows at least some basic superhero stereotypes), but there are plenty of more obscure references (to both particular stories and the genre/medium in general) for the comic book lovers out there.
As all (good) comic books have an element of darkness regardless of how funny they’re supposed to be, SuperMansion also touches on some more serious topics like abandonment, abuse, loss, homophobia and purpose with varying levels of levity. It never gets melodramatic, though, because this show is rightfully committed to absurdity all the way. To compare it again to Bojack Horseman, where Bojack often chooses storytelling over humor, SuperMansion usually chooses humor over story. This is again in line with Robot Chicken before it, and it’s very fitting given the episodic nature of superhero stories.
This brings me to my last point — SuperMansion is certainly dedicated to various tropes of the superhero genre. Whether it’s diving into origin stories or arguing about who’s whose nemesis, it’s clear that SuperMansion is not just a comedy dropped into a superhero world, but one that stays true to its setting as a modern superhero show. Ultimately, this show is for fans of both superheroes and comedy. If this sounds like you, I recommend you go give SuperMansion a watch or two now. Otherwise, it’s still worth checking out at some point just to see if it’s for you. Then come back and let me know how you like it! And by the way, episode 5 comes out on October 22nd.