Can Hulu’s M.O.D.O.K. replicate the success of Disney’s new series? Short answer…no.
Two series reviews in a row that A) involved a Marvel property, and B) are impossible to bury the lede on:
Unlike Loki, M.O.D.O.K. got on my bad side immediately. Despite an abiding affection for Patton Oswalt, this series is insufferable. It takes all of the laziest bits of Robot Chicken (not surprising here, as its shares quite a bit of DNA with that show, via its director and animation studio), all of the neurotic stream-of-conscious angst of Patton Oswalt’s comedy, and welds it to a character who feels like he exists to affirm the inside jokes of the creators.
While pursuing his dream of conquering the world, a megalomaniacal supervillain runs his evil organization into the ground, in the process destroying his family life.
Episode 1: If This Be…M.O.D.O.K.!
M.O.D.O.K. is forced to sell his evil organization, AIM, to the tech company, GRUMBL; as M.O.D.O.K. struggles to regain control of AIM, he risks losing his family.
Episode one is a cluster-fuck of gags and plot tossed at you like confetti. Despite enjoying Robot Chicken as a teen, I can see that the show’s format has definite strengths and weaknesses. The usual set-up is to take a pop culture figure, put it in a crazy situation, and let the character’s idiosyncrasies lead to a punchline…or let them play against type for an unexpected punchline. Most of the productions that have flowed from the folks behind Robot Chicken have regressed the formula to just “show pop culture figure. Make crass joke. End scene.” The Lego Movies, Crossing Swords, M.O.D.O.K., etc have worn the premise down to a nub.
M.O.D.O.K. isn’t that fresh of a concept in the first place. Besides M.O.D.O.K. being such an obscure comic book villain, he’s essentially being run through a Dr. Evil simulator. The whole joke of an infamous villain being a family man has been done to death, with better source material and better jokes. Most of the characters in the series are either forgettable punchlines or actively annoying. Not a great start.
Episode 2: The M.O.D.O.K. that Time Forgot
In an effort to win back his wife, Jodie, M.O.D.O.K takes her traveling through time to a Third Eye Blind concert they missed years ago.
The second episode is miles better than the first, but that just elevates its from unlikable to average. The interactions between Jodie and M.O.D.O.K. help both characters. Jodie felt like an internet meme instead of a character in episode one, and M.O.D.O.K.‘s constant villainous monologue reduced him to an action figure who shouts his catchphrases when you press the button on his back. Here, you start to see them as an actual couple, a weird as hell couple, but multifaceted and interesting.
The humor still leans a bit too heavily on the “remember when X was a thing!?” trope, but we actually get character development, a story that isn’t rushed, and less histrionics.
Episode 3: Beware What from Portal Comes!
M.O.D.O.K. drags along his kids, Melissa and Lou, to a GRUMBL leadership conference; once there, he accidentally unleashes a hedonistic alien menace on the conference while trying to prove his leadership skills to his bosses and children.
Episode three almost accomplishes for M.O.D.O.K. and Melissa what episode two did for Jodie and M.O.D.O.K., but stumbles over the need for our anti-hero to be over-the-top, and for the show to be crammed with references. Some of the deep dives are interesting (I’d love to see The Brood make an appearance in an official Marvel series!) but others are just punchlines.
I realize the hook for M.O.D.O.K. as a character is that he self-sabotages, but we’ve seen this tendency done smarter just one episode ago. In episode two, his ego screws up his chance at redemption initially, only to see him get a third chance that he doesn’t blow…and then to see it implode because an earlier, minor incident got hilariously magnified by the very grandiosity he’d just managed to suppress. It’s much more fun to see him TRY to do better and screw up due to karmic revenge than to just watch him constantly immolate himself with narcissism.
Binge or Purge?
There are hints of fun in the series. Melissa and Jodie have potential, and the series is really dedicated to showcasing lots of B and C tier comic book villains from Marvel’s long history. I ended up watching three more episodes, to make sure I wasn’t going off half-cocked on the show’s rough start. Episode four is solid, as much like two, we see some humility and growth break through his force-field of ego and incompetence. The next two episodes struggle, featuring weaker supporting cast and predictable set-ups and outcomes. For all of the insanity of the show, there’s very little genius wed to it.
M.O.D.O.K. feels tailored to an audience of one. I can tell Oswalt has real affection for the character, but it rarely translates into something you can share as the viewer. You’re kept outside the loop, watching somebody else have an uproariously good time with their favorite toy, while you get to kick sand. A lack of characters that spark empathy or engagement drove me to the conclusion that I should just leave M.O.D.O.K. to play with himself.