J.G. Quintel’s “Regular Show” was a huge hit for Cartoon Network, running for eight seasons and over 250 episodes. When it was over, it made perfect sense that the company would want to continue the relationship, and Quintel delivered a different kind of show, a surreal comedy about those hazy years in the thirties when a couple has their first child, realizes how much their life has changed, and contemplates the future. It’s not quite a mid-life crisis, but it’s the opening act. With a more adult sense of humor, “Close Enough” was to be a part of a TBS block of adult-skewed animation way back in 2017, anchored by a show called “The Cops” that was written by and set to star Louis C.K. You can guess what happened there. When “The Cops” got thrown away with every other project the comedian was tied to, “Close Enough” ended up in development hell, not only completed but promising enough to be a multi-year show, but with no home. TBS wanted a block, not a show that would have looked a little odd compared to the rest of their line-up. And so “Close Enough” sat in limbo until the announcement of HBO Max, on which it premieres this Thursday, July 8th.
Quintel voices Josh, a third of a nuclear trio with wife Emily (Gabrielle Walsh) and their four-year-old daughter Candice (Jessica DiCicco). The family shares a duplex with divorced couple Alex (Jason Mantzoukas) and Bridgette (Kimiko Glenn). If it wasn’t animated and often insanely violent, one might mistake the set-up for a family sitcom on ABC on Friday nights. How can Josh and Emily navigate the waters of parenthood without losing their identities as young, happy, well-adjusted people? Each episode is technically two distinct episodes with Quintel again using the style he’s accustomed to in terms of running time. Almost every episode takes a simple, even clichéd premise—“Helping Candice with a school project,” “Being voted room parent at school,” “Trying to go out for a date night,” etc.”—and then explodes it with Quintel’s surreal sense of humor. For example, the quartet goes out clubbing but discovers that the hot spot they’ve stumbled upon literally sacrifices anyone over 30 to a swirling fan on the ceiling.
Not every “bit” on “Close Enough” works, but even when it misses the mark with its broad sense of humor, I admired the commitment. For example, an episode about Emily getting stuck in a network sitcom after going to an open house feels long even at 12 minutes, but it certainly never feels lazy or easy. I wouldn’t recommend watching multiple episodes of “Close Enough” in a row, which I was forced to do for review, because the same themes of suburban parental identity start to get a bit exhausting, but it’s definitely a solid diversion every now and then when you fire up HBO Max.
On that subject, HBO Max is becoming one of the more notable streaming services when it comes to animation. Sure, Disney+ has the undeniable weight of Walt’s canon and the Pixar output, but take a look through the animated sections of HBO Max and prepare to be impressed by the diversity of what’s on display, including new offerings like the reboot of “Looney Tunes,” “Adventure Time: Distant Lands,” and now “Close Enough.” HBO Max has made some of the wrong kind of headlines in its first six weeks with everyone talking about the Roku kerfuffle, “Gone with the Wind,” and even the name of the app more than its programming, but that will change. People will dig into the Cartoon Network, Looney Tunes, and Studio Ghibli sections of HBO Max and be blown away by the depth of what they find there. The funny thing is that “Close Enough” would have stood out as an anomaly on TBS on 2017, but it’s more likely to get lost in the crowd on HBO Max in 2020.
Six episodes screened for review.