Michael Cusack and company fail to bring the laughs to a new but immediately outdated-feeling animated comedy.
Koala Man may be a brand-new Hulu cartoon, but viewers sitting down to watch its first season may feel like they’ve stumbled onto a rerun. The show’s steady stream of apocalyptic threats and graphic deaths echoes executive producer Justin Roiland’s Rick and Morty, and its animation style is disappointingly derivative of Bento Box Entertainment’s adult cartoons (Hoops or Brickleberry, for instance, though Aussie studio Princess Bento produced Koala Man itself). It may be the only small-screen program dedicated to a middle-aged dude in a koala mask fighting crime, but Koala Man is far too derivative for its own good.
The titular superhero’s secret identity is Kevin Williams (voiced by series creator Michael Cusack), a normal man with no superpowers or fancy gadgets to speak of. He’s just got a koala mask and a thirst for dishing out justice in the suburb of Dapto, Australia. Kevin’s days aren’t just spent waiting for people to call upon him so that he might dispense justice; he’s also got a family to attend to—wife Vicky (Sarah Snook), teenage daughter Alison (Demi Lardner), and plucky son Liam (Cusack).
Koala Man’s series-wide running joke is that, while Koala Man has almost as many superpowers as Kick-Ass, he continually runs up against Joker to Thanos-level threats. The schlubby superhero faces off against everything from a gigantic intergalactic alien to a carnivorous flower to a bloodthirsty pastiche of Vin Diesel. Along the way, several multi-episode plotlines continually grow in importance, most notably Alison’s quest to become the most popular girl in her school and the machinations of a supervillain known as The Kookaburra (Jemaine Clement).
In trying to strike the right tone for Team America: World Police, writer/directors Trey Stone and Matt Parker eventually realized that the movie would be funnier if the puppet cast delivered conventional dramatic dialogue rather than snappy one-liners. After all, the dissonance between silly-looking characters and high-stakes drama is always good for a laugh. The most inspired bits of lunacy in Koala Man run on this juxtaposition. For instance, the prologue to the third episode commits to detailing how the show’s universe operates with a drastically alternate version of human history (with the voyage of the Titanic as the point of divergence between our world and Koala Man). Granting nonsense gravitas is reliably funny.
Unfortunately, the bog-standard jokes that make up most of the rest of the show aren’t as amusing. Koala Man too often defaults to standard penis gags and sex references to wring laughs from its viewers, and there’s little imagination to their execution. The shock value of watching animated characters swear or acknowledge masturbation went out the window a long time ago. It might have been transgressive in 1988, but in 2023, it just comes off as lazy.
The uninspired gags aren’t helped by the strangely paradoxical storytelling sensibilities of individual Koala Man episodes. This show wants to be rude and full of attitude, but it ends each episode with unearned moments of schmaltz, showing the members of the Williams family sticking together. This very rigid narrative style saps Koala Man of any anarchy that could’ve given its comedy an extra jolt of life. Plus, none of the individual scripts feature enough poignancy or laughs to justify the tonal imbalance.
Many of these problems in the writing stem heavily from the lack of definition in the characters, especially our lead hero. Kevin Williams isn’t very compelling or amusing as someone to hinge a show around. He’s also inconsistently defined even by the standards of adult animated sitcom protagonists. As he’s written throughout Koala Man’s first season, Williams is a stickler for rules who also goes through a tired routine of knowing the schedule for taking down trash bins better than his wife’s desires.
Swerving between a soft-spoken do-gooder who loves orange slices and a more aggressive figure who pins kids to the wall to get information ensures that Williams is impossible to get invested in on any level. He’s not fun to watch, nor is he somebody you care about when the going gets rough. Stuck between being a Bob Belcher or a Peter Griffin, Kevin Williams/Koala Man ends up just forgettable. His family and friends aren’t much better. The brightest spot is probably Big Greg, a supporting figure voiced by Hugh Jackman, and that’s only because his presence means that we’re graced with the opportunity to hear Jean Valjean say “cumrag.”
Though a handful of gags and line deliveries from voice actors like Jemaine Clement and Rachel House hit the mark, most of Koala Man is utterly disposable—a reminder of how stale the default form of the adult animated comedy has become. Must so many animated programs aimed at older demographics have such shoddy animation and uninspired raunchy jokes? Considering that it embodies the form’s trends so well, it’s no wonder Koala Man feels like a rerun before its first episode even ends.
Koala Man is defending Dapto, Australia now on Hulu.