Transitioning to life in the city can be tough. Everyone is in a hurry, the neighborhood doesn’t seem friendly and it’s easy to get lost. “Ugly Americans” is about trying to survive in a city as vast and dangerous as New York — a task made even more difficult in the world of Comedy Central’s latest cartoon series, in which the Big Apple is crawling with monsters.
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“Ugly Americans” takes place in an alternate New York City where monsters from vampires and werewolves to aliens and zombies (and land whales, too!) spend their time trying to make ends meet, just like their human counterparts. Blending real-life issues like fitting into city life and the plight of immigrants in America with the hilarity of random monsters, “Ugly Americans” is a coarse, yet thoroughly enjoyable satire.
A smart move was balancing out the crazy, fiendish inhabitants of New York City with a main character who is basically just a random guy. Meet Mark Lilly (Matt Oberg, “30 Rock”), a good-natured and completely human social worker at the Department of Integration. Lilly is described by his boss — a demonic overlord named Callie Maggotbone (Natasha Leggero, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”) — as the office’s “token bleeding heart.” He wants to help the monsters of Manhattan become fully functioning members of society.
Unfortunately, his co-workers are largely apathetic or even hostile to immigrant monsters. His partner, a lazy wizard named Leonard Powers, would rather transform office paperwork into alcohol. In addition to looking out for underprivileged monsters, Lilly has to try to survive his secret and dangerous affair with his evil boss, Callie. “Pissing where you mix the potion, eh?,” observes Leonard. “Been there. Good times.”
“Ugly Americans” succeeds by combining monsters with the mundane. When Lilly asks his roommate, Randall (Kurt Metzger,”The Best Girlfriend Ever”) — who is perpetually unemployed and recently zombified — about his plans for the day, he replies: “Thought I’d stare blankly out of cold dead eyes for a while how I do. Then check out ‘Kung Fu Panda.’ ”
Sure, zombies want to eat brains, but they also want to find steady jobs. Even the scariest and most disgusting monsters are only trying to survive in an often unfriendly world. “Ugly Americans” isn’t just outrageously funny television, it’s also a fairly convincing lesson about what native-born Americans and immigrants have in common.
Even so, the gross-out humor will likely earn the series some comparisons with the former Comedy Central cartoon “Drawn Together.” Though this series had its moments, the over-the-top crudeness really prevented it from becoming a must-watch cartoon. But aside from that less-than-desirable similarity, “Ugly Americans” has more in common with the unforgettable “Futurama.” The challenge now is for Comedy Central to head its new series in the direction of the latter rather than the former.
To do this, “Ugly Americans” needs to flesh out (ha!) its world. “Futurama” had its characters exploring new planets and encountering different alien creatures in every episode. Lilly and his friends will exhaust their funny lines and mannerisms unless they’re pushed out of their comfort zones — no matter how strange those comfort zones are.
With a monstrously funny premise and cast of characters, “Ugly Americans” could become the next hilarious and socially relevant cartoon series. Just take it easy on the foul language and toilet humor, Comedy Central, as hard as that may be for you.