The creators of Robot Chicken run out of jokes in their toy box pretty quickly in Hulu’s crude stop motion series.
It’s been a rough patch for big names in TV animation looking to field new series. Disenchantment, Tuca and Bertie, The Midnight Gospel, and more have had trouble recreating the laughs that made their creators famous. This month, the guys behind Robot Chicken hoped to strike gold with Crossing Swords – a stop motion series set in a medieval fantasy land. As you may have guessed, it did not pan out.
Crossing Swords (2020)
Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) dreams of being a brave and virtuous knight. His odds are long as the rest of his family is a whole herd of black sheeps: his sister is a pirate queen, his brother a forest bandit, and his other brother a drunken clown. When he discovers that the king is unexpectedly holding a tourney for a new squire, Patrick takes his chance at living his dream.
Episode 1: Pilot.
Patrick gets kicked out of his home for failing to find a job that lives up to his dreams of being a chivalrous knight. Luckily, he arrives at King Merriman’s court just as a tourney to find a new squire begins. Unluckily, a feckless king and salacious queen quickly turn his dream into a nightmare.
The pilot episode starts with a mostly positive impression. The introduction not only introduces many of the main characters adroitly, but it has a some great visuals and funny sight gags.
Once we get to the castle, things start to fizzle. The king and queen quickly demonstrate they are one-note jokes. The one note happens to be crass and rude, a running problem with the series. Fortunately, the tourney itself actually uses the constant raunchiness and nut-shot jokes effectively.
Episode 2: Hot Tub Death Machine.
Patrick enrolls in the squire training program, but quickly runs afoul of the instructor for not being a bloodthirsty wretch. While his friends train, he is sent to see the king, and winds up inadvertently suggesting that the king endear himself to the populace with a big spectacle. Of course, the king gravitates to an execution as the perfect spectacle, and puts Patrick in charge of choosing the victim.
The fizz that kept the first episode’s violence and crudity amusing quickly escapes the bottle. There are two really funny sequences of farcical bloodletting that remind of vintage Robot Chicken, but they are overwhelmed by all the crass, unfunny jokes that absolutely inundate the script. Seeing Patrick’s siblings again is nice, as they at least have some style to their nastiness.
Episode 3: What’s Kraken?
Patrick uses his pull at court to snag tickets to the annual Kraken watching cruise. He gives them to his parents, as repayment for having ruined a family outing to the Kraken hunt as a child. Kraken Rights activists hijack the vessel, leaving Patrick to figure out how to save the hostages and appease the angry sea monster.
Three episodes in and the show’s brew is already completely flat. The set-up for this episode feels like the laziest pitch for a 1980’s comedy you could imagine. They even have a Rodney Dangerfield stand-in, so yeah, we’re scraping the bottom of the comedy barrel.
None of the jokes hit, none of the new characters are interesting, and the crudeness has become actively abrasive instead of funny. There is however one redeeming point: the water effects used to portend the arrival of the Kraken are gorgeous and a beautiful little nod to fans of stop motion magic.
Binge or Purge?: Crossing Swords.
Crossing Swords is a tremendous disappointment. I loved Robot Chicken. It nailed the crass comedy satire formula, rivaling vintage South Park or Family Guy, while rarely descending into foul and crude caricature like those series often did. Crossing Swords feels like the rudest and unfunniest moments from that era.
Despite my readily-apparent love for stop motion animation, which Crossing Swords does often excel at, I could not find enough in these episodes to warrant sticking around for this show. I joked that if Nicholas Hoult stuck around Hulu long enough, he’d eventually be demoted to stable boy. He could start by shoveling this manure off of the platform.