“When he knew what he was doing, he was actually an effective hero, which did happen occasionally.”
That above quote is Apollo Gauntlet in a nutshell. In Adult Swim’s new show, which was adapted from a 2012 web series of the same name, the titular Apollo Gauntlet is a put-upon hero who punches and stammers his way through a nightmare version of the Middle Ages.
There’s a certain slacker charm that fuels series creator Myles Langlois’ Apollo Gauntlet. It’s the same “little hero that could” attitude that undoubtedly helped the property find an audience during its more Dadaist web series days.
The bizarre experiment of Apollo Gauntlet began back in 2012 as a web series of the same name by Rug Burn. It gained a cult following through the years, and its online presence led to Langlois creating a pilot for Adult Swim, where an online vote led to a series pickup. Rug Burn’s web series version of Apollo Gauntlet manages to be even cruder than the version you’re seeing on Adult Swim, but it’s absolutely the same show. Many of Apollo Gauntlet’s supporting characters, storylines, and even a number of Apollo’s non-sequitur one-liners trace back to the web series. So if you’re hungry for more Apollo, there’s two more “seasons” available online.
The show follows Paul Cassidy, an average run-of-the-mill cop, who is transported to a brand-new world courtesy of Dr. Benign (James Urbaniak). In this alternate dimension, Paul gains a new persona in the form of Apollo Gauntlet (voiced by Langlois), and accepts the role of noble hero. With new magical abilities and powerful (talking) armor, he can finally do right and protect the world just as he’s always wanted.
Apollo Gauntlet is wise to adopt a quest-heavy structure to each episode. It adds a real sense of adventure that feels appropriate for the era and world that the show is set in.
The series also isn’t afraid to embrace its archaic setting for story potential. My favorite of the show’s first three episodes involves a lunar eclipse and the townspeople succumbing to the lunacy that was often associated with the phenomenon back in the Middle Ages. Apollo Gauntlet finds itself in a comfortable position to lean into this material when needed, or tone it down accordingly.
In spite of the series’ adventurous tone, the first episode surprisingly takes its time. It really just lets viewers get to know Paul Cassidy aka Apollo Gauntlet and Dr. Benign, as well as the dynamic shared between the two of them. Adult Swim series have followed a trend of moving a mile a minute, almost as if each new show is trying to cram in more than the last. It’s not until the final minutes of the show’s pilot that Paul even finds the gauntlets and accepts their power. Other series would have this function as their opening scene (it’s worth noting that the pitch pilot for Apollo Gauntlet does start with him already in the thick of hero-dom).
While Apollo is trying to save his new world, Dr. Benign is in a much less glamorous situation where he’s made the prisoner of Corporal Vile, some subterranean tyrant who looks like he was rejected from a casting call for He-Man villains. In fact, all of the Oracles of Doom have a disturbing, misplaced quality to them. They ultimately want to retrieve the special gauntlets that Apollo has lucked into finding, with Dr. Benign often being used as unwilling bait in their schemes to bring Apollo forward.
On the topic of He-Man, the show’s crude animation style definitely tries to mine humor out of its rough edges. There are plenty of entertaining gags that come from the show mocking the trope of re-used, cyclical animation from cartoons out of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Brief glimpses of computer graphics or animation of a better quality occasionally pop up, as if to remind the audience that the show is capable of doing better than this, but that it’s an intentional move to evoke style and nostalgia. In a similar sense, the score for the series often sounds like it’s the MIDI file from out of some early-era computer game like King’s Quest, which also helps establish the tone.
The show’s animation might leave a little to be desired, but Paul/Apollo is a charming character that will grow on audiences. He’s always quipping or muttering something to himself, and it’s usually a great window into this peculiar individual. One second he’ll be complaining about “compromising his coccyx” after a bad fall and then the next be waxing on about the documentaries of Werner Herzog.
There’s also a brilliant Shadow of the Colossus reference that I’d be remiss not to mention, especially since it’s followed with, “Nobody gets your dumb pop culture references.” Apollo does the stupid stuff that you would do if you found yourself with magical, superpowered gauntlets. Paul is the best sort of everyman and I found myself thinking of the titular character of Tim from the now-gone Life and Times of Tim, which is some of the highest praise that a beleaguered everyman can receive.
Each episode also seems to contain the weird tradition of Apollo rapping his way through his peril, which offers up a very Brad Neely-like vibe to the cartoon (in fact, the trajectory that Langlois’ Apollo Gauntlet is experiencing is not unlike what Brad Neely went through on the network with China, IL). They’re brief flashes of craziness, but another appreciated dynamic to Apollo’s character.
Apollo Gauntlet might not be the craziest or the most professional looking of Adult Swim’s programming, but it’s comfortable being what it is. Apollo Gauntlet is growing at its own pace. Hopefully audiences will get the opportunity to see where that growth leads, whether it’s doubling down on the ideas of season one or venturing into ambitious territory in a second season.
As the show’s beautiful theme song tells its audience, “Here comes Apollo Gauntlet. Fighting evil, even when it’s not there.” You better be ready for him.
Apollo Gauntlet begins airing July 9th at 12:15am on Adult Swim
This review is based on the first three quarter-hour episodes of Apollo Gauntlet’s first season.