Monday, August 07, 2023

Strange Planet, on Apple TV+

Science fiction is supposed to take us to strange places. Star Trek literally promised that at the start of each episode. However, the whole point of this animated series is the familiarity of its alien behavior. Creators Dan Harmon and Nathan Pyle adapted Pyle’s children’s-books-for-adults as Strange Planet (not to be confused with Strange World or Forbidden Planet), which premieres Wednesday on Apple TV+.

The humor of
Strange Planet is very much in the tradition of anthropologist Horace Mitchell Miner’s often-reprinted spoof-essay “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema,” which presented 20th grooming and medical techniques as if they were the customs of a primitive indigenous tribe. The general purpose was to make us question how much of what we assume is modern and advanced really makes logical sense or are we mostly observing social mores. Fair enough, but you should probably continue brushing your teeth.

In the case of
Strange Planet, the bulbous headed aliens are just like us, except they are extremely literally in everything they do. That is where the humor is supposed to come in. For instance, in the first episode, “The Flying Machine,” we hear all about “comfort supervisors” who distribute “jitter liquid” and “mild poison” on “flying machines.” Of course, we are meant to recognize them as flight attendants serving coffee and booze.

These jokes are maybe mildly amusing two or three times, but they grow quite old by the fourth or fifth iteration. Somewhat ironically,
Strange Planet is more enjoyable when it backs off a little from its “Nacirema” concept and focuses more on the work-place humor experienced by the employees of “Careful Now,” a cafĂ© perched on stilts, above a mysterious precipice. The banter between the put-upon manager and her reluctant new employee will sometimes strike a chord for service industry veterans, even with the deliberately stilted Strange Planet language.

So evidently, discomfort flying, the rewards and demands of pet ownership, and the ambiguous feelings inspired by birthdays are pretty universal—and waiting on customers blows on any planet. However, the
Ziggy-level of humor would work better as newspaper comic strips than in a half-hour serial format. Unfortunately, characterization is not a priority of Strange Planet and the jokes hit the same notes repeatedly. Not recommended, it starts streaming Wednesday (8/9) on Apple TV+.