The tricky thing about an animation in general is that, for my money, no matter how fantastic a series look, the plot can’t use the medium as a way to bail itself out of a nonsensical plot. Literally in the press release, In The Know co-creator Zach Woods had this to say, “even if you think our comedy is literal trash, we hope you’ll enjoy the gorgeous animation from the stop-motion geniuses at ShadowMachine”.
And Zach is correct, ShadowMachine is one of the most sought after animation studios in the world for a reason. The studio who just barely two years ago went on an Academy Awards rollercoaster thanks to teaming with Guillermo Del Toro on Pinocchio, has had many a successful series and movies produced by way of studio founders/geniuses Alex Bulkley and Corey Campodonico. That said, a stellar animated production still needs solid writing, dialogue, and in the case of an animated comedy, it needs to be funny.
Peacock’s In The Know seems like Brandon Gardner and Zach Woods’ reaction to cancel culture’s ugly head in comedy though it feels like the series is constantly towing a line that it’s not brave enough to cross just yet. Moreover, his character Lauren Caspian feels very much borrowed from Mike Judge’s own bag of characters, most notably The Goode Family’s “Gerald Goode”, and in fact, the two characters look near identical in presentation. Regardless, if Gerald Goode’s family felt like a fish-out-of-water premise, In The Know is the opposite in that Lauren seems far more comfortable at work than he does in his social life, ironic in what appears to be an animated Brooklyn.
At its core, In The Know is a workplace comedy. We get to see the day-to-day shenanigans of an NPR radio host doing his job with a small staff though you wouldn’t know that anything is wrong with the job itself. For all intentions, it looks like NPR is a pretty low-key place to work with mostly normal co-workers. CAITLIN REILLY voices “Fabian,” a researcher and fact checker and Caitlin does a fantastic job portraying a rather typical Brooklyn-ite who probably makes most of their friends at different social justice rallies. CHARLIE BUSHNELL voices “Chase,” a college intern that seems to be seldom-used. J. SMITH-CAMERON voices “Barb,” co-executive producer of “In The Know.” who may or may not have a crush on every guy in the office. CARL TART voices possibly one of my favorite characters in “Carl,” a sound engineer who gives me a lot of “Jim” from The Office vibes in that he kind of just chills at work and would rather probably do anything else than be in the office. Lastly, MIKE JUDGE voices “Sandy,” a culture critic and really the “Fonz” of the show, always coming in out of nowhere to land an H-bomb of a gag that typically goes off and saves whatever scene he’s in.
That said, everyone’s dialogue seems to be recorded somewhat quietly, and I think the show could’ve done a lot more in the music production department to help fill in all of the silence. And despite six episodes running at 30 minutes a piece, the show manages to get quite the who’s who of guests to appear on a non-existent radio show including Kaia Gerber, Jonathan Van Ness, Ken Burns, Finn Wolfhard, Norah Jones, Tegan and Sara, Nicole Byer, Roxane Gay, Mike Tyson, Jorge Masvidal, and Hugh Laurie. For my money, Tyson, Wolfhard, and Laurie were the funniest of the bunch in that order but I could also be swayed into putting Byer and Jones somewhere in there as well. We also get a stellar guest star early in the show’s first season, but I won’t spoil that here, but it’s someone that Zach has worked with on a couple of previous occasions, and if THIS guest star became the star of a spin-off, I’d be down in a heartbeat.
Early on in the show’s first season, I really think In The Know is trying to find itself. Quite frankly, I think this show could’ve worked just as well with no radio guests and letting us dig into a bit further each of our principle characters and get a sense of everyone’s relationship to each other a bit more, and moreover, their home lives. The paradoxical elements of the NPR fandom is rather comical, but we don’t get a lot of time with it because it seems the show is always trying to make time for the live-action interview that you know is coming at some point. Arguably, one of the greatest, if not THE greatest live-action workplace comedy, The Office, works not because it’s a TV show about selling paper, it’s a mockumentary about the PEOPLE that work at THE OFFICE. Same goes for Bob’s Burgers, an animated workplace comedy. Yes, we spend some time in a restaurant and there are episodes that deal with the strife of a middle-class family trying to keep their livelihood alive, but it’s the characters and their relationships with each other that matter.
I feel like by the finale of In The Know we actually get to the show it really should be, but not before Zach Woods and co. spend the majority of the six episodes of trying to be something that it quite isn’t. South Park could probably use one episode to get to the point of this gag that Zach and Brandon are stretching out here over the course of six episodes, and have the dialogue and banter to back it up. I typically shudder when I see more than two show-creators credited with a series as it seldom works out because it just seems like there are a few too many cooks in the kitchen. I’m not sure if this is what happened here, but In The Know goes nowhere fast.