Depending on your age, the mere mention of comic strips may conjure up images of The Family Circus, Calvin, and Hobbes, or the adorable and more relevant than ever, Cathy. However, as print journalism has declined and digital disruption has revolutionized the field, comic strips have developed for a more modern audience, with a new generation of producers on social media, such as novelist Nathan W. Pyle.
Strange Planet, the cartoonist’s renowned webcomic that debuted in 2019 with four-panel strips, is finally making its way to the small screen this month with an animated version produced for Apple TV+. The 10-episode series, co-created by Community creator Dan Harmon, is a cheerful, subversive, and loving homage to strange human behavior — even if it’s a little late in developing its deliciously self-aware humor.
Horatian parody Horatian, which had its global debut with the first three episodes on August 9, chronicles the adventures of charmingly, cute, androgynous blobby blue aliens who all emanate an innocent familiarity. The series intensifies its comic strip style with a continual relatability reframed through its glossy-eyed characters, tapping into humanity’s deep-rooted peculiarity with a powerful, observant commentary that dissects human drives.
After watching the first half of the season, there’s a gentle episodical, anthology-style storyline that weaves in Pyle’s particular perceptiveness of observational humor with the help of a few recurrent characters and locales. Strange Planet depicts a universe where customs and sentiments are familiar, but far more emotionally sophisticated, as these species negotiate the follies of our fundamental social relationships with light comedy. In many respects, these extraterrestrial entities are much more open about their sentiments and play on how they are significant to us rather than why we do what we do.
Strange Planet continues the comic strip tradition of never identifying its characters, which is one of its most intriguing aspects. Grounding itself in an observational approach for social critique, spectators must pay close attention to the series to figure out who the few characters that repeat over its ten episodes are. Because the entities are all a relaxing, light blue color, there is no way to tell them apart, despite their vastly distinct personalities.
While this may irritate some, mainly those unfamiliar with the comic, Pyle and Harmon build a world that omits extraneous graphics while focusing on the show’s primary theme through sincere details that develop the narrative. The fact that these figures, except for size, age, and facial expressions, all appear the same speaks to the creator’s continuing idea that identification means little regarding the broader image our experiences produce. Instead, emotion is conveyed to the audience through gestures, accessories, and voice range.
Fortunately, the program does an excellent job of inventing eccentric characters, with several wearing the comic strip’s characteristic socks and others wearing scarves, hats, and even tattoos. Strange Planet regulars Hannah Einbinder (Hacks), Danny Pudi (Community), Tunde Adebimpe (Rachel Getting Married), Demi Adejuyigbe (The Amber Ruffin Show), and Lor Tan Chinn (Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens) are among those joining Strange Planet and bringing these 2-D panels to life.
Although many have been live-action performers throughout the years, they each contribute a welcome consistency that allows fans to find comfort in their voices throughout the series for an extra degree of familiarity. Through the emotional depth of their voices, each member of the ensemble truly commits to creating a universe that is unique and captivating, bringing variety and inflection to those great expressive moments. D’Arcy Carden (A League of Their Own), Fortune Feimster (Fubar), Riki Lindhome (Another Period), Patti Harrison (I Think You Should Leave), Billie Lourd (American Horror Story), and Yvette Nicole Brown (Community) are among the many guest appearances.
These unnamed characters employ the comic strip’s highly formal yet distinctive literalistic terminology to gently poke fun at our real-world silliness as they traverse typical life situations such as existentialism, social expectations, and how to deal when your favorite band splits up. It takes some time to get used to the language, but once you do, it’s highly entertaining. Parents, for example, are referred to as “life-givers,” whereas teeth are referred to as “mouth stones” and confetti is referred to as “tiny trash.”
These alternate words can sometimes be humorous, but occasionally a joke feels like it’s run its course in a 20-minute episode. Strange Planet does an excellent job of growing beyond the minimalism of its comic strips while remaining faithful to its greenness, yet it can seem too simplistic and ridiculous at times. There’s nothing wrong with those two parts, but they feel unbalanced with what the program has to offer as a whole, and they get monotonous and predictable.
We are bombarded with clarity and straightforward affirmations in the program, such as “embarrassment is a building block to success” “bad moments will pass” and “even the good moments will pass,” since that is what our life is all about. Or, if you’re ever at a crossroads, all you have to do is glance toward “all the people who love you to see how far you’ve come.” Strange Planet provides insightful bits of knowledge, compassion, and humor, as well as off-the-cuff enthusiasm seldom seen in other programs.
However, it appears too focused on being a voice of reason for our social media-infused youth at times. While the show’s theme isn’t poisonous positivism, its statements don’t always feel authentic, but they remind us why we enjoy the things we do from a new perspective. The program is an often profound examination of narrative and feeling via how we conduct ourselves in society through responding to the aliens in how they feel rather than their gender or the voice allocated to them.
The animated adaptation of Strange Planet is an entertaining show after the first two episodes, much as the comic strips have drawn admirers from all around the world with their dry humor. Though “The Flying Machine” and “Tiny Trash” are more entertaining than hilarious, they are nevertheless crisp and challenge the conventional paradigm of adult animation by emphasizing the importance of emotion through clever conversations. It’s a gradual build in terms of humor, but the genuine undertones are persistent and strive to keep you hooked. Because kindness is a significant concept in the series, it sparks a discussion about how life would be better if we were more emotionally honest with ourselves.
The bizarre situations these blue, blobby individuals find themselves in give extremely clear existential teachings, which develop the seeds for authenticity not typically seen in an animated series for adults. Strange Planet’s lessons are suitable without being preachy and brilliant at making the weird elements of life familiar and the familiar aspects of life bizarre through strong sarcasm and precise wording. It adds an essential element of humor to daily occurrences, generating tension among the vast zoo of emotions we experience when we are honest.
While Pyle and Harmon try to create frighteningly sympathetic characters in comparable real-world situations that provoke contemplation via a being’s emotional pain, the animation is noteworthy. Whereas many two-dimensional comic strips may evolve into a Pixar-like aesthetic for a series or feature-length film, Strange Planet’s simplicity remains faithful to its comic strip form. Even though Pyle’s distinctive solid pink backdrop has been replaced with bright vistas of soft pastel colors with cotton candy pinks and purples behind sparkling-eyed blue blobs, the color palette complements the show’s joyful, funny tone.
The pink and its impact, however, are not lost, as each blobby entity is endowed with a soft pink (and blue) shadow on either side, suggestive of its color psychology, which promotes harmony, inner peace, and love of oneself and others. The show’s approach is simple and uncomplicated, making it easy to follow while expanding our visual knowledge of the feelings these species experience. Not to mention that the attractiveness that surrounds these characters adds another degree of comfort to the problematic, open dialogues.
Strange Planet is amusing and occasionally hilarious, but it’s too early to predict that it will have the same appeal as Apple TV+’s Central Park, which was a significant step forward for the streaming service in the adult animation category. Harmon and Pyle have produced a program with great potential and a promising start. However, not every episode contains enough meat to support the development of a satisfying storyline. While it is entertaining to watch and has a real message with appealing themes, it may become monotonous in its self-aware preaching at times. However, it is an ambitious project that is both delightful and simple to like.
Strange Planet has a unique style rarely seen on television, with its direction and vocal spectrum paving the way for an open discussion of what makes us all human. Strange Planet, in contrast to Harmon’s Rick and Morty, works through slimy layers of intricate interplanetary difficulties and dysfunction. Its passionate depths of reality emerge from everyday sentiments and genuine hearts. It’s amusing, but also clever in highlighting our innate human relationality and a shared longing for love and connection.
Strange Planet gets up with increasing humor, some even laugh out loud as these stupid species reflect on our contemporary civilization and negotiate the absurdities of humanity’s social relationships after the first two episodes establish the tone. At its heart, it’s a charming and touching series that throws light on the eccentricities of human behavior to help us realize we’re not alone — but it still has a long way to go before it fully achieves peace.