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10 Year-Old Tom (2021)

Steve Dildarian's adult animated sitcom The Life And Times Of Tim didn't seem to get a whole lot of attention when it was airing-and has had little in the years since. It obviously found an audience though, because it ran for three seasons on HBO between 2008 and 2012.  Spawned from Dildarian's short Angry Unpaid Hooker, the series followed the hapless twenty-something Tim as he found himself in a neverending series of embarrassing situations. It was an animated version of the kind of cringe-comedy that powers shows like The Office and HBO's own Curb Your Enthusiasm. Now, Dildarian is back with his new show Ten Year Old Tom.

Ten Year Old Tom's first season begins streaming from September 30 on HBO Max.  Dildarian is scripting and executive producing alongside veteran animation producer Nick Weidenfield. The series is a co-production between HBO Max and Tomorrow Studios. ShadowMachine is responsible for animation production.

The series follows the titular pre-teen as he navigates growing up in Shady Oaks, a town full of eccentric characters. Tom's a good kid, but somehow he can't help but getting into trouble- more than often due to the grown-ups around him. Despite the young protagonist, don't be fooled- this is definitely still an adult show.

It's no mistake that the names of both shows are so close. Viewers of the earlier show (which is also now available on HBO Max) will notice that Tom is an awful lot like Tim, and not just because Dildarian himself voiced both characters. Given the similarities,  you can't help wonder why they didn't go the whole way and make this a prequel.

Switching from an adult to a child protagonist does make this a different beast. It means that Tom is identified as an innocent and makes him immediately easier to sympathise with. Like Tim, Tom finds himself in awkward situations that are not of his own making. But the difference here is that when Tom inevitably makes a bad decision that makes things even worse, it's usually an adult's fault, and he doesn't know any better.

Across the series, Tom is persuaded by supposed 'grown-ups' to take part in a fake drug deal, pretend to save someone from a burning bus, pose as a street urchin, commit fraud and various other misdemeanours and felonies. Not only are the adults bad influences, but they also often act like children, throwing tantrums and being incredibly petty- with Tom often the victim of their actions.

In contrast, Tom himself doesn't really act all that much like a child. He often seems much like a miniature adult, with his unworldliness and naivety really the main thing that makes him seem younger. When it's not the adults getting poor Tom into trouble, it's his friends. Much of the comedy comes from him getting caught between the worlds of adulthood and childhood- and not really understanding each.

Another change from the earlier series is the move from a big city setting to small-town life. This makes it feel tonally different, and life definitely runs at a different pace outside of major metropolitan areas. Local politics definitely play their part in the kind of town where everybody seems to know each other.

On the visual side, this isn't about to win any awards. If I was feeling harsh, it looks no better than a zero-budget web cartoon from the early days of internet animation (or early Adult Swim original Home Movies). The characters have a deliberately simplistic, sketchy look to them. The animation itself is extremely limited, not consisting of much more than lip-flaps and a bit of jerky character movement.

But then this isn't really a series that is in need of flashy animation or fancy effects. It's the script that makes the series work, and the excellent writing that makes it consistently funny. Each episode is split into two 11-minute-ish vignettes (as with The Life And Times), This is a shrewd move and means that the stories never outstay their welcome. The length feels about right.

Another reason this works as well as it does is the voice acting. Dildarian's performance in the lead is deliciously deadpan. He doesn't exactly sound like a real 10-year-old, but it's pretty much perfect for the material. He is joined by a very strong ensemble of regulars, including Byron Bowers and Gillian Jacobs as Tom's friends Nelson and Dakota and Edi Patterson as his mother. Voicing the staff of Shady Oaks Elementary are Erik Griffin as Coach, John Malkovich as the eccentric music/drama teacher Mr B and comedian Todd Glass turning in a standout turn as The Principal.  On top of this is guest appearances from David Duchovny, George Wallace,  Luenell,  Natasha Lyonne, Tim Robinson and What We Do In The Shadows' Energy Vampire  Mark Proksch among others.

Although the characters are often larger-than-life, and events often spiral to the point of absurdity, the series has a dry, low-key feel. Key to this is the voice actors performances which have a naturalistic sound to them, avoiding the over-the-top nature often heard in animation.

Ultimately, this is the type of humour that either works for you or it doesn't. Some find cringe-comedy/awkwardness comedy just too painful to watch. If that describes you, then this is not going to be the show for you. If you can take it though, 10 Year-Old Tom is an excellent example of this style of comedy. Fans of The Life And Times Of Tim will definitely enjoy this, but hopefully, it will find a new audience too. Dildarian is a unique voice in animated comedy- and it's great to have him back.



IN A NUTSHELL:  Visually unambitious but sharply written10 Year-Old Tom is a lo-fi, low-key treat.