Every now and then, we need a break from reality. A break from the seemingly endless barrage of headlines, messages and videos detailing how bad the world has gotten. This goes doubly true in dire times like now. Personally, I’ve always found comfort in comedy. Sometimes a little bit of humour and satire can provide a means to escape from our current circumstances. Other times, they can have the surprising effect of helping us confront our worldly angst through absurdity and social commentary. All while still managing to keep us thoroughly amused. So what better way to chase those blues away than with some of the very best animated series Netflix has to offer? That being said, animated shows have evolved beyond being mindless entertainment for kids and toddlers.
There are a good number of adult-orientated animated series that are able to find an excellent balance between zany, cartoonish fun and mature, raw themes. They deal with everything from sexual relationships to existential crises to societal issues. It’s time to put the kids to bed and dive into Netflix’s weird and wonderful world of hand-drawn alcoholics and dysfunctional heroes!
1. F is for Family
The quirky family dynamic has become a staple of the animated sitcom subgenre. You’ll find at least a dozen animated series out there that have adopted this trope. Its first major breakthrough with 1989’s The Simpsons soon brought about the rise of shows like Family Guy, King of the Hill and Bob’s Burgers. Alas, we have Netflix’s F is for Family. So what exactly makes F is for Family stand out from the rest of the crowd? Two words for you: Bill Burr. For the uninitiated, Burr is one of the most talented, and arguably angriest, comedians out there today. So much of his jokes stem from his rough and tumble upbringing in an Irish-American household. F is for Family is a compilation of everything that makes Bill Burr so well…Bill Burr, brought to life in colour and sound.
It should be noted though that much like the comic himself, F is for Family doesn’t pull punches on its true-to-life depictions of the 1970s. All the absurd sexism, blue-collar job insecurity and clear as day racism of the time are on display here. Burr doesn’t try to sanitize or preach to the audience about how regressive the 70s were. Instead, he simply allows the blatant contradictions and frustrations out the time to play themselves out and the result is often ridiculously funny and utterly touching. Where shows like The Simpsons take a light tap on these issues or where Family Guy glibly exploits for shock value, F is for Family organically explores, satirizes and addresses them. Go watch it today before I put you through the goddamn wall!
2. Big Mouth
The nature of Netflix’s Big Mouth is downright paradoxical. It’s a show chronicling all the messiness of teenage sexuality but in no way, shape or form is it appropriate for kids to watch. So at the end of the day, you get a bunch of young adults watching a group of sexually confused school kids navigating through puberty. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of relatively young kids dealing with things like masturbation, safe sex and horny, hairy monsters egging on their carnal desires, then this show probably isn’t for you. Those willing to look past the show’s strange aesthetics and initial crassness are rewarded with one of the most hilarious and painfully accurate depictions of puberty and burgeoning adolescence.
Created by comedian Nick Kroll, Big Mouth follows the adventures of Nick Birch, a younger fictional version of Kroll, his best friend Andrew and Maurice, their Hormone Monster. Maurice is essentially the physical manifestation of Nick and the other kids’ sexual urges and is often the source of humour in the show. Weirdly enough, he also acts as the voice of reason in some moments as well. With each subsequent season, we get to journey with this oddball group of kids as they try to find a balance between sexual restraint and expression. The best way I can describe this show is that it’s the funniest sex-ed PSA that you’ve never seen before. Perhaps if we had seen Big Mouth in our younger days, we could have avoided making so many mistakes. At the very least, we get to laugh at them now.
3. BoJack Horseman
Only Netflix would ever consider greenlighting a show about a talking horse trying to revitalize his acting career in Hollywood. If you think for a second that Bojack Horseman is going to be an edgier rehash of Zootopia then you are dead wrong. Bojack Horseman’s animal cracker aesthetics is a trojan horse for a deeply compelling dramedy about purpose, relationships and narcissism. With each new season, we begin to truly see how the titular Bojack moves from one stage of his existential mid-life crisis to the next. All while being accompanied by a cast of colourful and yet weirdly relatable characters. As of January this year, the series has finally concluded and believe me when I say that it is one doozie of an ending!
There’s always been this longheld perception of the vapidity, pretentiousness and hollowness of the Los Angeles cultural industry. Admittedly, those more acquainted with the liberal arts scene will manage to catch all the delicious little digs and bits found in its episodes. Still, there’s still plenty of fun to be had thanks to the show’s sharp writing and terrific voice performances by actors like Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris and Alison Brie. Watch it long though and you’ll start to feel a strong attachment to the character of Bojack and his need for self-actualization. There were definitely some moments when I teared up, especially at the flashbacks of his childhood. Again, I reiterate the point that only Netflix can make us ponder on the significance of existence using a series about a talking horse thespian.
4. Rick and Morty
What started off as a cult hit has now exploded into a cultural phenomenon and for good reason too! Created by Community’s Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, Rick and Morty follow the adventures of alcoholic, sociopathic mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his mostly normal, teenage grandson Morty Smith. They travel to alien planets, mess with the fundamental laws of the universe and occasionally ruin the lives of individuals, communities or whole worlds. It’s hard to even begin to describe Rick and Morty’s appeal seeing that the series is so layered. If you’re someone who enjoys high-concept science fiction or fantasy then you’ll love this show. There are episodes that deal with quantum physics, biological sentience, Lovecraftian horror, multiversal travel and time paradoxes.
Pop-culture connoisseurs will invariably find themselves laughing on the floor if not clutching their pearls at Rick and Morty’s irreverent jabs at TV and film tropes. With all this madness going on, I found it miraculous that the show still manages to establish an impressively consistent continuity of both events and character development. Whether it be through subtle visual easter-eggs or with direct references to previous episodes, there’s always a real sense of presence to the series’ world and those who inhabit it. One of the main emotional cores behind the entire show is Rick’s emotional repression and fatalistic worldview. Every new episode slowly unravels his cold indifference to reveal a longing for wholeness. Will we ever see Rick find meaning and purpose? Hopefully not for another three more seasons.
5. South Park
Against all odds, Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s animated abomination has stood the test of time of over 20 years. Regardless of your personal beliefs, preferences or ideologies, South Park guarantees one thing: You will be offended. I don’t care how far-right or left-leaning you are, South Park is coming for you. Are you a fairly religious conservative? Well, there’s an episode where the Abrahamic God is depicted as a deformed, possum monster. Are you a well-meaning liberal centrist? Then be prepared to have your pseudo-intellectual moral platitudes taken down by throwaway lines calling out your hypocrisy. Oh, and you best believe that there are some pretty offensive representations of sexual, racial and religious minorities. I won’t lie, South Park has at times made a tad uncomfortable and that is precisely why I adore this series!
Unlike shows like Family Guy, South Park actually uses its shock value to good effect. Namely to deliver timely and relevant social commentary. Its latest season dealt hot-button issues like China’s growing cultural influence in western media, censorship, “politically correct” (PC) culture and the monopoly of streaming services. I dare you to find a TV series where an ignorant American hipster pot-farmer strangles Winnie the Pooh to death in a bid to appease the Chinese government. Yes the series is terribly vulgar and some of its antics will make you question your notions of common decency but it’s all so well written. You don’t have to pay to visit fancy avant-garde art exhibits to see profound societal critiques, you can just sit at home and watch South Park.