Hank Stuever reviews Comedy Central's new animated series 'Ugly Americans'
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
"Ugly Americans," Comedy Central's new after-"South Park" gross-out cartoon show, is a clever and often funny twist on the notion of Manhattan as the great melting pot, where zombies, monsters and mutants do what they can to get along with the few remaining humans. It's one big illegal immigration metaphor to emphasize that everyone shares basic civil rights, even if some of us aren't technically alive (or human, or still have all of our skin).
Mark Lilly (voiced by Matt Oberg) is a human social worker with a liberal heart, tasked with helping these outre citizens assimilate and keep their natural, if monstrous, predilections at bay. The two demons from Hell who oversee the Department of Integration have cut Mark's staff to almost nothing, so he and his remaining colleague, an alcoholic wizard named Leonard Powers, have to divvy up the field work.
Unlike a raft of recent adult-themed cartoons, "Ugly Americans," premiering Wednesday night, offers surprising laughs with its premise, and it is profanely whip-smart in a way that recalls the network's much-missed "Drawn Together" series. The New York envisioned by its creators (Devin Clark and David M. Stern) is amply packed with background humor, including pigeon-men flying around New York and defecating on its varied citizenry -- vampires, disembodied brains, cephalopods, etc., all of whom are policed and intimidated: "Airboarding is illegal!" cries a squid-man, dragged out of the water by overzealous human cops.
A werewolf is arrested, taken downtown and processed: "Are you good or evil?" the human female police officer asks him. ("Good," the werewolf replies.) "Okay, Evil, do you walk on two legs or four?" ("Two. Four if I'm runnin', and sometimes five, if you get my meaning. Aroooooofff.")
"Ugly Americans" has that wry, postmodern vibe that these sort of shows have perfected (and even overdone). Of course, it is well stocked with the hipster monster of the moment -- zombies. Mark's roommate, Randall, is a zombie, who quells his urge to eat Mark by having a daily breakfast of microwaveable Flesh Toast and making frequent calls to his ZA sponsor.
Randall wasn't always a zombie; he "went zombie" for a girl who only liked to get it on with zombies, but she later dumped him for a warlock. Still, the ladies dig Randall in his decaying state: "Can you believe this?" he asks Mark as he flirts across a crowded bar with a comely, many-breasted creature. "My skin is falling off like osso buco and she's still all over me."
Mark himself is having an affair with his boss, a fiery demon named Callie Maggotbone, who takes him down to Hell to have dinner with her father. (Hell turns out to be one of those mixed-use outdoor retail developments, with a Barnes & Evil, a Demon Marcus and a Blood Bath & Beyond.)
"Tonight we are featuring unbaptized-baby-arm soup with a playful raspberry coulis," the waiter announces.
"I'll just go with the breadsticks," Mark says, munching one.
"Those are also baby arms," the waiter says.
If you ask me, I think Charles Addams would have dug all this -- or at least have dug it up.
(30 minutes) premieres at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday on Comedy Central.