It seems like a recipe for success. FX’s new animated series, Unsupervised, is backed by the gang behind It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and includes the voice talents of Justin Long, Kristen Bell, Romany Malco and Fred Armisen. On top of that, FX is fast becoming known for its quality programming. But co-creator and writer, David Hornsby, who is also the voice of main character, Joel, can’t seem to find his place in the network’s stellar roster, and Unsupervised, which premiered after the phenomenal Archer, doesn’t hold up its end of the animation hour.
It’s easy to draw parallels between Unsupervised and Mike Judge’s seminal Beavis and Butthead. Both sets of teenage boys are sexually frustrated outcasts with a penchant for destructive behavior. But while Beavis and Butthead are subversive tokens of a society in decline, Gary (Justin Long) and Joel (Hornsby) are comparatively cute and harmless. They are best friends who build lightning rods together, buy each other underwear, and share their feelings.
Gary and Joel want to grow up, meet girls and be popular, but not at the expense of doing the things they love – which is primarily playing with fire, catching lizards and pretending to be ninjas. In short, by the end of the first episode, the duo has learned a lesson, one of relative magnitude – be true to yourself – leaving little room for further character development over the course of a season.
Having characters that don’t develop is par for the course on shows such as these. For this, no one can blame Unsupervised. The conceit alone is fashionable. The boys on South Park come to some sort of conclusion at the end of each episode, but by the next one, they’re back where they started. And Beavis and Butthead sure as hell never learned a damned thing. But Gary and Joel are an irritating, unbelievable mix of innocent, boyish wonder and reckless misfit.
Justin Long’s voiceover for Gary bounces between post-adolescent Long and regular Long, ruining, at times, the illusion that Gary is a horny know-nothing. On the other hand, Hornsby’s Joel is cringingly white trash, his southern twang, skull t-shirt, and “hell yeahs” so overblown you almost forget nothing he says is funny. And despite being “unsupervised,” the two never get into any real trouble, or at least nothing that would carry any lasting repercussions or consequences.
What’s most surprising about Unsupervised is that FX allowed it to appear next to Archer and under their banner of other well crafted shows such as Louie, American Horror Story, The League, Justified and Sons of Anarchy. In truth, Unsupervised looks more like an animated series NBC would green light – a Goode Family? Maybe Unsupervised, as well, is the product of nepotism, a placation for the Sunny gang to rest on their laurels. Whatever it is, the effort was lackluster coming out of the gates, which is especially disappointing if you’re a fan of It’s Always Sunny. We can only hope next week’s episode will be a little more than a brief introduction to Gary and Joel, and that the rest of the season will live up to its pedigree.