Adult Swim’s newest program is essentially Tyler the Creator and his entourage from Adult Swim’s Loiter Squad getting free reign to do a quarter-hour animated series. While that logline may be the perfect breakdown of The Jellies!, this show has surprising range.
Sure, it’s full of pop culture detours and appearances from musicians, but its style is not easy to peg down. If the show has any sort of agenda, it’s to spin off nostalgia in absurd ways. It also just so happens to revolve around a family of jellyfish. The show reminds me of the more casual, laid back humor of FXX’s The Lucas Bros. Moving Co. The result is something outrageous, but more sweet than the rest of the network’s programming.
The premise of The Jellies! isn’t anything extraordinary. A family of jellyfish took in a human baby, Cornell, and he’s now 16 years old. A series of photographs parse out the show’s backstory in a matter of seconds and it’s ready to move onto fresh craziness. The Jellies! isn’t a typical fish out of water story. It focuses on stories within this universe. We may get individual episodes that focus on each member of the Jelly family at some point—or maybe we won’t—but for now I’m enjoying where it chooses to take its audience. There’s a real earnestness present to the storytelling that goes a long way here, too.
All of the jokes in The Jellies! feel incredibly genuine, like they’re coming from a deeply personal place with these writers. That might lead to some incredibly niche jokes, but the love that’s poured into this show is deeply apparent. You’re not going to see freaking Vectorman and Ecco the Dolphin sharing a bong with Sonic and other ’90s mascots of Sega anywhere else.
The surreal storytelling also has some amazing animation to fall back on. Production images simply don’t do this show justice. It’s another series in Augenblick Studios’ (Superjail!, Ugly Americans) long line of animated homeruns. Sprawling title cards punctuate the beginning of each episode like gorgeous graffiti. There’s exceptional music, and the bulk of it is by inspired original works coming right from Tyler. Additionally, The Jellies! has a commendable voice cast full of familiar Loiter Squad personalities, as well as voiceover staples like Phil LaMarr. It’s a good contrast between seasoned voice talent and more raw styles.
When it comes to the show’s sense of humor, I’m not the most in tune with the current landscape of hip hop music, but even I was able to understand the jokes about musicians like DMX or Xzibit. This material will connect even harder if you’re a fan of this music scene, but even if you’re not, the seemingly Dadaist nature of these cameos will help make this show even more ridiculous, in a good way. The Jellies! is a show where DMX can shout out, “Where my dogs at?” and a pack of attack canines will burst out to accompany the rapper, while he simultaneously also turns into a dog. Or Xzibit’s teleportation powers that lead to dozens of civilians getting mercilessly riddled with bullets. That’s this show in a nutshell, and it’s perfectly content with that.
It’s satisfying to see how comfortable The Jellies! is in its own weird shoes. It feels like it’s interested in getting to characters and stories at its own pace. These first two episodes do a very good job at establishing this show’s style and that this is anything but a show about a family of jellyfish who have an adopted human son. This is a big, weird universe that only becomes more interesting. Some episodes deal with Cornell and his unusual family, while others may dig into the workings of Walla Walla High or explore the business of the neighborhood. At the same time, The Jellies! will lampoon old music video and cultural touchstones of the industry, while also having a keen eye for taking on reality television and its many tropes.
This is a series I went into with mild curiosity and middling expectations, but it actually grabbed me right. It’s a little crazy that Adult Swim currently has a show about a family of squids and now another show about a family of jellyfish, but the fact that The Jellies! doesn’t seem to step on any of Squidbillies’ toes—err, tentacles—is a testament to this program’s different and unpredictable nature. Go into this one with an open mind and let this bonkers world take you away with all it’s got. If nothing else, it’s just a beautiful show to look at.
Being a fan of cephalopods has finally paid off!