[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]
Even a minute longer, and “Saturday Morning All Star Hits!” probably wouldn’t work. With a handful of weekend cartoon parodies, fake commercials/trailers, and a wacky brother hijinks framing device, taking on any more than a half-hour at a time would be a recipe for this Netflix show to overstay its welcome.
Improbably, though, it doesn’t. Never spending more than a few minutes in any of these worlds, “Saturday Morning All Star Hits!” (take the first letters of each name in that title if you want a totally tubular surprise) recaptures the vibe of Saturday morning favorites in all their camcorder-chic glory.
The show is the combined brainchild of the live-action “Brigsby Bear” duo Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary and the animation stylings of Ben Jones, a vet of “Axe Cop” and “Neo Yokio.” Rather than commit to full-length versions of any of these mismatched elements, the show fully embraces a certain flavor of sketch energy. Watching the show bounce between the adventures of Randy the green dinosaur, the Create-a-Crittles, and Strongimals, “Saturday Morning All Star Hits” runs down the cartoon checklist, ticking off different styles and subgenres of family favorites.
What starts out as a feast for middle schoolers on their day off slowly morphs into something with a slightly more serrated edge. The “Randy” opening credits tease a fish-out-of-water comedy with a brontosaurus and all his pals, but what we end up getting is a slow descent into the big guy’s commitment and abandonment issues. Ditto the Create-a-Crittles (effectively Care Bears in almost everything but name), who oversee a plot strangely keyed into the inner workings of a corporate marketing department. That constant zigzag between these animated segments being faithful spiritual descendants and oddly banal slices of life is a hilarious dance to watch unfold.
Mooney, playing a double role as twin brothers Skip and Treybor, gets to work in a mode he’s thrived on at “SNL” (where McCary is also a segment director). The “Saturday Morning All Star Hits!” interstitials with him playing opposite himself feels like the natural endpoint of what started with “The Fight.” (That video is somehow already seven years old. Time is undefeated. Soon we will all be dust.) Only here, instead of nu-metal skate video aesthetics, these Skip and Treybor sections have all the split-screen, zoom-heavy, color-shifting antics of a day spent watching Nickelodeon.
There’s so much specificity here (down the live-action shared universe details of one teen star popping up in a movie trailer and then having her own named-after-her sitcom an episode later). It’s like if “Documentary Now” decided to do episodes on “Zoog Disney,” “One Saturday Morning,” and “Snick.”
It’s also a fun excuse for Mooney and Co. to wrangle some of their comedy pals to come in and play in the sandbox for a little while. Naturally, Beck Bennett pops up for a few characters right in his voice acting wheelhouse, while Pamela Adlon gets to recapture some of the Bobby Hill/Spinelli magic for old times’ sake. Paul Rudd joins too, as the down-on-his-luck artist who gets some double-edged magical assistance from the Crittles.
The whole thing is dotted with some spectacular jokes that range from absurd one-liners (“That’s Wron with a ‘W’”) to unnerving visual gags (Randy has to shave???) to the general inversion of what these cartoon characters used to represent in their original form (it probably won’t surprise you that these Bizarro Care Bears start to curdle after a while). The shows-within-the-show fake credits even have some extra runners of their own for anyone who really wants to pay attention.
Like someone making a copy of a copy of a copy and ending up with a warped final product, “Saturday Morning All Star Hits!” takes all the overplayed catchphrases, brand synergy storylines, and integrated toy ads and comes up with a late-80s/early-90s casserole of neon colors and strange ideas. Even with all those recognizable pieces, it’s still indescribable.