There’s something to be said for the willingness to produce a blatant rip-off. “Pacific Heat” is not good, of course, but I can’t help but applaud the sheer brazenness of an animated TV show that is, essentially, an Australian version of “Archer.”
Created by and starring Australian comedy team Rob Sitch (“Utopia”), Santo Cilauro (“Frontline”) and Tom Gleisner (“Have You Been Paying Attention?”), “Pacific Heat” looks, feels and plays like a low-rent version of FX’s animated series. The show centers around an undercover intelligence unit, whose nickname the title bears, as they infiltrate, operate and decapitate crime on Australia’s Gold Coast. There’s a square-jawed, somewhat incompetent lead, a domineering boss and wearily sarcastic female agents.
That sounds, of course, dispiritingly familiar. And if there’s some Australian comedic sensibility to be perceived — like the milieu that produced hidden gems “Summer Heights High” and “Ja’mie: Private School Girl” — then it’s difficult to distinguish it from even the jokes the show explicitly lifts from “Archer,” like the female characters that always seem to end up in their underwear on missions.
But the underlying issue is this: what is the point of diluted satire? If “Archer” itself is a send-up of “James Bond” and its tropes, then “Pacific Heat” needs something more to add to the subversion. The critiques of the form that “Archer” makes are pointed and deliberate, and so “Pacific Heat,” by its existence, must join the conversation. From all available signs, it doesn’t.
The jokes are mostly obvious, as is characteristic of the average comedy pilot. The comedic template the show establishes is not inviting or warm, but rather too eager to traffic in uncomfortably stereotypical Asian jokes and exaggerated accents. The characters are thinly sketched (literally) and unconvincing. Prickly, in-your-face comedy is possible and necessary, but so is audience empathy.
Moreover, “Pacific Heat” ’s animation is disquietingly odd. The basic template is, once again, the stilted and halting motion of “Archer,” but there’s something different here, whether it’s the strangely colored eyes or the hair shading that seems a bit off. And while shows like “BoJack Horseman” couple this kind of stiff animation with the bored, deep-throated delivery to create deadpan perfection, “Pacific Heat” seems beset by the irritating urge to have its characters talk over each other instead, a comedic trope that becomes well-worn before the pilot is even finished.
Mostly though, “Pacific Heat” reads as inessential. It’s a copy, but a worse one. A satire, but weaker. A show that, by all accounts, isn’t worth an investment. An Australian production team and an Australian setting can’t differentiate the show enough from its obvious influence, and in this modern context of TV as the wellspring of original, influential media, that’s difficult to reconcile.