Two episodes were screened for this review of Psi Cops.
One of British Columbia’s best-kept secrets is its generous tax incentive program for the visual effects and animation industry. Known as the Digital Animation, Visual Effects, and Post-Production Tax Credit, or DAVE, the corporate tax program gives refundable credits to entertainment studios that hire BC-based artists and workers. Thanks to this program, many well-established animated and VFX production houses, such as Disney and Titmouse, have set up shop in Vancouver, pleasantly referred to by insiders as “The Hollywood of the North.”
Considering BC’s investment in the visual effects and animation industry, it is unsurprising that Adult Swim Canada, which has its own fully-fledged channel in the Great White North, is premiering its first original animated series on the network. Helmed by co-creators and stars Bart Batchelor and Chris Nelson and with support from Vancouver-based production house Wind Sun Sky Entertainment (previous works include the incredible Invincible), Psi Cops is a delightfully silly show that manages to satirize, sometimes with mixed results, one of television’s most beloved paranormal show, The X-Files. With its light, humorous tone, easily recognizable characters, and unique animation style, Psi Cops is the ideal show to watch after a long day of dealing with, well—waves arms everywhere.
Psi Cops tells the story of detectives Kydd (Chris Nielsen) and Flixx (Bart Batchelor) as they investigate paranormal phenomena for Psi Cops, a secret agency located in a nondescript office complex. Unlike Mulder and Scully, these blundering dolts stumble through their missions, usually completing them with disastrous results. From investigating aliens hiding in plain sight to capturing wicked spirits in cursed mirrors, Kydd and Flixx aim to impress Chief Beef (Tina Grant), their no-nonsense boss and founder of Psi Cops. Not only does Chief Beef believe in the supernatural, but she also trusts her agent’s ability to solve their cases of the week, much to the surprise of her staff.
Despite the duo’s unrelenting incompetence, the agency does have a scrappy but intelligent team of workers who are willing to question the weird and unknown, including Shirls (Julie Lemieux), a lab technician with a zeal for slicing up bodies; Bitsie (Tiana Jung), the resident teen hacker and e-girl; Stone Faceman (Brian Drummond); a muscular field researcher whose passion is punching; and Eric (Dejan Loyola), the agency’s disgruntled office worker. Together, these employees ensure real work gets done while Kydd and Flixx wander in the woods for aliens.
Psi Cops is a solid animated series that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Much to its benefit, the show takes comedic cues from classic screwball comedies, such as His Girl Friday and Some Like It Hot, with its fast-paced dialogue, sight gags, and ridiculous well-earned plot twists. Though not every joke or comedic situation hits on the satirical show, the ones that work are pleasantly amusing. In Episode 2’s “Bloody Mary,” Chief Beef assigns Kydd and Flixx to prevent a group of teens from summoning Bloody Mary at a slumber party. Yet, instead of luring the spirit out of the mirror, the detectives call for everything but the wicked woman due to their inability to say “Bloody Mary” three times. Granted, in their defenses, reciting the phrase is a tricky tongue twister.
This conflict between the detectives and the mirror is hilarious because it shows Kydd and Flixx’s ineptitude toward their job as paranormal detectives. While at the same time, the humorous episode gives the co-creators the space to show off their comedic skills both as writers and voice actors. As Flixx attempts to chant “Bloody Mary” to the mirror, his words quickly morph to “Blue Monkey,” which leads to a zany but highly satisfying twist. Writing and performing a scene like this can be challenging, even for an experienced creative. However, Nielsen and Batchelor pull it off quite nicely.
Like the animated series’ spiritual predecessor Archer, the co-creators create easily recognizable characters within the first two episodes for review. Many of the main characters Psi Cops introduces have distinct personalities that do not rely on cheap laughs or ethnic stereotypes. Take the characterization of Chief Beef, for example. She may be a stern leader who does not take Kydd and Flixx’s goofy antics lightly, but her love for the paranormal and supernatural makes her relatable, if not downright adorable. Viewers will immediately fall in love with the character as she squeals in excitement over the discovery of an alien specimen in Episode 1’s “Alien Autopsy.” Nonetheless, characters such as Kevin and Stone Faceman are not as fully fleshed as Chief Beef or the agents, but the series has plenty of time to develop these folks in future episodes.
In animation terms, Psi Cops’ visual style captures the show’s satirical tone despite its limitations. Adult Swim Canada may have given Batchelor and Nelson a shoestring budget, as its American counterpart does with its original series. Still, that restriction makes the low-budget adult cartoon charming. With only a few computer software programs and a stylus, the creators combine the sturdiness of computer graphics with the sketchy, organic feel of 2D animation. In some ways, the wacky show’s approach to design immediately calls back to the Cartoon Network animated shorts anthology series O Canada. Like the cult classic series, Psi Cops takes pleasure in being weird, experimental, and even slightly grotesque, like when Shirls gleefully slices open an alien specimen in Episode 1.
Psi Cops will not set the animation world ablaze. However, the paranormal satire is a solid start for Adult Swim Canada’s foray into original animated content. The series may stumble in a few areas, as some of the show’s jokes tend to overstay their welcome, but Batchelor and Nelson make up for it with its thoughtful characterizations and unique animation style. With two good episodes under its belt, it will be interesting to see what the series has in store for the rest of the season.
Psi Cops airs new episodes Sundays at 12:30 a.m. EST/PST on Adult Swim Canada
Feature image courtesy of Wind Sun Sky
Psi Cops - 7/10