A gross-out show that refuses to go all the way.
This week, Mindy is in detention because she attempted to educate the children of Dunning-Kruger High School on the beauty of sex. Professor Foxtrot thinks that the detention gang needs to see the ugliness of sex instead. She takes the three on a tour of the grotesque sex of the animal kingdom to educate them.
The first stop is an Australian rat that puts literally all of its energy into its mating cycle, causing it to collapse due to exhaustion and immune system failure after sex. Next, Professor Foxtrot takes the group to the top of a New Yorker’s head to see that male bedbugs impale their partner with bladed phalluses in order to impregnate them, or seemingly, just for pleasure. The final stop is in Africa, where Mindy is very smug once she learns that female hyenas are at the top of the sexual food chain. She’s less ecstatic about the idea that they both have sex and give birth through their penis-like clitorises. Professor Foxtrot closes by telling everyone that this biological drive to give birth may be disgusting at times, but even in its most visceral form, there is still some beauty in it.
WTF 101 shares a lot of DNA with TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything. Both are CollegeHumor productions that seek to correct misconceptions the viewer has about its intended subject matter. Season two of Adam Ruins Everything even has animated segments in the same style as WTF 101, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they acted as a sort of backdoor pilot or proof of concept for the DropOut show. But, as with most spinoffs (spiritual or otherwise), I definitely prefer the original.
WTF 101’s biggest weakness in its first three episodes is that it seems to be a one-trick pony. In the first episode, “Parasites”, we expanded our definition of natural by seeing the lurid ways that animals treat each other in order to survive. In the second episode, “Self-Experimentation” we move over to the way humans in the past conducted science, going to disgusting lengths to learn, at times, trivial amounts of information. In this week’s episode, we’re back to expanding our definition of natural by seeing the lurid ways that animals treat each other in order to survive. Adam Ruins Everything has a similar problem in that the root of all evil usually turns out to be lobby-happy corporations, but its initial premises (usually having to do with something quotidian) are more relatable than the stretches WTF 101 is making to connect its classroom portions to its demonstrations in only its first few episodes.
In his earlier reviews, my colleague John Schwarz pointed out that WTF 101 was never going to reach the gross-out highs (lows?) of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park, and I’m inclined to agree. The show’s satirical element is much clearer from the outset and has little room to grow. It is interesting to see what terrible things are natural even if we don’t consider them normal, but this polysemy on the former word does not an entire show make. In fact, WTF 101 even cedes much of what unique ground it does have this week.
While we do get to see baby hyena’s suffocating in the birthing canal, insects dying of allergic reactions to semen, and a rat reduced to a humping lump on the floor, there is a surprising lack of sex depicted on WTF 101. I’m by no means advocating animated animal pornography as the best strategy for the episode to take, but it would have certainly shocked me, and I was confused when the show decided to very explicitly cut away from the hyena sex scene happening just off-screen.
Blood and guts are only going to get WTF 101 so far, and, in that moment, the show had the chance to do something that no one else in animation seems willing to do, but they backed away from it at the last second. If the lesson of the episode is that sex is beautiful, even when it’s disgusting, it’s undercut by the refusal to depict nearly any of it, even for laughs. I’ve said before on this website that implication is a powerful comedic tool. WTF 101 seems to have a selective understanding of that idea. When it comes to gore, it’s all out in the open, but when it comes to sex, it’s better left to the imagination. It’s a very American approach to handling sensitive subjects, and it didn’t leave me terribly impressed.