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Friday, February 27, 2015

Presenting THE JACK AND TRIUMPH SHOW

Article originally written for Seat42F.





For the (several) generations that grew up watching Lassie, many may often have wondered what became of the boy and his dog. That question is answered, sort of, in THE JACK AND TRIUMPH SHOW, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim’s latest live-action series. Of course, the dog in question is not Lassie, but the unnaturally-long-lived Triumph (an insult comic puppet voiced by Robert Smigel), who starred in the fictional series Triumph’s Boy years ago.

As THE JACK AND TRIUMPH SHOW begins, Jack (30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer) is living with his former co-star, June (June Squibb, Nebraska), who takes him in after his parents squander his money. June has also gotten rid of the bad influence that led Jack into drugs and prostitution post-show business, Triumph, but after years away, “Triumph Comes Home.” It takes the dog no time at all to get dim-witted Jack into his old habits.

The main plot of the series seems to be a battle between June and Triumph over Jack’s soul. Jack is easily manipulated, and while he may have a pure moral code, Triumph knows how to subvert that code with tricky (to Jack, not the viewer) language. Jack is essentially a plot device more than a fully fleshed out character, and that works for McBrayer, who has mastered the blank face.

Triumph and June are surprisingly well matched. June fully commits to their battle, tossing Triumph out the window in the woods, and seeming serious about it. I credit that to her skill as an actress, as many performers, especially those of her generation, would not be able to so convincingly go to war with a felt co-star, but she does it handily.

The larger problem is, the series isn’t that funny. The concept is dated, and much of the show plays out in a very old-sitcom style, thoroughly unrealistic. This is likely done on purpose to match all the throwbacks, from the obvious Lassie parallels to former pop culturally relevant guest stars such as Michael Winslow (the Police Academy films) and Brent Spiner (Star Trek: The Next Generation). It’s a piece that pokes fun at itself, but perhaps not as expertly as one might wish.

The best part of “Triumph Comes Home” is when Triumph talks to Brent and others at an autograph show. He slips back into the comedic insults and off-the-cuff interviews that are a trademark of the Triumph character. This is what he was created for, and he has it mastered. A whole series could probably not be effectively built off of this, though, hence the more mundane trappings surrounding it. Still, by comparison to the insult comedy, the rest of the half hour is a little tame.

Perhaps tame is the wrong word for a show that has Jack McBrayer in a crop top giving hand jobs to Japanese businessmen in an alley. Yet, somehow that’s what it feels like. It may be Jack’s overwhelming sense of innocence, no matter how perverted the things he’s talking into doing are, or perhaps it’s because there’s a cartoon-like quality to the proceedings that lets you know no one will really get hurt, emotionally anyway, that makes everything seem safe. Either way, the tone of the program takes away much of the edge that would otherwise exist.

I like THE JACK AND TRIUMPH SHOW, but I don’t love it. I feel like it’s a premise that could get old very quickly. I am amused by the meta humor and numerous references to the past, but that doesn’t seem like recipe enough to sustain it. If this series is going to last, either the writers have to come up with an insane number of zany situations for these characters, or find a way to let them grow. My guess is, they’ll go for the former, which is far more challenging than the latter. I wish them the best of luck.

THE JACK AND TRIUMPH SHOW airs Fridays at 11:30 p.m. ET on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

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