TBS, the network of “very funny” programming, has a brand-new animated series to share with you tonight in Final Space. But it’s not really a comedy at all. Despite the occasional one-liner or sight gag that elicits honest laughter, Olan Rogers‘ creation is a darkly comic tale that is at its best when delivering space-based peril, harrowing displays of evil, and impossible decisions on the part of the heroes. A comedy it is not, but a visceral, engaging, and surprisingly high-stakes animated adventure-drama, it definitely is.
Rogers voices a number of characters in his web series-turned-TBS show, including the protagonist Gary, the cute (and acutely powerful) alien creature Mooncake, and the silly, six-eyed sidekick Tribore. He’s supported by a fantastic cast including Tika Sumpter, Coty Galloway, Tom Kenny, Fred Armisen, David Tennant, and Steven Yeun. TBS and executive producers Conan O’Brien and David Sacks pulled no punches for Final Space, either in the show’s fantastic production quality or in supporting Rogers’ vision for a series that blows right through conventional tropes to deliver some hard-hitting emotional beats alongside the occasional light-hearted jokes. It’s something else. Be sure to check out its premiere tonight on TBS at 10:30pm, but read on for more of my thoughts on the debut.
While watching Final Space, a bunch of sci-fi touchstones kept coming to mind: There’s the obvious Buck Rogers and Star Wars nods for space-based sci-fi/fantasy action, the dysfunctional space family comedy unit that’s familiar to Futurama and Bravest Warriors, and the outright weirdness and randomness exemplified by shows in the vein of Rick and Morty. There’s even the hyper-cute death-weapon Mooncake, who conjures up memories of the cuddly alien menace from Lilo & Stitch. Final Space borrows some elements of all of these popular titles and peppers them in throughout the telling, but it really is its own unique story. In fact, Final Space swerves so severely from comedic beats in one moment to dramatic gut-punches in the next that you’ll find yourself laughing just before the wind gets knocked out of you and your jaw hangs open in disbelief. “Did they really just do that?” I asked myself a number of times over these six episodes. While this approach makes Final Space stand out, it also hampers it a bit because the uneven tone makes it difficult to pin down just what this show is trying to be. And that unevenness is exemplified in the often-selfish and occasionally heroic Gary, our protagonist.
Please have some patience with Gary; he’s been on his own with no one to talk to but some frustrating robots for about five years. You see, he’s a prisoner aboard the space ship Galaxy One, and he’s a little rusty when it comes to his communication skills. He’s the core of this cast of characters: He’s watched over by the Galaxy One’s robot ensemble, which varies from the hyper-intelligent HUE (Kenny), to the irritating but occasionally useful KVN (Armisen), to an endless army of variously named bot-assistants/soldiers; he’s also the caretaker of Mooncake, a curious creature who is sought after by the Lord Commander (Tennant) and his hired bounty hunters, like Avocato (Galloway); and he’s the ever-awkward, one-sided love interest of Quinn (Sumpter), a “Lawful Good” space soldier who is forced to break bad. This dysfunctional family comes together in exciting ways that lead to a lot of conflict, and they’re tested in ever more traumatizing ways, with heart-breaking results. It’s these characters that make the show worth watching.
Final Space is also an incredibly well-produced series. ShadowMachine’s animation is glossy, smooth, and not afraid to get incredibly visceral on a number of occasions. And for a spacefaring action-adventure series, the animators’ grasp of scale comes into play quite often, whether it’s one already-massive spaceship being dwarfed by another, much larger vessel, or when one of our heroes runs afoul of a not-so-nice butterfly and almost ends up becoming bug-chow. The locales vary from exotic alien marketplaces, to dangerous industrial facilities, to neon-colored jungles; my only complaint here is that Final Space moves so quickly through these settings that the show never really gets a chance to catch its breath in any of them, save the prison ship HQ. Perhaps the best display of the show’s willingness to get into the gritty realities of space dangers is the cold open of each episode which feature Gary in peril as HUE talks him through his last minutes alive. Each episode ticks a little further along on Gary’s clock as audiences are left to wonder how he got into this position, where his friends and allies are, and if he’ll make it out alive.
Ultimately, I found myself wanting to see more, to know more about the Final Space story after the first six episodes, because they end with quite the cliffhanger. To say more would be a disservice, but Final Space is worth the watch to find out more. Tune in to TBS tonight at 10:30pm ET/PT to join the adventure.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good