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‘Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.’: Animated Show Has Plenty of Jokes — but Few Laughs

"Marvel's M.O.D.O.K.," with a voice cast lead by Patton Oswalt, is a bunch of nonsensical gags tied together.

"Marvel's M.O.D.O.K."

“Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.”

Hulu

“Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” might look different than all of Marvel’s other television projects but the new Hulu show still ticks every box you’d expect from a project that is essentially the spawn of “Robot Chicken” and an adult animation take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The animated series centers on the titular big-headed supervillain (voiced by Patton Oswalt), who must juggle his plans for world domination with his crumbling family life. The end result of that synopsis is a string of uninspired comedy routines where M.O.D.O.K. & Co. spew third-rate referential humor and otherwise tired gags for 5 hours. Nary a scene goes by in “M.O.D.O.K.” without a quip or broader cultural reference, but the jokes are so uninspired that even the most devout Marvel fans will struggle to justify any of the going-ons in this addition to the superhero genre.

The sum of “M.O.D.O.K.” is less than its parts: “Robot Chicken” (from Stoopid Buddy Stoodies, which produced and animated both titles) has offered plenty of stellar parodies of comic book and sci-fi properties over the years, but that show’s frantic style of comedy doesn’t translate well to “M.O.D.O.K.,” which aims to be more than an 11-minute collection of sketches and punchlines. There are innumerable jokes scattered throughout “M.O.D.O.K.” but the comedy is so tired and unimaginative that it’s hard to differentiate each episode beyond their basic premises.

There are two disparate plot threads tying this mess of nonsensical gags together: M.O.D.O.K. needs to reassert control of his evil company while mending his broken relationship with his children and ex-wife. One episode focuses on a supervillain team-up, while another centers on M.O.D.O.K. time traveling to key moments in his life. There’s not much point explaining the series beyond the basic premise of each episode, given that they’re all little more than set-ups for inane audiovisual gags. The humor in “M.O.D.O.K.” is reference-heavy, but there’s little in the way of satirical or otherwise comedic elements behind the show’s corporate shout-outs: “The Great British Bakeoff,” “The Incredibles,” Twitter, Google, YouTube, and Ross Dress For Less are referenced in jokes that fall flat within the first five minutes of Episode 1, and things don’t improve from there.

Characters! “M.O.D.O.K.” has some of those. There’s M.O.D.O.K.’s wife, Jodie (Aimee Garcia), a riff on today’s influencer and celebrity culture. The duo have a son named Lou (Ben Schwartz), whose character traits are being quirky and Jewish. There’s also Melissa (Melissa Fumero), who is M.O.D.O.K.’s daughter and the series’ relative straight-man. Wendi McLendon-Covey and Sam Richardson voice M.O.D.O.K.’s coworkers, while Beck Bennett voices his obnoxious millennial boss. Jon Hamm voices Iron Man in a few episodes (“M.O.D.O.K.” isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but in my head canon Oswalt’s various roles in the MCU’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” show are definitely some sort of supervillain origin story). The voiceover work is commendable, as is the animation quality. There’s not a weak talent among the cast, all of whom sound like they’re having ample fun with their ludicrous character lines, even though those jokes typically fail to land. As for the visuals, “M.O.D.O.K.” boasts the same stop-motion visual style as “Robot Chicken,” and there’s occasional amusement to be had in watching these Marvel toys get bruised, battered, and bloodied in various outrageously slapstick scenarios. It’s just a shame that for every semi-memorable joke, there are several bits on “M.O.D.O.K.” that completely fail to stick their landing.

“M.O.D.O.K.” might look nice and feature an appealing cast, but neither of those traits are enough to salvage a series that hinges on this many weak jokes. The vast majority of the gags on “M.O.D.O.K.” fall flat, and given that the show’s characters and plot beats are little more than set-ups for tired comedy routines, there’s little reason to care about anything happening on screen. “Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” isn’t Marvel’s worst television series. It’s not even Hulu’s worst Marvel show. It’s time spent. But given how saturated the superhero genre is — animated or otherwise — this Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing is about as inessential as it gets.

Grade: D+

“Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” is now streaming on Hulu.

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