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‘Samurai Jack’ fans, watch out… Genndy Tartakovsky comes for your skull with ‘Primal’

A few weeks ago, while stuck between stops on the N train (thanks, De Blasio) I used my smidge of cell reception to scroll. I came across an 8-second clip of a caveman waiting patiently to strike, which was followed by Genndy Tartakovsky’s PRIMAL.

Holy fucking shit. For those unfamiliar with Tartakovsky, he’s the creator of a show called Samurai Jack which from 2001-2004 aired on Cartoon Network. Wikipedia sums up its premise the best:

The series follows a young samurai who is cast into the future by the evil shape-shifting demon Aku mere moments before defeating the demon. He adopts the name Jack and continues his fight in the dystopian future ruled by Aku. Jack seeks to find a portal back to his time but is constantly thwarted by the demon’s forces. The series was left open-ended after the conclusion of the fourth season.

Open-ended indeed. It wasn’t until 13 years later that Tartakovsky decided to bless us with the fifth and final season of Jack, which was tonally also its darkest. As a 12-year-old watching Samurai Jack, I was always surprised by Cartoon Network making such a macabre choice in its programming.

The show used serenely hand-drawn landscapes and a vibrant color palette to disarm its audience and draw them into the closer and quieter moments with Jack that often dealt in very serious themes — death and isolation were its bread and butter.

Yet these topics and the environments they yielded are what made SJ’s brilliant action sequences possible, such as Jack versus the Shinobi. In Samurai Jack, Tartakovsky mastered keeping his audience off-balance.

Every episode he focused our attention on Jack walking the earth utterly alone. He made us feel this solitude via close-ups of his forlorn eyes and images of desolate landscapes, and just when we were adjusting to Jack’s isolation and despair, Tartakovsky would place him in a moment of peril. It worked like a charm every time. In Primal, he leans even further into this approach.

*Spoilers ahead*


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Patience. Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal begins Oct 7.

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Nothing forges a common bond quite like shared tragedy and there’s very little tragedy more traumatic than seeing your children being eaten.

This is how Tartakovsky creates an unspoken pact between Spear, the caveman, and Fang, the Tyrannosaurus rex. I say unspoken because in the many various battle cries, howling, scratching and general sounds of survival heard in this prehistoric Mad Max hellscape, there is not one actual bit of dialogue.

But yeah, Spear and Fang both get jumped by a gang of dinosaurs who destroy their families and cause them to seek revenge. It’s an absurd narrative, but because the pacing is so sudden, you’re caught off guard in what would otherwise be a foreseeable plot point.

What really impressed me about the pilot was something more unpredictable — a short-lived scene that couldn’t have been more than 45 seconds. After his family is murdered, Spear lets out a roar and chases off the dino gang. He’s left in anguish and slowly begins to ascend a cliffside.

By the time he’s peering off the edge and contemplating casting himself into the abyss, I found myself considering… “at what point in human evolution did the development of our emotional capacity become powerful enough to completely abandon our survival instinct?”

Primal is a fantastical piece to be sure, but Tartovsky does such an effective job of seamlessly oscillating between Spear’s savagery and vulnerability that it can sneak up on you even in these quieter moments. As with Samurai Jack, one of Tartovsky’s most potent tools here is his use of eyes.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were moments of violence so graphic they’d make Tarantino blush. Case in point: the moment when Spear crushes this dinosaur’s leg with a rock he randomly grabs. Complete with a robust bone-crushing and flesh-tearing sound production, Tartovsky makes you watch his newest venture between your fingers.

The first four episodes are available for critics, though thus far I’ve only seen the pilot. From what I’ve read, the first half of the season focuses on Spear and Fang surviving together and champions the importance of companionship in the face of intimidating odds. While there are no greater stakes than life and death (and in a show titled “Primal,” what were you expecting?), I can’t help but hope that the second half of the season introduces more nuance into Spear and Fang’s day-to-day.

While Samurai Jack was constantly under threat of death, the endgame was always the salvation of humanity. Jack helping the random unfortunate soul here and there served as microcosms of that idea, while not forcing their survival to be essential to his overall success.

This variance of stakes gave the audience room to breathe and for Jack to become a more fleshed-out character; one who was allowed to make a wrong decision without everything falling apart.

As characters who have already lost everything, Spear and Fang’s stakes seem solidified in one another’s survival and with little to no margin for error. I’m dubious of how invested an audience can remain on this single plot point for 10 episodes but thrilled to see Tartovsky try.

F*ck GoT—this Sunday is all about ‘Lit and Morty’… errm, ‘Rick and Morty’

What up my glip-glops,

On October 4th , 2015, Rick and Morty ended Season 2 with it’s protagonist–or antagonist, depending on your concern for Morty’s well-being–Rick Sanchez, incarcerated in a Galactic Federation prison.

The teaser following the credits featured fan favorite, Mr. Poopybutthole, predicting a timeline for about “a year to a year and a half” before Season 3 aired.

Due to the lack of the showrunners, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, having their shit together, ”a year to a year and a half” came and went and now, almost two years later, Rick and Morty returns on Sunday, July 30th for Season 3.

I could not be more hype for a season premiere. Lets take a look at what we have to look forward to. (And, as always, spoilers to come.)

Quick note for those new to the show: Rick is an alcoholic, super scientist (imagine if Doc from Back to the Future and Future, the artist, had a baby. That’s Rick.) and Morty is his herb-ass grandson. Cool? Cool.

New Family Dynamics

“I just took over the family, Morty!”

This past April Fool’s Day, Rick and Morty aired the 1st episode of Season 3 as a treat to their fan base—it was the perfect prank considering that the rest of the season would not air until 4 months later. But it did its job of satiating the fans, as there were several narratives and plot points established that will come to define the rest of the season.

Perhaps the most significant development is that Beth and Jerry are headed for a divorce, and to no one’s surprise, this was entirely instigated by Rick. The episode ends with Rick divulging to Morty that through a meticulously-calculated plan, he’s replaced Morty’s moron father, Jerry, as the “de facto patriarch of his family and his universe.” Oh, and Rick also murked an intergalactic government while doing so.

We may even see the re-introduction of another character we’ve already met–Paul Fleishman, a man Beth apparently remarries in some of the parallel universes where she’s already divorced Jerry.

The comedic potential of the impending divorce is high–Beth and Jerry have historically tried to one-up one another and I’m positive this will manifest in a rivalry of future romantic interests, as well as space adventuring.

Beth has mostly been left on the sidelines during R&M’s past adventures and Harmon has guaranteed she’ll be more involved in coming shenanigans.

Also, with the Galactic Federation now decimated, Jerry has lost his government job and is unemployed once again, much like the scrub he truly is.

Quick aside: Chris Parnell (Jerry’s voice actor who is also known for playing “Cyril Figgis” in Archer) described Jerry as the “saddest” and “most pathetic person he’s ever played.” So there’s that.

The Promise of a Darker Season

Let’s play “Two Truths and a Lie.” Which of these things hasn’t happened on R&M?

  • Rick attempts to commit suicide after being dumped by an ex-girlfriend (who also happens to be a collective hivemind that takes over cities, planets, and perhaps one day, the galaxy), but fails to do so because he was too drunk.
  • Rick turns everyone on Earth into deformed creatures and, instead of fixing his mess, takes Morty to an Earth in a different dimension where they casually take the place of their recently deceased selves and continue living with their parallel family.
  • Rick creates a miniature universe and enslaves a planet within that universe to create free electricity for the simple purpose of powering his car battery.

Trick question. ALL of these things have happened. Is it because Rick is a fucking G? Is it because he has a black hole where his moral compass should be? Are both of those things mutually exclusive?

One of the principal elements behind the show’s massive cult following is the series’ consistent use of dark humor, which is fueled by Rick’s IDGAF approach to life.

Rick promises Season 3 to be the darkest years of their adventures, and he also reveals his ultimate goal in life—getting McDonald’s to bring back the Szechuan sauce from the 1998 promotion of Disney’s Mulan. (I was 9 during that promotion, and the sauce was indeed lit.)

We’re in for MAD Homages

Rick and Morty is a sci-fi show by sci-fi goons, for sci-fi goons. And this is never more prevalent than in their homages to the all of the greatest characters and tropes in sci-fi canon.

Having personally scoured through the Season 3 trailer three dozen+ times, I can tell you that we can expect nods to Honey, I Blew Up the Kids, Mad Max and The Avengers.

There’s also possibly an homage to the sketchy neighbor from Home Improvement.

This Show is Nuanced AF

What makes Rick and Morty a great show isn’t just the homages, the dark humor, or the thought experiments that come with creating a show that takes place across the multiverse and multiple timelines—its also about those sobering moments when the show zooms in on the characters’ emotions on the other side of the spectrum; when we’re allowed to feel their despair, doubt, and insignificance in the grand scheme of things, in a very palpable way.

And this goes beyond the show’s use of the idea of “family,” though that is definitely one of their emotional vehicles.

Harmon and Roiland expertly utilize music cues to illustrate a tender emo shade over the show. They pull from various melodramatically-styled musicians such as Chaos Chaos, Nine Inch Nails, and Mazzy Star, when you least expect it.

What I’m consistently most impressed by is that this series understands and takes advantage of the relationship of Comedy and Tragedy better than most of the hot garbage on television—there’s a seamless transition between both.

Nothing Matters

Perhaps the most central tenet of Rick and Morty comes when Morty explains to his sister that “nobody belongs anywhere, nobody exists on purpose, everybody’s going to die.”

The insistence that “nothing matters” has been a consistent hallmark of the show, and it almost makes you think Harmon and Roiland would be okay with the show flopping.

But this belief has guaranteed the opposite—it allows them the freedom to take the kinds of creative risks that continue to draw fans in. If “nothing matters” is at the heart of your show—not all dissimilar to the mantra that made Seinfeld such an epic success—this inherently removes the pressure of expectation and allows you to swing for the fences artistically; you’re playing with house money.

If the almost impressively delayed release date is any indication, we’re all in for another season of Harmon, Roiland and Rick not giving a fuck. I can’t wait.

Until then, enjoy some Human Music. Wubba lubba dub dub.