Ugly Americans has an enjoyable
irreverence about it and its EC Comics-inspired design is inventive,
but this animated Comedy Central program lacks both characters we can
latch onto and consistent comedy value. The premise is built around
an alternate version of New York City in which monsters, demons, and
all manner of fantastic and mythical creatures live side-by-side with
human beings. The non-human creatures are "managed" (from
a civic point of view) by the Department of Integration, which helps
place them in jobs and receive education and training. The show's main
protagonist, a human named Mark Lilly, works for the Department of Integration,
and rooms with a zombie named Randall.
The first volume of Ugly Americans on DVD collects seven episodes,
which is admittedly not a long run for a half-hour show. (The show has
been renewed and new episodes begin airing on Comedy Central this month.)
Since most major network half-hour comedies run in seasons of about
twenty-five episodes, it's hardly reasonable for a new series such as
this to hit its stride after only seven shows. This DVD release doesn't
do Ugly Americans any favors, since television programs are often
clunky in their first seasons. Characters are still being shaped by
the writers and actors, story arcs continue to be fleshed out, and the
question of tone is often a tricky one. This is all a very long way
of saying that I feel both premature in passing judgment on such a new
and unpolished show. But the fact is that these first episodes aren't
The show's creators have assembled an appealing visual experience: a
monster-ized NYC, designed using the recognizable color scheme and heavy
outlines of EC Comics' artists of the 1950s. It's whimsical, creative,
and rooted in an under-appreciated legacy. The writing, however, leaves
much to be desired. The show's sense of humor derives from that stonefaced,
1990s-era, monotonous style perfected by shows like Dr. Katz, Professional
Therapist. What makes
this harder to accept is the fact that the show's main characters are
quite flat, without any history, dimension, or personality. The writing
assumes that it is funny enough - or that the show's premise is strong
enough - to float these under-developed characters through these episodes.
Unfortunately, neither is true.
I'm glad that Ugly Americans has been given further opportunity
to develop its world and (hopefully) its characters. I actually look
forward to checking in with the show again - perhaps when the next DVD
is released. The premise is promising. The show is not wholly without
laughs. It will be interesting to see whether this next set of episodes
ordered by Comedy Central reflects the writers working out the kinks
in the show's characters and milieu.
The show is presented in an enhanced 1.78:1 transfer. The show's
comic book color palette and dark outlines are replicated here with
good fidelity. A minor amount of compression evidence is visible, but
it's far from distracting. Overall the visual presentation is pleasing.
Both surround and stereo soundtracks are available for each episode,
and both are fairly straightforward. The music, dialogue, and effects
are evenly mixed. There are no flaws, nor are there any sonic fireworks.
As the show matures, it would be nice to see some experimentation and
expansion of the sound design.
There are several bonus features. Each episode features an
audio commentary with developer David Stern, creator Devin Clark,
and other members of the production crew. The commentaries provide
some insight into the show, its origins, and the creative process.
We begin with the original web shorts that inspired the series
(15:27), which are moderately amusing. There is also an art
gallery, a somewhat silly second gallery of character Facebook
photos, and Sneak Peek art and a Sneak Peek clip (5:17)
that would appear to be from the upcoming episodes.
Not without promise, the first seven episodes of Ugly Americans
are nonetheless unfulfilled on the whole. A good premise and excellent
design work doesn't make up for what is essentially a character-less
show - we just don't care about these people (or non-people, as the
case may be). I hope that the creative team tightens their work during
the next season, which I guardedly look forward to. Rent it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.