It is a tired cliche at this point to say that any new adult animated series is like “Rick and Morty.” The off-the-wall imaginative adventure of the week chaotic comedy style of series existed long before Roiland and Harmon’s cartoon became the poster boy of the genre. “Futurama” was “Rick and Morty” long before “Rick and Morty” was “Rick and Morty.” And yet, after the trailers for Netflix’s conspiracy theory comedy cartoon “Inside Job” were uploaded to YouTube, the common shared sentiment was, “eh, it looks okay, but I’ve already seen Rick and Morty.” It’s an exhausting and reductive comparison that does a disservice to Shion Takeuchi and Alex Hirsch’s efforts behind “Inside Job.” If that second name rings a bell then you have fine taste, as Alex Hirsch was the mind behind “Gravity Falls,” one of the greatest cartoons of the 2010s. “Gravity Falls” was also a comedy centered around conspiracy theories, and while Hirsch’s experience with the subject translated over to “Inside Job,” it is not appropriate to reduce his new series to simply being “like Gravity Falls.”
“Inside Job” is not like “Rick and Morty” or “Gravity Falls.” It lacks much of their energy, memorability and addictive nature. “Inside Job” isn’t particularly like anything and after 10 episodes it still squirms in its own skin trying to figure out how to be the best version of itself. Given more time and seasons it could grow into its own as an outstanding adult cartoon, but for the time being, “Inside Job” must settle for being simply “fun.”
“Inside Job” presents a world in which every conspiracy theory is true, from the faked moon landing and reptoids, to the hollow earth and Atlantis. These many secrets are kept under wraps by Cognito Inc., a shadowy organization who helps control the world for their Illuminati-like masked masters. Cognito’s resident mad scientist is Reagan Ridley (Lizzy Caplan), a living pressure cooker of boiling social anxiety, repressed trauma and workplace frustration, who aspires to rise through the ranks and run the company and by extension the world. Alongside oblivious yes-man Brett Hand (Clark Duke), Reagan wrangles her team of sentient mushroom people, former super soldier experiments and fast-talking PR representatives, navigating from crisis to crisis. In theory, “Inside Job” is a workplace comedy about running the deep-state. In execution, it is a far more sentimental story about Reagan’s personal and work lives. As a main character, Reagan is incredibly engaging and endearing and embodies all the internal stumbling blocks a high achieving introvert may possess. The vast majority of the episodes focus on her exclusively, and her relationship with her paranoid rambling dad Rand Ridley (Christian Slater), who rivals Dr. Jonas Venture and Rick Sanchez for the title of worst father in adult animation. However, while Reagan and Rand’s arc is incredibly well executed, their excessive time in the spotlight comes at the expense of the colorful gallery of other characters and the development of the world as a whole. Reagan is a fun character, but she’s only one of many in “Inside Job,” and though she is the protagonist, the writers would have been well served to spread the appreciation around.
The creators of the show also seem afraid to have Reagan fit in with her own world. Despite working for an organization that is morally grey on a good day and downright villainous on a bad one, Reagan’s motivations are simply to use Cognito to improve society, making people recycle using subliminal messaging and creating a more transparent office environment. The vastly more interesting, if risky, route of having her be both endearing and as morally dubious as her employment may necessitate is utterly skirted around. Equally opaque is the world building of “Inside Job.” Depending on the episode, Cognito could be the deep-state or a separate entity from the government entirely. Sometimes they’re contractors for the Illuminati, sometimes they are the Illuminati and sometimes they are a straight up for-profit business. The nature of the world and its characters bend and morph to fit whatever joke the writers are currently trying to tell. While one can say that, as a sardonic cartoon, this casualty of worldbuilding is less than dire, with the story constantly trying to get me invested seriously in Reagan and her emotional state, the world she lives in shouldn’t be built on such shifting ground.
This isn’t to say the world and conspiracies of “Inside Job” fall flat—quite the opposite. The show excels at brewing up new creative chaos for each episode, churning out devilishly clever twists on played out conspiracy theories. For example, while the moon landing was faked in the show, it was only faked because the real Apollo 11 astronauts refused to come back, creating a socialist hippy utopia in space. The show is jam-packed with clever little subversions such as this, as well as entertaining jaunts into parodying ’80s nostalgia and an entire episode which does nothing but mock the indictment of the American education system that is the flat earth movement. The comedy in general has more hits than misses, though the reliance on reference humor is glaring (they reference Tupac being alive so much it could be a dangerous drinking game). And, as is to be expected from a show about conspiracy theories, they do make off-color jokes about more sensitive subjects, so if you still cry at night about the Kennedy assassination, stay far away. All in all, “Inside Job” is good. Just good. If they had committed to and explored their premise more, then it could have been great. If they had focused on more character-based jokes and gave their cast of kooky weirdos more time to shine, then it could have been fantastic. But, alas, good is all it is. Still, I suggest you tune in, as, with the talent it has behind it and the foundation it has built with its first 10 episodes, “Inside Job” has no place to go but up.