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Close Enough [Season One] (2020)


 

Regular Show creator J.G. Quintel's new show Close Enough has had a troubled path to our screens. Originally announced as part of TBS's adult animation block, it found itself homeless when those plans were scrapped following the cancellation of The Cops due to disgraced comedian Louis C.K's involvement as co-creator and star. Through no fault of its own, the completed show sat on the shelf for some time, until it was announced it would premiere on new WarnerMedia streaming service HBO Max.  The first season arrived on July 9, 2020, and consisted of eight episodes. This was a reduction from the originally commissioned ten, but it's not clear if the order was reduced, or if the remaining two episodes were completed and will be added to a future season.

Although it starred a Blue Jay and a racoon, surrounded by sentient Gumball machines, moon-faced weirdos, high-fiving ghosts and other assorted oddities, Regular Show was very much about being in your early twenties. Close Enough is about a later stage in adult life, when the extended adolescence of young adulthood gives way to more adult responsibilities. It stars a millennial thirty-something couple, Josh and Emily who live in a Duplex with their five-year-old daughter Candice, and their best friends Alex and Bridgette (formally a couple but now divorced). They navigate the challenges and perils of everyday family life such as parenting, relationships and work, all while trying to prove they're still young and fun.



It's not a demographic we see that often on screen, in animation or in general. Most family-centred shows feature middle-aged parents, while shows centred on younger adults tend to depict the free and single life. Close Enough's recognition that many millennials are in fact parents feels refreshing. And parents or not, the fact that this married couple still can't afford to live on their own will resonate strongly for many millennials and older Gen-Zers.

The main characters of Close Enough are instantly likeable. Josh (modelled on and voiced by Quintel himself) and Emily (Gabrielle Walsh) may not be kids any more, but that doesn't mean they have to grow up. They're a couple who still knows to have fun. The series gets a lot of mileage out of them feeling old compared to people just a few years younger than them- especially in the episode Logan's. Again this is something that will be extremely relatable to many in the audience.



Because he's voiced by Quintel, it would have been easy for Josh to be the main focus of the show, and it's easy to believe that had the series been produced at an earlier time, that might have happened. Instead, Emily and Josh are both equally important here. There's a tendency for women characters- especially "the wife"- to fall into the "straight-man role", even when not depicted as a nag or an "old ball and chain" they're more likely to be the sensible one, rolling their eyes at "the boys'" antics. Not Emily though, she's as flawed and as much fun as Josh and their relationship is as much best friends as husband and wife.

All this talk of relatability might make it sound like Close Enough is conventional domestic sitcom fare. In reality, the series is full of fantasy elements and Josh and Emily get into all sorts of wild adventures, and often what seems like a standard domestic plot set-up takes a strange turn. In one episode, Emily gets hooked on posing as a house hunter and going to Open Houses they could never afford.


It's a set-up that's been used on various shows (including Bob's Burgers), but it takes a left-field turn that sees her trapped in a parallel dimension where her life is a sitcom. Or a night out in a bar that turns into a spin on a sci-fi classic. Or when Josh attempts to give Emily a stress-free day and ends up in a run-in with murderous hipster meat thieves. On other words, if you were worried that Quintel had left the kinds of out-there plots you'd find in Regular Show, then you can relax. This series is full of killer robots, malevolent mannequins, time-bending snails and other equally fun stuff. Also Like Regular Show there are some smart pop-culture references (particularly targeting the eighties and nineties) but perhaps not as many as you might think.

The series was originally made with 11-minute episodes (standard for Cartoon Network shows) but have been released here as eight 22-minute episodes with two stories for each. It suits the format well, leading to fast-moving, well-paced storytelling. These stories could easily fill a full half-hour episode in another show, but using the short format avoids unnecessary padding. The season does close out with a double-length episode (ie it fills the full 22 minutes) and it adapts equally well to the longer format.



Unlike a lot of other adult animation, Close Enough does not push its adult nature too far. There's a few curse words here and there but nothing too extreme and it's not overused. Similarly, there's some violence, sex and drugs references and some (self-censored) nudity but nothing too R-rated. There's a tendency in some shows to use this stuff as a crutch, so I'm glad to say that it doesn't happen here. Perhaps it's because this was intended for network TV, or maybe its the creator's restraint- but either way, it's no bad thing.

The look of the series is a natural evolution from Regular Show. As it uses Quintel's art style, it obviously has similarities with his previous work, although here the cast is all human. Produced by Cartoon Network Studios,  it looks as good as any of their other works. There's nothing particularly flashy about the animation or design, but it's more appealing than the deliberately ugly look so much adult animation adopts It's decent TV-quality animation and nothing more- but it does the job well. Animation legend James Baxter provides the show with a punchy, eye-catching title sequence, accompanied by a theme from Mark Mothersbaugh (Thor Ragnorok),  which seems somehow to perfectly encapsulate the feel of the show.


Also key to the show's success is the voice talent. As Josh, Quintel is in not exactly stretched, using what is presumably his natural speaking voice, or pretty close, and is essentially identical to Regular Show's Mordecai. But that performance was great, so if it ain't broke, why fix it? Gabrielle Walsh brings fun and warmth to her portrayal of Emily. Alex, voiced by Jason Matzoukas is very much a Jason Matzoukas character, so the match between character and voice actor could not be better.  As Bridgette, Kimiko Glenn (Orange Is The New Black) is convincing as the slightly younger, wilder friend. Listen out too for excellent guest turns from an array of talents including Ken Marino, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, Grey Griffin, Noel Fielding and Danielle Brooks.

Close Enough is a highly entertaining show that feels like it offers a genuinely unique approach to the animated sitcom. Hopefully, the launch on HBO Max will generate the series enough goodwill to see it greenlit for more episodes because it would be a damn shame if this turned out to be all there was.

 FORMAT: SERIES AVAILABLE ON: STREAMING  FROM: HBO MAX RATING: TV-14/TV-  RUNNING TIME : 8x 23 min

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IN A NUTSHELL: Fresh, funny and relatable- it's not quite perfect, but it's close enough.






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