“Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.,” premiering this weekend on Hulu, alternates MCU tropes and family sitcom energy with the darker numbing bureaucracy of something like “Veep,” all told in the style of “Robot Chicken.” Just trust me. Produced by the Seth Green-led company that made "Robot Chicken," it is yet another animated series set in the Marvel universe but with a tone unlike anything you’d find over on Disney+. Created by Jordan Blum and Patton Oswalt, the series very much has the unexpected sense of the humor of the brilliant stand-up comedian, who also voices the title character, a Marvel villain named Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, or “M.O.D.O.K.” for short. Created by Stan Lee in 1967, M.O.D.O.K. just looks too goofy to take seriously. He’s a giant sneering head with stumpy arms and legs that uses a floating chair to get around. And on his Hulu show, he’s also a disrespected man whose family is falling apart.
No one takes M.O.D.O.K. (aka George Tarleton) seriously. In the premiere, Iron Man (voiced by Jon Hamm, which is a brilliant casting decision) is watching “The Great British Bake-Off” on his H.U.D while he fights with the supervillain because that's how concerned he is about the current threat. M.O.D.O.K.'s inability to take over the world takes another hit when his company A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) is taken over by a more successful tech group called GRUMBL, run by the slimy Austin Van Der Sleet (a perfect Beck Bennett). As M.O.D.O.K. tries to keep his team together, including a loyal henchman named Gary (the wonderful Sam Richardson), he has to confront domestic problems when his wife Jodie (Aimee Garcia) decides she wants a separation. Children Lou (Ben Schwartz) and Melissa (Melissa Fumero) present both standard teen family comedy problems and the kinds of things one typically doesn’t see in an animated superhero program.
Add Jon Daly, Wendy McLendon-Covey, and guest stars like Nathan Fillion (as Wonder Man, of course) and Bill Hader (as a supervillain named The Leader) to the names above and it’s clear how incredibly strong this voice cast is in comedic terms. They were clearly all drawn to sharp, consistent writing that moves in the unexpected way that fans of “Robot Chicken” and Oswalt should expect. “Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” is refreshingly unpredictable in the manner in which it blends standard sitcom tropes with superhero ideas. Take the second episode, in which M.O.D.O.K. takes Jodie back in time so the two can go to a Third Eye Blind concert they missed when they were young, hoping to rekindle the love they’ve lost. He crosses paths with a younger version of himself, who hates the insignificant, disrespected supervillain he now knows he’s going to become. Imagine meeting your future self and being that disappointed.
“Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” works because it doesn’t pin too much of its humor on the modern subgenre of hero deconstruction in shows like “The Boys,” “Invincible,” and “Jupiter’s Legacy.” It knows heroism and shows about supervillains can still be inherently silly sometimes. It doesn’t take itself overly seriously, and that playfulness has been lacking in almost all superhero culture of the last few years. It’s not perfect. Some of the episodes are more forgettable than others, but it has a consistent cleverness that makes its flaws easy to overlook, especially when the lines are delivered by such talented voice actors. It's just a fun world to hang out in with talented comedians in every scene.
“Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” was once going to be a part of a series of shows about “lesser” characters from the Marvel universe that includes Hit-Monkey, Tigra, Dazzler, and Howard the Duck. As the Marvel TV universe changed significantly from its original Netflix incarnation to the current one on Disney+ in shows like “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” all of those other projects got the axe. Only M.O.D.O.K. survived, and Blum has already revealed that they’re working on a second season. It's fitting that a ridiculous supervillain like M.O.D.O.K. would be the last floating head standing. He may not get the respect he deserves, but he keeps on fighting.
Whole season screened for review.