I have a very uneven relationship with superhero parodies. I’m a big hero fan, and a lot of them really fall flat with me, taking obvious routes to making stupid jokes that I’ve heard countless times before. However, I have a great deal of faith in Patton Oswalt. I’ve enjoyed his work, seen him live doing standup, and liked his recurring role in Agents of SHIELD. So, when I heard he was doing a comedy series about M.O.D.O.K., a real D-list (at best) Marvel villain, and that it was in stop motion, which allows for a lot more expansive (and ridiculous) effects, I figured I’d give it a whirl. As it turns out, it was an entertaining little half hour of silliness, with Oswalt also providing M.O.D.O.K.’s voice and co-writing the first episode. They’re spoofing some of the old, grandiose comic book stories for episode titles, so the premier is “If this be… M.O.D.O.K.!”
The opening is a little scene from 35 years ago that, just in case you weren’t sure, drives home the point that whatever you know about the character from the comics, toss it aside, shut the brain down, and enjoy the ride. Skipping ahead to today, M.O.D.O.K. is attacking Wall Street in another unlikely plan to take over the world, or at least cause a lot of chaos. M.O.D.O.K., who is part of the criminal group AIM (Advanced Ideal Mechanics, comics love their acronyms), is leading the assault, battling SHIELD agents, when Iron Man shows up, voiced by John Hamm. M.O.D.O.K. not only can’t get any respect from Iron Man, he can’t even really get his attention. M.O.D.O.K. and AIM lose, to no great surprise, but come away with a fairly ridiculous trophy that M.O.D.O.K. is thrilled with. There are lots of ways he could try and do some interesting things with it, but he seems content to just parade it around and celebrate back at AIM HQ. Here, we meet Monica, a co-worker who is not at all thrilled with M.O.D.O.K.’s leadership. Monica is actually from the comics, and even is associated with AIM there, so points to the writers for a deep cut.
There’s an interesting bit with M.O.D.O.K. going somewhere mysterious at the end of the day, and they could have done a lot with this idea, but I’ll get back to that later. It turns out M.O.D.O.K. has a family and a nice little suburban home, where he goes from scheming villain to the guy next door having trouble with getting the recycling out. We meet his wife, Jodie, his son Lou (both human, at least in appearance), and daughter Melissa, who looks a lot like M.O.D.O.K., poor girl. Jodie is working on becoming a social influencer, while the kids are dealing with various school issues. Melissa takes after M.O.D.O.K. in more than just looks, it seems. There’s definitely some tension in the marriage, and not the type you’d expect from a normal woman with a supervillain science experiment. There’s also one of Marvel’s most powerful robotic creations reduced to comic relief/household appliance.
The next day, M.O.D.O.K. is back at work, and the trophy that was so important yesterday is never mentioned again. Or at least, not in this episode. Monica comes in again, spewing more complaints (which I have to say seem wholly justified), and leading some really disturbing-looking creature. Not that M.O.D.O.K. seems to take Monica seriously, but he’s even more distracted than usual by this… thing. I would be, too. The episode takes an odd turn (odder?) after this, and they run into the kind of thing you generally don’t see for big criminal organizations: budget issues. While Monica continues to insist she’d make a better leader (and she’s likely right), M.O.D.O.K. and the Accountant Supreme (a fun spin on some of the usual AIM titles) debate what to do in order to keep them afloat. They get offered unexpected assistance by Austin Van Der Sleet, an executive from GRUMBL, some kind of Google parody. It’s kind of interesting watching cocky businessman and megalomaniacal villain play off each other.
Refusing to admit reality, or even recognize it, M.O.D.O.K. brings some AIM agents home, eliminating any possibility of doing something with that secret as an ongoing storyline. Predictable, but fun, domestic chaos ensues, and a fairly serious issue with long-suffering wife Jodie gets raised. Eager for distraction, M.O.D.O.K. goes out for a night on the town with Austin, and they work in a few amusing and obscure Marvel references. By the end of the night, M.O.D.O.K. finds something that surprises him in Austin’s desk, and the two come to an agreement. Whatever his talents are, thinking things through isn’t one of them, and M.O.D.O.K. gets back to AIM the next day and finds a lot of surprises. Corporate culture wastes no time in making substantial changes to AIM, and M.O.D.O.K. isn’t happy about any of them. All of this eventually leads to another elaborate plan to wrest control of AIM back to M.O.D.O.K.. Considering how many henchmen he kills or maims in casual temper tantrums, I’m sort of surprised he gets as much help as he does in this endeavor.
The plan jumps off, and they throw in several more references to various Marvel concepts. As you’d expect, things go completely off the rails, with interference from Monica, general incompetence, and a hysterical fight/job interview as someone else gets dragged into things. Little goes to plan, and M.O.D.O.K. is forced to make some concessions, while also showing he has more of a heart than I’d have thought. Later, M.O.D.O.K. and Jodie go out to dinner, and have a serious discussion despite the waiter’s best efforts. The end of it leaves M.O.D.O.K. stunned, and I suspect will be a part of the rest of the season (nine more episodes).
What I liked: Patton Oswalt is perfect for this. His sense of humor fits the idea here perfectly, and his writing style works very, very well. The brief Iron Man cameo was entertaining. The big fight near the end was a lot more amusing than I’d have expected. The general air of absurdity was carried off well throughout the episode, and it was a very different spin on a Marvel villain group with a lot of history. The stop motion choice of media was perfect.
What I didn’t: It’s silly enough that I don’t really find myself caring that much about any of the characters. The waiter was a bit much.
The show worked well as what it was designed to be; goofy fun for half an hour. I’ll give this a 3 out of 5. I’ll stick around for the rest of the season.