In a media landscape filled with superheroes, OK K.O.!: Let’s Be Heroes titular hero stands out from the crowd because he fights best with his feelings. Cartoon Network’s newest series is absolutely brimming with potential.
The show centers on K.O., an endlessly enthusiastic young boy who dreams of leveling up and becoming a true hero like everyone else in the town. When his initial attempts at cheating the system prove unsuccessful, he joins up with the apathetic Enid and slacker Radicles at the local hero supply convenience store. Under the watchful eye of Mr. Gar and occasional help of K.O.’s mom Carol, the three deal with wacky problems in the mall for heroes while fighting off attacks by Lord Boxman and his various robots.
In the opening six episodes of the series the strongest element of the show is without a doubt, K.O. While K.O.’s main goal might be to become your standard hero, what’s delightfully subversive is that he only gets closer to his dream when he eschews the more popular superhero tropes. In episode three, “You’re Everybody’s Sidekick” (easily the best episode of the first six), K.O. succeeds in his goal of helping people not by beating up robots but instead going through their social media and deducing their personal problems.
K.O. is a complete joy to watch, his positivety and optimism truly infectious. He’s the main character who has a lot to learn but you can’t help but want to root for him. He may be a young kid in a cartoon show, which usually means annoying, but his youthful vigor helps to prop up the more jaded heroes around him.
Enid and Radicles (Rad) are the older teens working at the store and they bring the more sarcastic humor to the show. Enid treats her retail job exactly like anyone would, with a side eye and a heavy heaping of exasperation. Rad just takes it as a chance to goof off and play out his own little soda can soap opera, in a great gag that involves the two cans kissing (please let this be a recurring joke).
Over the first two episodes Enid especially is inspired by K.O.’s spirit and both her and Rad take K.O. on as a surrogate little brother. While Rad still needs some room to develop, Enid is already a winner in my book. She’s pulled right out of a Kevin Smith comedy and is the perfect counter point to K.O.’s endless enthusiasm.
Their boss, Mr. Gar, is also a treat. He’s so just over the top, macho, and obsessed with keeping his store running but he has a soft spot for Carol. We don’t know why just yet, but it’s a fun mystery that I hope to see answered sooner rather than later. Carol is a fun character in her own right, leading a superhero gym and training a group of older women who are all delightfully recurring characters.
Carol isn’t your typical cartoon parent. She’s not too overbearing or sickly sweet. She supports K.O. in everything but isn’t afraid to give him some helpful advice when needed.
The runner up for best character just might be Lord Boxman. Voiced to absolute perfection by Jim Cummings, he’s pulled right out of a ’90s cartoon. He’s got the dastardly schemes, the army of robots, and evil lair. That may sound like he’s one-dimensional but there’s nothing wrong with that when his motivation makes both incredible sense and justifies the stock villain loathing of friendship.
“I hate people enjoying each other. When they don’t hate each other, they don’t buy robots.”
Boxman’s robots are another source of comedic delight, Darrell bots especially who view him as their father. In the sixth episode there’s a moment where Darrell is seeking the validation of Boxman that hints at a more complicated relationship.
The show’s humor is mostly very strong. While some of it is situational, the series so far heavily relies on sight gags. Most of these are very well executed and feature some wonderfully loose animation. Pay attention to every detail because there are some stupendous blink-and-you’ll-miss-them jokes, like a character punching up a fedora convention and a shy ninja. I do wish some of the gag humor could be toned down just a smidge. The show sometimes rapid fires so many gags it leaves you breathless and I wish I had a little more time to take it all in.
I hope that going forward the show relies more on K.O.’s wide-eyed view of the world. Through that we can learn more about K.O., his new friends, and most importantly the world around them. The series quickly establishes there’s a whole town of heroes and hints that there are heroes all over the world. How can K.O. possibly compete against all of them?
Even if the show doesn’t delve into that kind of world building, it still has the potential to be a zany comedy with a ton of heart that’s a cut above the rest. We’ve only seen the first six episodes so there’s a lot of room for the series to grow over time. Many other series on Cartoon Network, Steven Universe and We Bare Bears especially, took more than a season to really find their footing and I wholeheartedly believe OK K.O.!: Let’s Be Heroes will be worth the long term investment.
Special shout out to the people behind the music of the series, the jazzy tunes were a delight and I already want a soundtrack release. The animation team also deserves high praise. As much as the visual gags can sometimes be overwhelming they’re all executed with a supreme level of talent. I’ve never seen animation quite like this and if they’re experimenting with unique ways of animating characters, then I might be able to get used to the bevy of sight gags.
OK K.O.!: Let’s Be Heroes is now airing on Cartoon Network.
Shamus Kelley will fight to the end. Follow him on Twitter!