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Inside Job [Season 1] (2021)

Conspiracy theories have been around forever, but until relatively recently they were primarily the concern of airport fiction writers. It was only the tin-foil hat brigade and fringe figures who thought there was even a kernel of truth in them. Thanks to the rise of social media, increasing political polarization and widespread disinformation, conspiracy theories have become alarmingly mainstream over recent years. The new adult animated comedy Inside Job is a satire of the idea of a Shadow Government, unseen forces that are the real rulers of the world.

It follows the staff of Conginto Inc., a shadowy organisation whose job it is to make sure the general public doesn't find out that almost every crazy conspiracy theory ever heard is real. From chemtrails to the Illuminati, from shapeshifting lizard people hiding amongst us, to mole people living at the centre of the earth, from the US President being replaced by a robot to celebrities being replaced by clones, they've all been covered up by the staff of Cognito Inc over the years. Socially awkward genius Reagan Ridley is newly promoted to lead her team following the retirement of her father, Rand, the former co-head of the company. Much to her chagrin, she is paired up with new hire Brett Hand, a suit-wearing yes-man, intended to make up for Reagan's deficiencies as a "people person."

Inside Job comes from Shion Takeuchi as part of an overall deal she signed with Netflix back in 2018. Previously best known as a writer on beloved Disney XD series Gravity Falls, a staff writer on Matt Groening and Josh Weinstein's Disenchantment and a story artist at Pixar, this is her first series as creator and showrunner. Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch- who also has an overall deal with Netflix- serves as an executive producer. Inside Job is the first adult animated series to be made in-house at Netflix Animation.

Any adult animated series that is NOT a family sitcom gets automatic points for originality. In this case, it's a workplace comedy, where the workplace just happens to be a secret government organisation. Reagan and Brett are surrounded by quirky colleagues such as Glenn Dolphman, a military veteran who has had his DNA combined with that of a Dolphin, and Magic Myc a sentient subterranean mushroom with an abrasive personality. 

However, due to the nature of the work they do, the plots are considerably more outlandish than run-of-the-mill workplace romances or run-ins with human resources. This is about as much a workplace sitcom as Rick and Morty is a family sitcom. So while episodes might start from a premise that might be found in a more conventional comedy- such as Reagan having to choose somebody to be fired or trying to prove she could find a boyfriend- they always end up somewhere much crazier.

The staff of Cognito Inc have to contend with all sorts of crazy situations in this first season, such as Robo-POTUS going full Skynet, trying to avert war between the lizard people and mankind, and stopping a rampage of escaped clone JFKs. You know- just your normal day at the office.

Viewers who are attracted by the Gravity Falls connection will definitely see some parallels with Hirsch's earlier show. That series similarly dealt with a world in which almost every supernatural phenomenon was for real, even it was mostly confined to one fictional Oregon town. Both series draw on similar sources such as the weirdness of David Lynch's Twin Peaks or the cover-ups and hidden truths of The X-Files, as well as generations worth of sci-fi tropes.

Inside Job doesn't seem to have the 'mystery box' element found in Gravity Falls, that drew dedicated viewers in to try to uncover the secrets. However, it is similarly dense with references and visual gags that will reward repeat viewings and have you coming back time and time again.

It also satirises real-world wignut conspiracies such as noughties punk-popstrel Avril Lavine being replaced by a clone or the moon landing being faked by Stanley Kubrik. There's even a visual gag referencing the 'Mandela Effect' Shazaam/Kazaam confusion. which is a pretty obscure reference by any estimation. Wisely, it sticks (mostly) to the harmless side of the conspiracy world- darker ideas like 'truthers' of real-world tragedies, demonic sex-cults and anti-vaxxers are steered well clear of. Hilariously it does single out the flat-earthers, revealing even the staff of the shadow government think they're a bunch of fruitloops.

It doesn't matter if you know nothing about the world of conspiracies, as the show is well written and funny enough to stand up well without them. The pop culture references here are used sparingly (Family Guy this is not) but very effectively, and are generally in the sweet spot for the millennials and zoomers who will make up the bulk of its audience. From James Bond and The Great British Bake-Off, to Akira they are brilliantly incorporated into the stories or subplots, so they never feel like just references for references' sake. The subversion on ET told with Magic Myc is particularly fun.

As with all the best comedies, there is more to Inside Job than the humour. At least in the case of Reagan, Brett and Rand, the characters are well defined enough that they feel like real characters and not just joke delivery machines. This helps the audience warm to the cast and allows for some real character-based storytelling surrounding the relationship between Regan and her family or Brett and his colleagues. It's not about to make you cry or anything, but it makes for some genuine moments, especially as the series goes on.

Reagan is an unusual protagonist- it's still depressingly uncommon to have a female lead show in western adult animation, so that alone is notable. It's also atypical for women characters to be allowed to be so flawed- and Reagan has a lot of issues. Even the bags under her eyes are novel in a medium where idealised woman characters are common. Despite all the insanity and crazy plotting, she is remarkably human. It's also revealed that Reagan is mixed race, with a Japanese-American mother, most likely a nod to Takeuchi's own background. It's never drawn attention to or commented on, it just is. It's a solid example of how representation should be done.

Inside Job earns its adult credentials with a script liberally peppered with F-bombs, occasional bursts of violence and adult references. However, it doesn't use it as a crutch, or mistake crudity for comedy, a trap that so many 'adult cartoons' fall into, including some of Netflix's own.

The look of the series is fairly standard for adult animation, with characters bearing a similarity to the style of Rick and Morty. The animation quality itself is decent. and handles the occasional action set-pieces well. There's nothing wrong with the visuals, but there isn't anything especially spectacular or groundbreaking either. This just isn't the type of show that has animation that wants to draw attention to itself.

Also key to the series's success is the voice-cast, who turn in universally excellent performances, anchored by the central trio of Lizzy Caplan, Clark Duke and Christian Slater as Reagan, Brett and Rand respectively. In her first major voice acting role Caplan delivers a deceptively simple, brilliant turn as the emotionally buttoned-down Reagan, while Duke brings a sense of every-man warmth to Brett. It's Slater who is the real revelation here, the usually distinctively voiced star is unrecognisable as Reagan's manic, unpredictable father. The rest of the cast is of a similarly high standard. VA aficionados will instantly recognise the always brilliant John DiMaggio as the gruff Dolphman.

The first season follows an increasingly common pattern in animation: consisting mainly of standalone stories but gradually bringing in more serialised elements as the season nears its climax. Similar approaches were used in Disenchantment and Gravity Falls, (probably not coincidentally) two earlier shows Takeuchi worked on.

Inside Job is a remarkably confident debut from Takeuchi as a showrunner. It quickly establishes itself and finds a voice all of its own, feeling at once original and somewhat familiar.  The world of wacky conspiracies is a rich seam to mine, and this initial 10 episodes barely scratches the surface. Hopefully, there are more than enough to keep Cognito Inc (and the staff at Netflix Animation) in work for many years to come.



IN A NUTSHELL:  A killer concept from first-rate talent, Inside Job is easily one of Netflix's best animated Originals to date.