TV Review: New Netflix series ‘Buddy Thunderstruck’ is a fast-paced but infrequently humorous stop-motion show

In Art, Arts & Entertainment, Film & TV, Reviews
"Buddy Thunderstruck's" title character is a racer with an affinity for getting in trouble with the authorities. The show has fleeting moments of inspiration, but a relentless barrage of gags with no clear target demographic makes it more odd than humorous. (Courtesy of Netflix)

“Buddy Thunderstruck” feels as if the stop-motion whimsy of Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was forced into a blender with the hyper pacing of Adult Swim’s “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” It lacks the charm of both of those shows, but occasionally delivers the kind of one-liners that will stick in the heads of overcaffeinated children. 

The premise of this animated series revolves around racer canine Buddy Thunderstruck and his partner Darnell as they go on stop-motion animated adventures. These range from the expected participating in races to the not so expected, such as Buddy getting beaten up by a girl scout who sells her cookies like a drug dealer.

For better and for worse, the show never feels like it stops for a breath. Legitimately funny jokes and gags are left in the dust as the show seems more concerned with driving to the next punchline. More pit stops would have been appreciated, especially when the ratio of quality gags to lazy gags is particularly low. Many characters feel as though they are just there to spit out catchphrases just to say them without much rhyme or reason.

The animation provides the majority of the charm. Each of the animals has a hand-crafted feel that is sadly lacking in most televised animation. It resembles “Robot Chicken” in its rough jerky movements, which is suiting seeing that it came from the same studio. It is a real treat seeing such an old-school form of animation still being properly used, making it all the more disappointing that the writing is not as fresh.

There is an interesting tonal issue with “Buddy Thunderstruck” when it comes to classifying who it it is being marketed for. While it is labeled as a kids show on Netflix, its humor is just a bit too edgy for its target demographic.

For starters, almost all of the characters are irresponsible jerks, even when they are well-intentioned. The main hero Buddy is an immature manchild who gets everything he wants without much effort and has an ego the size of a hot air balloon. Yet, it lacks the crassness and dark humor that made programs like “Aqua Teen” or “Sealab 2021” such subversive treats in any young person’s diet.

Animated programs in the past have bridged the gap between adults and children programming. Viewers have often questioned the appropriateness of “Ren and Stimpy,” but the cartoon was so unique at the time that it hardly mattered. College kids would seek it out because it was such a bizarre diversion. Not to mention that “Ren and Stimpy” was, in the metaphorical sense, a total acid trip.

None of these stop-motion puppets are particularly foul-mouthed. They exclaim “fart nuggets” instead of cursing, but most of the best lines will be completely over-the-head of small tots. Little homages to “The Dukes of Hazzard” involving Buddy getting into comical mischief with the police will go over the heads of viewers under the age of 20.

There are a few highlights among the show’s 12 episodes, one in which Buddy becomes a police officer and begins arresting people for minor annoyances, such as when he arrests a trio of infants for crying. Another episode where Buddy helps an acquaintance find a “bro” is clever in how it skewers the romantic cliche of finding a girl at a bar by having it be about “finding a best friend” instead.

However, it is still difficult to figure out who “Thunderstruck” is made for. Kids will likely be confused unless they have their parents there to explain many of the jokes. Animation fans, especially those who get cases of the munchies late at night, will be able to appreciate the hardwork that went into the visuals. Sadly, they may not laugh much as they admire the craft behind the show.

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