Adult Swim has made it a tradition to open up their pilots to the public. There was once a time when a failed pilot never got to see the light of day or went further than the cast and crew involved, but now it’s practically the norm to feature what fails or what’s in consideration because why not? At least this way someone gets to see it and it can have some sort of odd life and cult status.
This year, Adult Swim presents four new prospective series and it’s an impressive batch of pilots, all of which have incredibly varied looks and art styles, whether it’s Claymation, motion-captured inspired CGI, or nightmare renditions of traditional animation. Adult Swim has had plenty of luck with its previous pilot showcases, but this feels like the strongest collective of shows that they’ve debuted in this fashion.
In the past, certain prospective pilots were shown off under the condition that some would live and others would die. There’s no voting system present this time and frankly it’s for the best, as it doesn’t feel like any of these shows should have to be sacrificed so one of the others can survive (except for Chuck Deuce, which feels like the odd man out here). Almost all of these pilots deserve a chance to grow and evolve on Adult Swim, but they also all offer point of views that are not currently being serviced by any of the other programs on the network. Here’s our breakdown of what Adult Swim has in consideration for 2018.
The Shivering Truth
“And that’s my message to you: No one cares.”
This is straight up one of the best things that I’ve ever seen in my life. If you do nothing else, you need to check out The Shivering Truth. Let it burrow into your brain and lay its truth eggs. The pilot caused a big stir at Sundance and it’s very easy to see why. It comes from Vernon Chatman, Cat Solen, and the lunatics at PFFR and it deals with the lofty, universal themes of order and chaos that they most recently addressed in The Heart, She Holler, but have been a fascination of theirs since their earliest works. The Shivering Truth is stunning Twilight Zone-style anthology series that tackles the eternal topics of life, death, and the horrors of humanity and human nature. The fact that the first thirty seconds of the pilot can perfectly distill the show’s premise is proof of how versatile this show can be.
The Shivering Truth loosely connects its stories and ideas through characters, emotions, and themes, but it’s really more concerned about creating a feeling in the audience and not worrying about the rest. This show wants to dissect and reanimate your mind in the weirdest way possible and it gets pretty damn close to this goal. Perhaps the best thing about this show is that it feels like the closest that PFFR have gotten to the sheer existential gangbang of the mind that was Xavier: Renegade Angel. In fact, The Shivering Truth operates with a frenetic speed and style that’s very reminiscent of Xavier. The only difference here is that this is stop-motion Claymation and not CGI.
It’s quite incredible to see this all-encompassing Xavier mentality presented in such a poetic way. This is an exceptionally dark show, but it almost feels like “Wes Anderson Meets PFFR” due to its sprawling beauty and presentation style. The premiere episode ricochets between radical ideas like a man whose constant suicide attempts actually help the world in a rube Goldberg-like way; a man who stays alive for hundreds of years just to spite the people who want him to kill himself; and a man who takes advantage of butterfly effects to rule the chaotic nature of the universe. The narrative moves in a stream of consciousness nature, but all of its unbelievable stories make sense. It’s a pilot that’s so dense in jokes that you need to watch it several times to truly catch everything in it.
It’s so easy to picture this expanding into a full series and it needs to happen. Xavier got two seasons. The Shivering Truth needs at least that much.
“Your soulmate would be just as happy with someone else.”
The Shivering Truth might be the most polished, impressive pilot of the lot, but Trap Universe shares its same sense of cynicism and turns out a project that’s just as interesting and nearly as dynamic. Trap Universe comes from JJ Villard of King Star King fame and this series is just as outrageous as his previous works. The series follows the kind Eddie G as he and his family work for the Devil-like Trap Lord to pay off their seemingly eternal debt. What’s truly brilliant is that the show looks like a program for pre-school kids, but it’s deliriously demented in a way that’s sure to cause nightmares.
Trap Universe taps into that classical 1930s animation style that was present in Fleischer and Walt Disney cartoons of the era. It’s an innocent look that seems to inherently be hiding something sinister, so it’s really the perfect choice for Villard to use for a story of this nature. It’s that comforting, nostalgic look mixed with the warped sensibilities of Wonder Showzen or brainwashing propaganda films. That might seem like an exaggeration, but Trap Universe literally bombards the audience with dexpondent subliminal messages throughout the episode. Sometime there will be subtle graffiti scrawled on a wall that says something like, “NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOU,” but there are at least a dozen hidden insults (“YOUR FLAWS DON’T MAKE YOU BEAUTIFUL OR UNIQUE. THEY MAKE YOU FLAWED”) that flash across the screen for single frames of animation. Trap Universe pushes this brainwashing angle to the absolute limit and its goal of making this “child-friendly” propaganda is a success, which is pretty terrifying.
Eddie G just wants to spend time with his family, but he finds himself stuck collecting debts from all of the corrupt people in the world so his boss can gain even more power. It’s interesting to see that Trap Lord doesn’t seem to realize how wicked he is and he just views himself as a motivational speaker that wants to help. His obliviousness towards his evil ways really speaks to pilot’s greater themes of good versus evil and the temptations of the Devil. This almost feels like a show that a church would get tricked into showing to impressionable religious youth and that would probably make JJ Villard and Trap Lord both very happy.
Trap Universe expertly mixes sugary sweet imagery with horrific visuals all while child-like songs and lullabies play on the score. It’s a bonkers blend of sensibilities, but it works, and it’s not hard to picture Eddie G out on more missions to serve his leader, or this dynamic eventually flipping over time. The premise that’s present here works and I’d like to see more of what Villard and company do with this unique style.
“Dear Journal, you know me as the heroic journeyer of questful combat; Friend to the very stakes of the world. I know me as TIGTONE.”
Andrew Koehler’s Tigtone has a bit of a history to it. It comes from Red Letter Media and began as a YouTube hit before Adult Swim decided to expand it into something deeper. They’ve always been showing this pilot off for some time at their “Adult Swim On the Green” tours, but now it looks like the show is finally out in the wild. The series tries to put every fantasy convention into its arsenal, as it pulls from movies, video games, or literature to build its elastic universe. Tigtone is a warrior that loves taking on these fantasy stereotypes, but he runs into adventure like a meth head and he feels very different from the typical protagonist.
The series introduces Tigtone as someone who is addicted to quests like they’re a drug. He needs to go through supernatural combat to prove his worth. One of the most attractive things about the pilot is just how gung-ho Tigtone is about everything that he does. This is hardly a fresh take on warriors, but there’s such an intensity to every look that Tigtone gives and every line that he delivers. It feels like at any moment Tigtone might just drop dead from a burst blood vessel and it’s an energy that strangely works for the pilot. It feels like every quest might be Tigtone’s last quest, so why not go all out every single time?
While Tigtone might have the longest history out of any of these pilots, this ultimately is a project that people are either going to love or hate. The series uses a very surreal, aggressive performance-captured form of CGI for its animation style that is deeply unnerving and creepy. This look really works for the fantasy style of the show, but I’ve also seen people react viscerally to this look, so clearly it’s not for everyone. This definitely feels like an intentional decision on the show’s part and that they want to play into their bizarre style. In this look the character’s bodies are stationary, but their faces move on the spot in an eerie nature.
“Tigtone and the Pilot” is a surprisingly economical episode where it feels like a whole lot happens and that Tigtone’s quest covers a vast amount of ground from mummy princes, to sexy minotaur orgies, to birthing trolls. Much like Tigtone himself, the pilot never really slows down. It doesn’t allow the audience a chance to question what’s going on. At one point, Tigtone is reminded that once every five years he’s able to control animals, so he does so, rides a beast, and then just continues on his craziness with no questions asked. There are no rules and unlimited rules in this show and this needlessly complicated, but endlessly silly attitude creates the perfect balance.
Tigtone is a lot more violent and surreal than the majority of fantasy material, so for that reason alone it’s an odd beast that’s worth checking out. And in spite of how this covers similar ground to Adult Swim’s recent series, Apollo Gauntlet, these two shows couldn’t be more different and for that reason alone I’d love to see them paired up together. Hopefully more Tigtone happens so that’s possible.
“This may or may not be a construct of my mind, but my bad.”
Chuck Deuce explores the lazy adventures of the series’ titular surfer. Chuck is struck by a massive tidal wave and as a result he not only has a pesky case of amnesia, but he also frequently sees Lovecraftian hallucinations. Chuck Deuce presents the weakest premise and point of view out of this collection of pilots and the show’s case isn’t helped by the fact that it suffers from crude animation, even if it does suit the slacker attitude of Chuck Deuce.
There are certain aspects of this show that seem appealing, like how there are sock puppet people, mermaids, and talking dogs that exist amongst humanity, but it just feels random. There’s a deeper story at play here with Chuck’s refusal to confront his issues and trauma as he lives out the surfer lifestyle, but the pilot doesn’t do enough with this angle. Chuck Deuce’s resolution involves sentient food trucks and a food mob that seems like it would be exciting, but it manages to not really wrap up anything at all. However, Chuck’s bizarre, ignorant perspective makes him feel like he’s accomplished something. That might work on him, but it won’t on the audience.
There’s a certain relaxed, easy nature to this show and while the surreal hallucinations make it feel a little more unique, it’s certainly the weakest of the pilots here. If anything, this even feels like it would be a little better suited for Cartoon Network and skew to a younger audience. Chuck Deuce doesn’t exactly fit in with Adult Swim, but that’s not to say it couldn’t grow into its maturity. There’s certainly a strange, rich universe here that has potential to grow, but if the show is as lazy as Chuck and his posse are, this will remain light, unnecessary viewing. Meanwhile, everything else in this pilot showcase seriously feels unique and like they push animation and storytelling further in some way.
All four of Adult Swim’s new pilots air on Sunday, May 13th starting at midnight and are currently available on AdultSwim.com