There’s no way for anyone to prove outright that Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, and Rob Sitch, the creative team behind the new animated comedy Pacific Heat, have ever seen a single episode of FX’s groundbreaking Archer. Plenty of creative people come to the same idea for a story or a character independently, and there’s honestly nothing wrong with the same story being told from several different perspectives. In fact, that seems to be the principle mode that Hollywood has been working under for the last decade or so.
In the case of Pacific Heat, the similarities between this Australian comedy and Archer are largely in overall concept rather than in perspective, style, or sense of humor. The Netflix series follows a quartet of spies working to take down a variety of international criminal organizations, reporting to an angry chief and relying on the intel of a studied computer expert. There’s little point in getting into the characters – the dumb but brave leader, his dumber, stronger sidekick, the smart, sensitive woman agent, etc. – as the series doesn’t seem to care about any of them beyond their ability to deploy what I assume are meant to be jokes.
Indeed, the primary problem with Pacific Heat is that it simply isn’t funny. It doesn’t help that the energy of the vocal performances is remarkably low, as if no one involved was excited about what they were being asked to read and galvanize. The aforementioned jokes are also largely vague, familiar, and timed horribly, such as a repeating gag of people attempting to close doors or the lead character mistaking a city in Vietnam for a Korean restaurant. That last joke, in particular, is representative of a mildly alarming strain of bad jokes made at the expense of Asian people, which make up a conspicuous amount of the one-liners in the episodes that were screened for critics.
This is where it is instructive to compare the series with Archer. The title character of the FX show, voiced with sublime comic delivery by H. Jon Benjamin, is an Olympic-level asshole, self-serving, self-excusing, sexist, and prone to lashing out over the tiniest infractions against his ego. And yet, he’s also an inventive, intelligent, and intensely well-trained spy who is capable of getting out of dangerous situations with a mix of daring and macho idiocy. He’s a complicated character, as are the rest of his team, and the humor comes as much from pauses and gestures as it does from ridiculous actions, one-liners, and a slew of sharp pop-culture references. The series practices a honed level of playful self-awareness that neither slackens the narrative tension nor reduces the humor to overt, repetitive parody.
In other words, Archer is chaotic without being messy, unhinged yet focused and detail-oriented, and just plain uproarious. In contrast, Pacific Heat feels hollowed out and devoid of even the slightest measure of personality. Even the animation design feels completely apathetic and bare-bones, which might have been fine if the writing had elicited any emotion beyond boredom and one or two blips of offense. There’s no joy in knowing that the creative team behind enjoyable charmers like The Dish and The Castle crafted such a relentlessly miserable experience but there’s no honor in defending this stuff either.
Rating: ★ – Just No.
Pacific Heat is available for streaming on Netflix starting December 2nd.