‘Close Enough’ Review: J.G. Quintel’s Comedy Gets Parental in HBO Max Animated Series

     July 9, 2020

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J.G. Quintel has grown up a bit since the days of his hit, Emmy Award-winning Cartoon Network series Regular Show. HBO Max is hoping that his audience has grown up along with him as the new streaming network launches Quintel’s latest animated series Close Enough in its entirety today.

Close Enough is described as “a surreal animated comedy about a married couple, their five-year-old daughter, and their two divorced best friends/roommates all living together on the east side of Los Angeles. They’re navigating that transitional time in your 30s when life is about growing up, but not growing old. It’s about juggling work, kids, and pursuing your dreams, while avoiding time-traveling snails, stripper clowns, and murderous mannequins. Their life may not be ideal but for now, it’s close enough.”

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Image via Cartoon Network Studios, HBO Max

That synopsis should give you an idea of how much Quintel’s comedic sensibilities have grown since spending almost a decade on the animated antics of 20-something, working-class, anthropomorphic animal pals, Mordecai and Rigby. Now, in Close Enough, his new story and the characters playing a part in it are all mixed up in a non-traditional family sitcom. It’s about growing up, it’s about taking on responsibilities as adults and parents, and it’s about as weird as you’d expect from Quintel and the Cartoon Network Studios team.

Originally intended to run on TBS a few years back, Close Enough was shelved until the plans around HBO Max’s launch firmed up. Now, it’s out in the world in its eight-episode entirety, at least for Season 1, on the WarnerMedia streaming service. So it’s caught somewhere between a slightly more grown up Cartoon Network Studios production, without getting into Adult Swim territory, still held back a bit by cable channel standards and practices, and now flung into the Wild West of HBO Max’s testing grounds. That makes the overall tone of Close Enough kind of hard to pin down: It’s in the same camp as Bob’s Burgers when it comes to a family dynamic, though with some extra-familial relations thrown in to shake things up a bit. It also feels a bit like what the kids from Hey Arnold! might be experiencing today if they had grown up but never really left their apartment complexes. But it doesn’t go nearly as insane as, say, Rick and Morty or Solar Opposites. It’s also steeped in nostalgia, both in the way that it references obvious cultural influences from Quintel’s own life and in the way that nostalgia stories tend to glorify the past.

Take this clip as an example:

But that doesn’t mean that Close Enough is a grounded, realistic animated sitcom; not by any means. It eagerly wades into the weird world(s) it exists in, a heightened sort of reality where little British orphans who are talented in handicrafts may not be all they appear to be, or where a house-hunting session turns into a fight for your life. Or whatever the hell is going on here:

The comedy of Close Enough works for two reasons: The extended family dynamics, and the bizarre surreal settings they often find themselves in. It’s a little bit slice-of-life, a little bit good old-fashioned American animated sitcom, and, one can’t help but feel it’s somewhat autobiographical, giving us a peek into Quintel and his writing team’s personal lives a bit. Some scenes, like the clip below, feel both very specifically derived and yet wholly relatable to viewers of a certain age range and demographic:

So while I’m still waiting for Close Enough to do something a little different to separate itself from the pack and avoid being lost to the archives of forgotten animated sitcoms, it’s a fine watch in the meantime, especially for fans of Quintel’s work. All in all, Close Enough is a departure from Quintel’s Regular Show in a number of ways, but the heart and humor serve as the connective threads. Viewers who grew up watching the Cartoon Network hit from 2010 to 2017 can now enjoy a slightly older, more parental take on Quintel’s comedy. It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough (and you are well within your rights to groan at this very obvious pun; in fact, I encourage you to do so!)

Rating: B

Dave Trumbore is Collider’s Senior Editor overseeing Games, Animation, and all those weird Saturday-morning cartoons no one else remembers. Test his trivia IQ on Twitter @DrClawMD

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