‘Smiling Friends,’ created by well known internet artists Zach Hadel and Michael Cusack, is an adult animated television series that premiered January 10 on Adult Swim.
The series follows two employees of the company ‘Smiling Friends’ – cheerful Pim and cynical Charlie – as each episode they put a smile on customer’s faces. This episodic format works in the show’s favor instead of pushing it too far in the cheesy direction. The show’s characters and style of humor juxtaposes the Superman cartoon style format with their maturity. Charlie and Pim have a pretty dynamic relationship despite the zany plotlines. It balances the development of characters with plot well over the course of a season.
Created by two prominent online figures, the series ran the risk of mixing popular internet humor with more traditional media, which has often failed to translate. The fast paced and attention grabbing shock humor popular online is once again well balanced with the plot.
The crown jewel of the series is the voice work. Using Hadel as the straight man is an ingenious choice. His unique vocal range usually translates into an absurd role, but since the show’s cast is so small Hadel is able to voice side characters without egregious similarities to his character, Charlie. Additionally, the creators have connections through their internet presence and have hired friends to voice supporting characters. Chris O’ Neil, a youtuber with almost a million subscribers and voice actor makes several appearances.
‘Smiling Friends’ also uses mixed media in classic and yet unexpected ways. Similar to many popular cartoons in the 2010s such as Spongebob Squarepants or Chowder, the series uses 3D models for close up shots to compliment a joke or add extra dramatics. In an unexpected twist, it also employs fully rendered 3D models for special characters. In the final episode of the season, Satan is an absurdly large 3D rendering that really stands out amongst the fairly simple overall style of the show.
The only issue with the series is the writer’s clearly undeveloped relationship with non-white characters. Almost every character in the show is designed with inhuman colors, however the only explicit non-white characters fall into backwards stereotypes. The only present hispanic character is an addict soundcloud rapper, and the only indian character is an UberEats delivery driver in hell. These are innocuous enough choices on their own, but reveals a troubling pattern for the future if Cusack and Hadel aren’t diligent.
‘Smiling Friends’ is a unique venture into the adult animation world, combining the online world with the traditional. The series has been renewed for a second season, and hopefully will continue to impress.