Crossing Swords Review (Spoiler-Free)

Hulu’s latest animated series offers a fun riff on Medieval hijinks, but struggles to find fresh ground in the crowded genre.

Crossing Swords Hulu
Photo: Hulu

This Crossing Swords review contains no spoilers and is based on all 10 episodes of the season.

“Did I help the kingdom or commit murder?”

In the past few years there’s been an exceptional bloat of comedic animated series that tackle the Medieval era and the tropes that come along with it. Disenchantment, Harmonquest, Tigtone, and Apollo Gauntlet are all set in extremely similar playgrounds and even though they’re different shows in nature, they all utilize a familiar tone with their deconstruction of these well-established relics from Medieval times. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to do something unique and worthwhile in this setting, but it makes it much more difficult to stand out and have a project that can truly justify itself. In that regard, Crossing Swords faces a steep uphill battle and while this show isn’t exactly doing anything that’s not already being explored in comparable programming, it’s still a light, harmless series that’s easy to enjoy.

The series centers around Patrick, a passionate and idealistic “brightly colored peg person” who’s always dreamed about doing his nation proud by becoming an honorable knight. Patrick finally achieves this life-long dream, but quickly becomes disillusioned once reality smacks him in the face and he learns that corrupt and careless individuals are responsible for everything that he holds dear. Crossing Swords succeeds with how it pushes Patrick into black sheep territory in whatever scenario he’s in. His altered expectations between his squire position put him at odds with the nation, but Patrick also comes from a family of scoundrels where his kindhearted ways only alienate him from those around him. 

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Patrick is an individual who feels like he has no one to hold dear and that he’s beginning to lose his center, which helps him become an entertaining character, even if his vantage point isn’t that unusual for a show of this nature. Comedies that exist in this world usually see someone experience a rude awakening, which causes them to rebel against the very community that they hold dear. Crossing Swords lets its visual aesthetic try to break new ground more so than the series’ narrative and characterization, but Patrick and his team are still individuals that you care about. His positivity is endearing and inspiring rather than just grating on the audience.

Patrick struggles at first, but it’s his relentless attitude that keeps him going. He slowly proves that he does have skills and can actually better the nation, but the series also realistically approaches the kingdom’s severe state of corruption. This is all framed around various squire tests and quests that Patrick must conquer in his journey to become a knight and steer the kingdom into better shape. Each episode has Patrick tackle a new moral quandary that raises some compelling questions around many of the traditions of the Medieval era. It’s satisfying to see him gradually become more assertive and confident in his position of authority, even if he still is very much a beginner.

The most jarring thing about Crossing Swords is the show’s look, which would be visually appropriate and more effective for a young adult demographic. However, the series immediately flaunts its vulgar nature and that this clearly isn’t meant to be a show for children. Crossing Swords doesn’t look ugly, but it just feels like any other style of stop motion animation would be more effective with the nature of content that this show explores. I kind of wish that it did tone down its more mature sensibilities so more children would be able to check it out.

The series comes from John Harvatine IV and Tom Root, who are able to successfully translate their stop motion expertise from Robot Chicken. Despite the simplistic style that appears to cater towards children, there are still a lot of creative things being done with the show’s aesthetic. Fire is conveyed with billowy cotton-like material and bodies of water use real liquids. One of the more clever scenes in the series involves a Medusa turning characters to stone, where the peg people are replaced with actual stone counterparts. 

Crossing Swords gets a lot of humor from how it juxtaposes heavy ideas like murder, plagues, and war with the cutesy presentation style of the series. It works, but it’s not enough on its own and it can’t routinely rely on this unassuming look to continually cater towards jokes. After certain sight gags provide answers to questions like, “What’s the anatomy of peg people look like?,” it needs to move beyond turning to the same extreme gimmicks for humor. One episode in particular focuses on adult circumcision, virginity, and “period parties” where it’s as if it intentionally tries to skew towards cruder impulses for the sheer shock of it.

Patrick’s journeys include dragons, fairies, and a lot of the norm from the Medieval setting. However, there’s also an entertaining litany of creatures and ideas that pull inspiration from Greek mythology and fairy tales, like the Medusa, Minotaur, Kraken, or giants. It’s helpful that Crossing Swords extends its boundaries to cover such material and some of the best content from the season is when these mythical beasts are central to the story. Crossing Swords wants to apply a modern, forward-thinking perspective to the archaic customs of the past, but the show’s often more successful when it just lets loose and has fun with these monster spectacles. 

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The cast of Crossing Swords is also another major asset to the series. Frequent action franchise-circlers Nicholas Hoult and Luke Evans aren’t the first people that you’d expect to cast as the leads in a comedy, let alone one that works like this, but the dramatic actors properly disappear into these roles. Other talented performers like Adam Pally, Yvette Nicole Brown, Tony Hale, and many more get to have fun in these roles. 

Crossing Sword’s storytelling is much more episodic than serialized, but the end of the season features a larger, connected story about assassination that makes for a worthy finish. Crossing Swords shows some maturity in the storytelling abilities of Harvatine and Root, both in a narrative and emotional sense. There can be a frivolous nature to many of the episodes in the season, but they at least all help build the show’s world. Crossing Swords does find its footing more in the second half of the season, which is when the episodes finally gain a little more freedom to just have fun in this environment, up the stakes, and embrace the absurd.

Crossing Swords is an enjoyable comedy series, but it seems pulled in many different directions that muddle the bigger picture. There’s a lot to be fun to be had here and there are genuinely creative things happening in the art design once you get past the major look of it all. Crossing Swords has the potential to become something better, but the first season feels a little like a peg person itself—it technically has all of the right elements, but it comes together in an odd, disjointed package.