Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: SuperNews!

10 Episodes – Now in repeats on Current, airs Friday at 10pm.

It’d be pretty easy to argue that right now there’s nothing worse than an unfunny Flash cartoon, especially an unfunny Flash cartoon that was clearly trying really really hard to be topical. They’re the modern-day equivalent of Clinton-Lewinsky novelty songs that would run on FM Morning Zoo shows in the late 90’s. In other words, comedy poison.

So by that metric, there’s no good reason SuperNews!, an all-Flash animated half hour cartoon sketch series that runs on Current (a network few people actually have and fewer people actually watch), would be worthwhile. Live-action sketch comedy about politics and culture is hard enough to get right; with the lead times associated with animation, you have to assume they’re just now going to be making lame, tired jokes about Hillary leaving mean messages on Obama’s MySpace profile.

As it turns out, SuperNews! is surprisingly pretty decent, even if it is wildly hit-and-miss. When it hits, it’s downright clever, funny and often insightful, and when it misses, well, that’s what fast forward is for.

SuperNews! is absolutely at its best when it’s satirizing broad social trends and the blind narcissism of the current generation. The writing team – if you can call it a “team”, since the show seems to have a tiny, tiny production staff – really has a solid and appropriately cynical grasp on internet culture. Their sketches about Craigslist and Twitter could’ve been hacky trainwrecks, but instead they’re very funny deconstructions of those services. The best kind of satire involves harsh criticism, and the SuperNews! writers seem to have that aspect of the art nearly mastered.

The best recurring sketch on the show is easily “Hipsters in Space”, which follows four – uh – hipsters (with names like “Captain Art School” and “Dr. Blog”) as they travel through space in a giant sneaker, using the ‘Judgmentotron’ to determine if things are lame or rad. Each segment is a fairly brilliant and dead-on skewering of hipster culture. Considering how many comedians, bloggers, open mic night stand-ups and TV writers are currently shooting at the fish in the hipster barrel, that this bit works so well and rings so true while also being hilarious is a small miracle.

That said, there’s a lot of material on SuperNews! that doesn’t work. For whatever reason, the show is downright unwatchable when it tries to take on celebrity culture and reality TV. There’s a recurring sketch called ‘Project Britney’, with Tim Gunn hosting a reality competition show between the 5 stages of Britney Spears’ career. That doesn’t even sound funny, and it isn’t. By the end they bring on Perez Hilton as a guest judge, and frankly, even typing that description out it’s hard to believe they managed to write more than one of these bits without realizing it sounds like a comedy sketch assembled by using words cut out of last month’s wrinkled-up copy of Us Weekly, mashed together with a healthy dose of copy-pasted Gawker comments. They also seem to indulge in the usual lame American Idol jokes (although to be fair, the FCC has apparently mandated that any topical comedy show has to contain a certain percentage of dull American Idol material).

Thankfully, the show is deliberately produced in such a manner that the episodes are designed to be carved up into viral video-sized chunks, and if you visit the show’s page at Current, you can pick and choose which bits you want to watch. Here’s a handy viewing guide:

  • If the sketch is about a current social trend – especially related to the internet – watch it.
  • If the sketch is about a celebrity or a reality show – avoid it like the plague.
  • If it’s about politics, watch it for their flawless, dead-on-accurate Obama voice, but you probably won’t laugh, unless you just love “Joe Biden is crazy” material.

Right now there are 10 episodes available, and frankly, these folks are producing enough decent stuff per episode that it’d be a shame if Current (or some other network) didn’t order more. They just need to stay the hell away from the tabloid material.

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