Culture of Pop

Review: The Jack and Triumph Show Premieres on Adult Swim

I guess the obvious comeback to me saying how much I dislike The Jack and Triumph Show would be the simple question “what were you expecting?” Fair enough. It’s a show centered around Triumph the Insult Comic Dog that’s trying to exist in 2015. Maybe the fact that I would expect anything other than utter trash is on me.

I think because it’s existing in 2015, I expected there to be some sort of added layer to it. Some winking awareness of what this is and how weird it is that it exists. And I think the show might have felt that it had that extra layer. Their digs at multi-camera sitcoms and 1980s humor would suggest that they think this show is something other than retrograde. The fact that Triumph is playing a washed up former star shows some level of self-awareness, right?

But, the actual humor of the show has nothing going on accept the most straightforward, expected brand of comedy. There’s a scene where Jack and Triumph are trying to sell autographs at a convention and Triumph declares, “We’ve got to show these people the kind of losers they’re lining up for.” That moment– 20 minutes into the episode– let us know we can expect that any plot points in this show will really just be excuses to round up easy targets and let Triumph go at them.

Honestly, that would be fine if they packed in the punchlines a little more. If this show embraced being essentially an insult comedy show, with the sitcom plot stuff merely serving as a fun framing device, that could actually work. But, as I said, it takes them 20 minutes to hit their mean comedy stride. They somehow manage to waste all their time on exposition without really explaining anything. The episode starts with a woman named Tracy talking to Jack and his friend June. After a whopping 8 minutes of voiceover and flashbacks setting everything up, we’re still not sure who Tracy even is. I think she’s June’s nurse but, despite the glacial pace of the show, they manage to leave story stuff like that just hanging, unanswered. Similarly, after spending lots of screen time on a plot about Michael Winslow and Triumph being in a cahoots to steal June’s furniture, I’m still not sure exactly what their plan was or why they don’t have her furniture back at the end if Winslow was on Triumph’s side the whole time. Instead of being a quick source of additional ambiance, what feels like a framing device makes up the majority of the show and weighs the whole thing down with logic questions. When we finally get to a joke montage, it feels like too little too late. Triumph gets a couple of well-constructed digs in, but if your time would be better spent on a stand up special or something like Robot Chicken where the jokes are much more rapid fire.

I’m curious about exactly what the intended audience for this show is. Middle school or high school would be the appropriate time to go through an insult comedy phase, but the show relies heavily on 80s/90s nostalgia figures for its humor. This means they have to awkwardly explain who people like Michael Winslow even are, before they proceed to make fun of them.

There’s also a deep mean-spiritedness to the show that keeps the humor from really playing. There are two things that can make insult comedy work: it can be truly dark and cynical, not holding back and making anything in society a target. This show very obviously doesn’t come close to trying to do that. But, what you would expect them to do is be able to pull back a bit and say “just kidding!” Insult comedy has to have some ability to do this in order to not be hateful. Even The Burn with Jeff Ross, which lacked any sort of complexity or sophistication, managed to have enough of a laid-back, all-in-good fun vibe to not seem totally cruel.

I think part of the problem is that because of the format, we’re not just getting pure Triumph, where we sort of expect everything to be biting and mean, we’re seeing a narrative that endorses all that meanness. For example, when Triumph tells June that she looks like “a trans Michael Moore”, it’s not too surprising. Of course Triumph’s humor would involve tossing in ‘trans’ to make an insult sting more and that’s the kind of thing you can brush off and then wait for the next zing to roll in. But, early in the episode there’s a scene where June narrates that Jack went “down a dark path” and then we see him having sex with a trans woman. That’s the entire joke. The very idea of anyone being with a trans woman. Stuff like that makes this go from a show full of cruel one-liners, to just a cruel show that’s hard to watch.

By the end of the premiere, I was yearning for something more digestible like Family Guy or a Comedy Central Roast. The Jack and Triumph Show really demonstrates that easy comedy isn’t so easy.

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