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Featured TV on DVD Review: Ugly Americans: Volume One

October 23rd, 2010

Ugly Americans: Volume One - Buy from Amazon

Ugly Americans started on Comedy Central earlier this year and it started its second season, or the second half of its first season earlier in the month. The quote on the box calls it, "The best animated show on Comedy Central since South Park." I can only think of two other animated shows that have aired on Comedy Central since South Park, Drawn Together and Lil' Bush, all three of which I've reviewed. So where does this show fit in on the quality spectrum compared to those three shows?

The Show

The world of Ugly Americans is an alternate reality where monsters and demons and wizards and other strange oddities live amongst humans. In fact, combined, they seem to outnumber the humans. There is a government agency set up to make sure they fit into human society, Department of Integration, and one of the social workers there is Mark Lilly, the central character of this show. At the beginning of the first episode, the budget for the "Social Services" department was allocated to the "Law Enforcement" department and every one of Mark's co-workers were fired, except for Leonard Powers, a 500-year old wizard with an excellent union. His boss is a half-human / half-demon Succubus named Callie Maggotbone, who is also his girlfriend. As a half-human / half-demon, she sometimes has bouts of humanity, but those tend to not last a long time. Her boss is a full-demon named Twayne the Boneraper, who is typical of mid-level management types, i.e., he's rather incompetent at his job and his greatest skill is taking credit for others' work. The only other co-worker we see much of is Frank Grimes, the head of the Law Enforcement department of Department of Integration, which means its his job to bust non-humans when they break the law. He loves his job, because he hates non-humans. The main cast is rounded out by Randall Skeffington, Mark's roommate / recent zombie convert. He became a zombie for a woman (it didn't work) and now he's got to live with the consequences.

For the first season / volume, Mark has to deal with a case load that includes zombies, werewolves, vampires, and other assorted monsters, while balancing his social life. It very much like any office sitcom, but with monsters. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, the combination of the mundane situations one normally finds in life, like incompetent co-workers, inconsiderate roommates, and romantic troubles, with the truly bizarre cast of characters does create plenty of opportunity for humor. On the other hand, I'm not sure I would argue that it is taking full advantage of its setup and too often the humor is not significantly better than the average sitcom. I laughed, I just didn't laugh as much as I was hoping I would.

Ugly Americans does have good writing, a very cool visual style, and enough jokes that hit to recommend, but it did get off to a slower start than I would have liked.

On a side note, the music reminded me of Futurama, which is not good news for this show, as there are quite a few similarities between the shows (normal person doing a normal job, but surrounded by bizarre creatures and situations). However, Futurama comes out ahead in a direct comparison in almost every regard.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include audio commentary tracks on all seven episodes with the two executive producers and the creator. That's David M. Stern, Daniel Powell, and Devin Clark, respectively. It's more conversational than strictly informational, but it fits with the tone of the show. Other extras include five Five On... segments, which are parodies of "Man on the street" interviews you would see on TV news, except instead of humans, they interview five robots, or five demons, etc. There is also a animatic preview for an upcoming episode. There are also three image galleries, as well as a booklet from the Department of Integration.

The Verdict

Ugly Americans has a great comic book style and a dry wit that aims at targets from Criss Angel, to Twilight, to more timeless targets like the classic movie monsters. The price per minute for Volume One is a little on the high side, mainly because there are only seven episodes, but there are plenty of extras to compensate. If you are a fan of the show, then it is worth picking up. If you have never seen the show, but you are a fan of South Park or Adult Swim, then give it a rental.

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