The Black Box: “Allen Gregory”

Television pilots are tough to make. It’s hard to introduce the concept and entire cast of characters of a show in one episode and still have that episode hold up on it’s own. But just because something’s hard doesn’t make it any more excusable when you fail spectacularly at doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Black Box, where we check out pilots that crashed and burned to see exactly what went wrong.

This week we take our first foray into the world of shit-tacular adult-targeted animation. It’s not… a SMALL world, either…

First things first, I want to acknowledge that I love the hell out of animated programming. I’ve remained a big fan of shows like “Bob’s Burgers”, “King of the Hill”, and “South Park”. “The Simpsons” is by far one of the biggest influences on my comedic voice. Also, I put “Batman: The Animated Series” up there as one of my favorite television shows of all time, and by far my favorite incarnation of Batman. I’m just saying all this to make it clear, I am not going to dismiss a show because it’s animated. Hell, animation earns a show an extra few points in my book automatically. This show is an insult to the very concept of animation. No, I’m sorry, that’s not harsh enough. This show is an insult to the concept of mass media as a whole.

“Allen Gregory” follows the main character, a pretentious 7-year old, as he tries to deal with public school after a lifetime of homeschooling. Hilarity ensues… except it doesn’t. The series premiered on Fox on October 30th, 2011, and lasted a total of seven episodes before its cancellation. The pilot introduces the cast and premise of the show in the most confusing and bullshit method ever. I was confused and I did research.

What they did right: I chuckled at two jokes.

What they did wrong: Ok, let’s break this shit down like an autopsy, because this pilot is a motherfucking crime scene. There is so much about it that is confusing or dumb or just doesn’t work that I’m gonna have to take it one thing at a time. Let’s start with Allen Gregory himself, played by Jonah Hill. He is a completely unlikable asshole. Every second he is onscreen, I want to play tee ball with his skull. He’s rude, petty, thinks he knows best, and suffers absolutely no consequences for any of his actions. Note: this is a pretty common trend for most of these terrible adult animation shows. In the first episode, Allen is a douche for a while, then he falls in love with his principal (oh, we’ll GET to that) before he shits himself (we’ll get to that, too) and goes home. Then, because his family’s rich, he gets out of any humiliation because of some bullshit, and he walks off into the sunset. Remember when I said two of the jokes in the show made me chuckle? Yeah, neither one was spoken by Allen.

So, can we talk about the thing with the principal? Here’s the joke: Allen, who is seven, is in love with his principal, who is in her late sixties. It is funny because those two ages are not even remotely close to each other, ha ha ha I am telling human jokes, like a hu-man. A child being in love with an elderly woman? That is the HEIGHT OF COMEDY! Also, that’s the entire joke. So I hope you liked it, because you’re going to be hearing it a lot throughout the episode. Oh, and don’t worry, the show takes pains to be as explicit as possible with it’s depictions of reverse-pedophilia. Yeah, despite being seven, Allen has a disturbingly clear understanding of the concept of sex. The descriptions of the show describe Allen as being “overly mature” but he really isn’t. He doesn’t behave like a mature child, but more like a sociopathic child. A child with an out-of-control ego and no accountability. The kind of child that, if you met them in real life, you would shove them to the ground when no one was looking because, c’mon, who’s going to believe them? Who is going to believe that you, a fully grown adult, would just shove a child to the ground? So then, when the child tells his mom on you, you can just shrug and shake your head as the child is chastised and punished for lying.

…Not that I’ve, y’know, ever DONE that, or anything…

Moving on, let’s talk about the supporting cast of characters. Allen has two dads and an adopted sister, but don’t give the show credit for progressiveness, because it isn’t. As the show tells us very briefly through a single monologue, Allen’s step-dad, Jeremy, is apparently a straight man with a previously loving wife and children, who was stalked and harassed by Allen’s father, Richard, until Jeremy submitted to Richard’s advances. Goddammit, this is the SECOND show in two weeks to use stalking as a plot point! What the fuck is wrong with people?! Stalking isn’t a funny or likable character trait! I mean. neither is sexual assault or harassment, but I’m really just sick of the stalking thing. Richard is basically just a grown up version of Allen, right down to the shittiness. Also, he looks like Dean Pelton from “Community”, so he served as a constant reminder of a much better show that I could be watching instead.

This show has the laziest resolution I’ve ever seen. The conflict of the episode is Allen’s embarrassment over shitting himself in full view of the most popular kids in school. They resolve this because Richard is immensely wealthy and, to try to curry favor with him, the school superintendent public states that HE was the one to shit himself, not Allen, even though the popular kids were LITERALLY TEN FEET AWAY FROM ALLEN AND SHOULD BE ABLE TO TELL THAT IT WAS HIM!!! This is laziness of scripting to the highest degree. I’ve literally never seen a more half-assed attempt at plot resolution in my life. They could have just cut to credits at the end of the second act, and it still would have been putting more effort into the ending.

The animation is godawful. It’s stutter-y and jerky and the characters are extremely unappealingly designed. It must have been animated in Flash, because I can’t imagine it looking this shitty otherwise. And Flash isn’t even an excuse for poor quality!!! Hell, go look at anything from Homestar Runner for proof that you can do great, smooth animation in Flash. This is not that. This show was the longest sit I think I’ve ever had watching a show. “Manimal” felt long, but that was a ninety minute show. This thing was twenty, and it felt like forever both times I watched it. I watched an upload of this pilot on youtube, and someone had inserted youtube ad breaks into the show. I watched every ad in its entirety, because clicking the skip button would have meant willingly submitting myself to more “Allen Gregory”. One of the ads was for something “My Little Pony” related. It was far more enjoyable than the show I was watching, mostly because the animation was better.

That’s it for this week, next week I’ll check out something that probably had a lot more effort put into it.

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