While the parents are away, the teens will play — or, if you’re 15-year-olds Gary and Joel, master the art of smoking as the clock ticks down to the defining moment of your awkward, adolescent lives: your first house party (actual girls included). Combining cluelessness and longing with the relentless search for popularity, FX’s newest animated series, “Unsupervised,” spotlights TV’s most under-represented outcasts: the “dirty kids.”
Thursdays at 10:30 p.m.
The grimy, arm-cast-sniffing kids, the ones whose hand-me-down Hanes deteriorate with the slightest contact to any substance cleaner than ball sweat — those kids. But Gary and Joel aren’t those kids. Everyone just seems to think so.
Gary (Justin Long, “Live Free or Die Hard”), a frizzy, miniature Weird Al Yankovic and self-taught laundry connoisseur, is the man of the house and self-taught laundry connoisseur. Free from the supervision of a flighty dad and bar-hopping stepmother, Gary only has his best friend Joel (David Hornsby, “Pearl Harbor”), freckled and squeakier than a pre-pubescent Justin Bieber. Yearning for the sexually active lives of their fellow students, Gary and Joel navigate their way around boobs, boners and bedroom décor (scorpion poster? Total aphrodisiac). But as the two soon discover — between intervals of celebratory dance and the imparted wisdom of a kangaroo-romancing neighbor — the key to acceptance is merely being true to oneself, for “a man’s skin is the only outfit he has. He might as well be comfortable in it.”
The charm of Gary and Joel is their obvious naivety and air of inexperience — and their utter inability to escape it. In their boyish love for ninjas and dangerous contraptions, the two bear an innocence strikingly absent in recent media portrayals of the stereotypical teenage boy. They’re neither the bone-headed cousins to Beavis and Butt-head, nor the porn-mongering dudes strapped into a headset for late-night gaming (Slurpee in one hand, Jergen’s lotion in the other).
Overwhelmed by his own foray into teenagedom, Joel openly wishes to retreat back into a life before drugs and drinking. He consistently displays slips of innocent excitement, vehemently urging a car to “Yo, growl it! Growl the engine!” The lack of macho pride is “aww”-inspiring, gripping the sympathy of the viewer in a way Bart Simpson never could.
Unsurprisingly, “Unsupervised” serves more sympathy than humor. The show seems to suffer from a comedic identity crisis: It’s not cringingly raunchy, it runs low on TV’s default offensive stereotypes, it doesn’t smother the audience with social satire and it doesn’t even attempt to emulate sharp wit or dark humor. Rather, “Unsupervised” coasts on the characters’ cluelessness; Gary and Joel are not too smart, but not too stupid. Unfortunately, they’re not “too” anything.
The episode drags for 30 minutes, never achieving a satisfying climax. It’s uninspired artistically and comedically – a frustrating disappointment for such a strong cast of voice actors, from the uninhibited Hornsby to Fred Armisen (“Saturday Night Live”) as Gary’s wistful, overprotective neighbor.
Like its teenage protagonists, “Unsupervised” is still finding itself. As likeable as the characters may be, Gary and Joel are not enough to run a household or carry a show.