John Harvatine IV & Tom Root’s attempt at recapturing the goofy joy of “Robot Chicken” is a disappointing mess.
Before we dive into Hulu’s painfully unfunny stop-motion, Playmobil infested show Crossing Swords, let’s do a quick appreciation of John Harvatine IV and Tom Root‘s previous collaboration, Robot Chicken. It was just as sophomoric as Swords, but its high energy world, filled with bite sized scenes featuring action figures from all corners of the pop culture universe was a joy. It was like hanging out in the sandbox with a very funny neighborhood kid who watched too much TV.
Crossing Swords tries to bring that same “let’s have some fun playing with action figures” energy, but this time it’s like hanging out with a kid I would never want to play with again. One of Robot Chicken’s secrets was its running time. Looking back from our TikTok ravaged brains that can only take in 5 second bits, Robot Chicken’s short vignettes were ahead of their time. However, when that aesthetic is stretched into a 22-minute narrative that requires little things like plot, themes and characters, it falls apart really quick.
The show is set in medieval times and follows a young lad named Patrick (voiced by Nicholas Hoult) who is pure of heart in a world filled with cheaters, scoundrels, and genocidal kings. He desperately wants to be a knight, and in the first episode, his dream starts to come true when he becomes a squire. Keep in mind this is only after winning a battle to the death, and he only wins because he figures out to tuck his genitals in, so he doesn’t get kicked there (ugh).
Crossing Swords tries to bring that same “let’s have some fun playing with action figures” energy, but this time it’s like hanging out with a kid I would never want to play with again.
The rest of the show is a series of barely trying plots that tests Patrick’s morality by putting him in situations where he learns how to get ahead in a cruel world without being as awful as those around him. His siblings are all vicious, self-absorbed people who disown him, and he works for a king who tries to get his approval ratings up by staging a public execution. There is something darkly interesting being attempted here by having a protagonist cast out as a black sheep because he is so nice, but instead of exploring that, the show would rather fit in as many dick jokes into an episode as possible.
The comedy mostly relies on the juxtaposition of seeing old school children’s toys say raunchy things and curse every other line. South Park was similar, but it was the kind of raunchy that made kids sneak off to watch it, trying not to laugh too loud for their parents to hear, while those same parents, who thought they were too good for it, would also sneak off to watch. Crossing Swords doesn’t have the subversive wit or just plain joke telling skills to pull off that cross-generational experience.
The height of joke writing for Swords comes when a group of squires go to Naked Girl Island (ugh again) and find themselves trapped in a cave filled with snake haired Medusas. One of the squires, Barry, makes some unfortunate eye contact with one of them and immediately turns into stone. A fellow squire, Broth (voiced with bro-y sleaze by Adam Pally), responds to this with, “Hey! Barry is rock hard!” (ugh times a million)
This show is a waste of everyone’s time and Hulu subscriptions, but one redeemable aspect it has going for it is the animation. It has the tactile, lived in charm of The LEGO Movie, mixed with the classical style of Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” music video. It’s not nearly on the same level of either of those but watching characters that are all peg figurines with no limbs still able to pick up objects is funny. It’s the one tiny bit of enjoyment to pull from this thing.
If you’re looking for a comedy set in medieval times that features actual jokes and has some meat on its turkey legs, check out the underrated Simon Rich show, Miracle Workers: Dark Ages on TBS. It’s able to bring a modern sensibility to prove just how similar the 21st century is to the 15th. If you’re just looking to recreate some Robot Chicken magic, you could just pull out your old toys and write a better show in your living room.
Crossing Swords premieres on Hulu June 12th.