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Netflix’s Q-Force Tries to Subvert Stereotypes with Mixed Results

It often seems like Netflix sets out to have their own versions of hits from other networks. Watching their latest adult animated offering, it’s not difficult to picture a boardroom meeting in which someone yelled, “We need an 'Archer'!! And make it gayer!” Much like the long-running FX hit, this cartoon is a spoof of spy action dramas that attempts to subvert their clichés with a modern sense of humor and progressive ideas about sex and gender. What’s a bit off about “Q-Force” is that it also feels like a show that might have been conceived around the time “Archer” started its long run. A few too many of the jokes are dated and easy, although the show leans so far into its cheesy sense of humor that it becomes increasingly likable as the season goes on. It’s a show that’s comfortable with viewers groaning at a few of its easy targets and trusts that fans will stick with it as a very sharp writer’s room and strong voice cast get over the growing pains of a first season. "Q-Force" may not have the loyal fan base of “Archer” out of the gate, but this group of outcasts could end up just as beloved before too long.

Sean Hayes voices Steve Maryweather AKA Agent Mary, the top recruit at the American Intelligence Agency overseen by his mentor V (Laurie Metcalf). After coming out in front of the entire organization, Steve is shuttled off to West Hollywood by the homophobic director of the AIA (Gary Cole), where he forms his own group of LGBTQ+ super-spies, including the outspoken Deb (Wanda Sykes), tech genius Stat (Patti Harrison), and master of disguise Twink (Matt Rogers). As the show opens, Steve is still searching for an assignment worthy of the talent of his team when he’s saddled with a former adversary in the super-straight Rick Buck (David Harbour).

Listen, the jokes on “Q-Force” are often so easy that some will consider them offensive, and the show is at its worst when the gay jokes feel like ones rejected from “Will & Grace” a generation ago. There are enough of them that I wouldn’t blame anyone for jumping to a superior Netflix adult animated show like “Bojack Horseman” or “Big Mouth.” This isn’t on that tier. But my concern at the beginning that it would be another “Hoops” disappeared pretty quickly. It’s smarter than that, thanks in large part to a writer’s room that includes people like Gabe Liedman (“PEN15”), Michael Schur (“Parks and Recreation”) and Ira Madison III (Hayes also co-produces and writes). The jokes are easy in the way that a comedy drag show often includes targets that the audience can see coming. It’s a big, gay, spy show with Sean Hayes and Wanda Sykes—you don’t come to it for subtlety.

And yet “Q-Force” does try to develop some unexpected channels of humor and plotting as the season-long story starts to build around a nefarious plot to keep LGBTQ+ agents in the closet. It starts with the expected, but Schur and his writers make just enough unexpected choices after laying that foundation to keep people watching, and it feels like a show that really likes its characters, even the stereotypical ones (which one can’t always say about “Archer”). It leans into the stereotypes and then slowly starts to subvert them, revealing the characters underneath. "Q-Force" isn't as ambitious or smart as some of the shows it’s clearly trying to be, but I’m not willing to write off Agent Mary just yet.

Whole season screened for review.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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