This review is based on the first two episodes of Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter Season 2.
Humanity has always been fascinated with the idea of re-inventing ourselves. It’s a shiny, illusory concept to set your past on fire and start over, but everyone has their breaking point. There’s a reason that countless texts from authors like Kafka, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald (or Rowling or R.R. Martin, for more modern takes) are all enraptured by the idea. Not only that but prestige television like Better Call Saul, Fargo, and American Gods have all also played with this idea of starting over. Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter Season 2 similarly starts off with Joe enjoying a fresh start, but if this season proves anything, it’s that you might be able to take the he-yump from out of the werewolf hunter, but you can’t take the werewolf hunter from out of the he-yump!
Joe is now “retired” from the werewolf hunting game (while experiencing a healthy career as a “regular duck hunter”), as he attempts to run his Hawaiian-themed bar, Oahu Joe’s, with Cleve (Steve Little) in tow. It’s a rather bold move for the series to abandon the many great characters and cast from last season (such as Scott Adsit, Steve Cirbus, and Stephanie March), but it’s exciting to see the show moving on and mixing things up rather than just functioning as a belabored extension of what went on last year. Even if you’ve never seen season one, with fresh start there’s really no reason why an uninitiated viewer would be lost. In a lot of ways muting the werewolf hunting allows the show to go to a lot of fun new places.
This season of Neon Joe also mines new, exciting territory from this absurd world, like the unrequited love of Joe’s neon-clad babe (which was briefly hinted at in the show’s first season). She seems to be taking up much of Joe’s mind now that he’s calmed down, yet with her still out there, he’s unable to truly be happy and at peace. Joe laments at one point, “I’m not doing too good, Cleve. All my tropical dreams are slowly turning into tropical dust.” Make no mistake, this show isn’t shifting into drama territory, but the way it takes itself seriously is certainly an asset to the surreal comedy.
Season two’s first episode largely ignores anything supernatural in favor of absurd sight gags involving the world’s smallest beer steins. Despite being a little muted in regard to the monster hunting, the show’s sense of humor is still just as twisted as it’s always been. How can it not be when its hero is an absurd lunatic who’s more concerned about wordplay and gimmicks than anything of substance? Clearly it’s just taking some time to set the scene before throwing Neon Joe back into the action, but even if the mayhem didn’t eventually ramp back up, it’s nice to know that a sitcom starring Jon Glaser and Steve Little running a gimmick-themed bar could still work.
Of course, the brave werewolf hunter soon begins coasting from gimmick to gimmick in desperation, trying to rope in an audience. This might be a bit of a meta commentary on the show largely wrapping itself up last year, and with Joe now retired, the show is now in need of a new angle—or supernatural gimmick—to keep it alive and interesting.
One of the great joys of season one was seeing Neon Joe’s “he-yump” catchphrase slowly invade his speech and become increasingly prominent. It’s practically in every line of his dialogue. This year, it’s already out of control when this season begins. It’s truly out of control, making for one of the show’s most reliable, yet simultaneously most stupid, sources of humor. It shouldn’t be funny, but Glaser is just having so much fun with this idiotic character affectation that it’s hard to not get on board with it. It’s great to see that in spite of Neon Joe giving himself a soft reboot of sorts, this element of his former self hasn’t vanished.
It’s satisfying to see this universe fleshed out a little more now that the necessary background information has been established. For instance, a fellow rival werewolf hunter is introduced in the form of Plaid Jeff. Plaid Jeff is basically everything that Neon Joe is not, operating as slick international playboy and relishing the spotlight while Joe shies away from the fame.
Additionally, deciding that werewolf hunting is an international situation, with each country presumably having their own designated werewolf hunter, is a vastly more interesting angle than Neon Joe operating on his own accord. This is a real epidemic the world has created sanctions and organizations to help with, which is kind of fantastic. Bring on a season four where Neon Joe and Plaid Jeff—along with a Striped Jon and Pastel Jim from other countries—take on the entire werewolf organization in all-out warfare. As crazy as such a scenario may be, the fact that the show is planting the seeds for deeper, more ambitious storytelling if they decide to pursue it is appreciated.
Neon Joe can take something like prison and turn it into a sleepaway camp of sorts where there are dances with the lady prison across the lake and other brilliant subversions of form. The more of this world that Glaser and company show off, the more apparent of just how elastic and hyperbolized its boundaries are. For instance, Joe’s constant neon attire is a highlight throughout the season, whether it’s his werewolf hunting outfit, gym clothes, a neon beanie, and an outfit for when it’s colder outside, or—what’s perhaps my favorite—a neon three-piece suit for when he’s standing before a judge. Seeing the unlimited supply of neon that Joe has, for whatever the occasion, is a lot funnier than it should be.
The storytelling feels a lot more ambitious this season. Each episode almost throws Neon Joe into a whole new environment. The series keeps moving at a chaotic speed which perfectly fits the “event series” programming approach that they’re taking this year. Neon Joe Season 2 feels a lot more addictive and suspenseful than season one, and it’s nice to see the show taking on new challenges. There’s even soon a thrilling murder mystery that puts Neon Joe front and center as a suspect and leads to some exciting developments for the character who was just hoping to have a quiet retirement.
Hopefully werewolves and other things that go he-yump in the night won’t ever leave Joe alone because Neon Joe Season 2 is even more of a treat than its first. The world would be so lucky if Neon Joe never settles down.
Oh, and there’s werewolf ghosts. Why has no one ever done werewolf ghosts before!?.
Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter’s entire second season airs Mon through Fri at midnight on Adult Swim, starting May 22nd.