A fantastic voice cast sells a decent concept
Then there's Dan vs..
Having watched plenty of shows on The Hub with (and without) my daughter, I'd seen ads for this angry little character with a black T-shirt that says "JERK" many times. But I'd never actually made the effort to check it out. Part of it is the fact that it didn't seem right for my little girl, and after watching the first season, it seems like my first impression was right. Though it's home is The Hub, it is not for kids. Dan vs. is a crazy little animated sitcom built around anger and revenge, with lots of oddball touches that keep a limited concept going well past what would seem like a reasonable end-point.
A job-less social pariah, Dan is paranoid and short-tempered, believing that everyone and everything is plotting against him. Oddly enough, that's pretty much true, and he'll stop at nothing to get his revenge at the world, one target at a time, including his dentist, New Mexico, and ye olde Shakespearean dinner theater. Hesitantly aided by his wishy-washy pal Chris (whose bad choice in friends is balanced by the presence of his beautiful genius of a wife Elise), Dan will do anything to get back at those who have wronged him, even if the vengence is far beyond the perceived slight (like kidnapping the commissioner of baseball because a game preempted his favorite TV show.)
The concept is amusing, matching up Dan's ridiculous quests with Chris and Elise's homelife (complicated by Elise's covert quasi-governmental work), creating a surreal sitcom, but the real appeal of the series lies in the voice work. As Dan, Curtis Armstrong is perfectly cast, bringing the outcast anger seen in many of his film performances to an animated character who can visually show that rage in a way a real person can't. The only actor who could possibly match him in this role would be Wallace Shawn (and it would be no surprise if he was an inspiration to this performance.) The thing about Armstrong is the vulnerability that's just beneath the vitriol, seen mainly in his love for fuzzy animals and all things Elizabethan, which is what keeps Dan from being entirely overbearing.
The other thing that keeps the show from flying off the rails is the dynamic of Chris and Elise, given life by Dave Foley and Paget Brewster, respectively. Foley has shown time and again that he is great as a put-upon nice guy, and that's just what he needs to be with Dan around, and his Canadian roots give an episode about revenge against Canada added laughs for those in on the joke. Brewster, one of the most criminally underrated actresses working today, returns to being an animated star (after her fantastic role as Judy on Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. As a genius with a secret life who's married to a pretty simple, yet nice guy, Brewster brings the charm and edgy energy she excels at, while giving Dan a foil that Chris can't provide. In a positive twist on the usual formula, Elise isn't a shrew, harping on Chris for his bad choices, instead being somewhat amused by them, knowing she can protect him and solve his problems.
Though the concept is a bit formulaic, with Dan being wronged, declaring his war and achieving a measure of success, the way it's carried out has enough variety that even 22 episodes in it was still interesting enough to watch, even if it didn't feel like a must-see. Occasionally a stand-out episode will pop up, like Dan's fatwa against the local fast food chain or a thieving magician (both late-season episodes, which is promising for the show's growth), but the main joys are in little gags here and there (including some fun repeat characters), and, for animation geeks, the rich depth of the supporting cast, which includes Mark Hamill, Grey Delisle, Tom Kenny, Carlos Alazraqui, John DiMaggio, Kevin Michael Richardson, Tara Strong and Cree Summer (along with some other notable voices like Kevin McDonald, Rene Auberjonois, John C. McGinley and Harland Williams.) But none are as appealing to the TV nerd as having Family Ties mom and dad Meredith Birney and Michael Gross as Elise's parents. However, it's also enraging to the TV nerd, as it's inconceivable that they would actually name Birney's character Elise, but not name Gross' Steven. As Dan would say, Dan vs. writers!
Expectations weren't high coming in, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are truly impressive, offering up some impressively detailed atmosphere in the surround speakers, while tossing in a few moments of slick directionality and a couple of neat aural tricks that make for an engaging listen. The dialogue is center-focused and clear, while the music keeps solid separation and rounds out the audio package nicely. A pleasant surprise to be certain.
The Bottom Line