The Only Thing We Need to Change About This Show Is Its Fundamental Premise

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 2 2012 11:02 AM

TV’s Funniest Show About Witness Protection Should Be About Something Else

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A still of Jon Glaser in Delocated.

Courtesy of Adult Swim

The live-action Adult Swim series Delocated returns tonight for its third season with a problem: its aging premise. The series, created and produced by its star, Jon Glaser, is a reality-show parody that, like most reality-show parodies, has a premise only slightly more outlandish than the reality shows that actually make it to air. Jon (Glaser), after running afoul of the Russian Mob, has entered the Witness Protection program and agreed to allow reality-show cameras to document his life. He keeps his identity secret by wearing a balaclava and using a voice-altering device, his concern for safety being distinctly less powerful than his desire to be famous. (He is, in other words, like all reality stars.)

As Jon attempts to build a new life, he is only intermittently mindful of the threat from the Mirminsky family—less mindful than his various live-in bodyguards, certainly. Primarily, Jon’s own perception of his situation is that he keeps getting thwarted in his various fame-seeking and entrepreneurial schemes. But therein lies the creative problem: While it's true that, without the Mirminskys’ murderous vengeance, Delocated would have had no reason to exist, the Mirminskys’ machinations are the most boring thing about the show.

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With his unstoppable ability to generate terrible ideas and his boundless zeal for said terrible ideas, Jon is more or less the Michael Scott of Adult Swim (but without the heart; unlike Michael, Jon is a jerk). What other analog is there for a character who opens a B&B in his RV, runs for the office of Dog Mayor, and buys a potato-skin food cart rather than a new bed for his son?

The best parts of Delocated revolve around Jon and his insistence upon being an ignorant, selfish boor—his capacity for which is apparently limitless.

But whenever the show cuts back to the Mirminskys, the story stops dead. (Imagine if Michael Scott’s fun run to raise money to fight rabies, or his attempt to educate his staff about racism, were interrupted by assassins. Bummer, right?) What’s more, the longer the show lasts, the harder it is to create pretexts—even absurd ones that would match the tone of the show—to keep Jon and the Mirminskys in each other’s lives, given that Jon should have been the easiest target any crime family ever encountered.

Sadly, the third-season premiere finds Jon seeking protection from a Chinese gang, a narrative development that threatens to pull even more focus away from the surprisingly rich comedy wrung out of Jon's prodigious idiocy. Considering that the Season 3 premiere also involves Jon wearing his late ex-wife's dress and pretending to be her ostensibly to help his son to mourn her death, every second of screen time spent on anything else is a second wasted.

There would be precedent for such a drastic turn in storyline, even on the show’s own network: The pilot of Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger Force portrayed the characters as private detectives trying to solve a crime—something they basically never did again. (The producers of that show, Matt Maiellero and Dave Willis, even said in their DVD commentary on the pilot that the PI idea was only a premise hatched to sell the animated series, which gets super-weird and nonsensical immediately after that first episode.)

Jon’s admission into the Witness Relocation Program was, of course, the catalyst for all the action of Delocated. But for the sake of what has emerged as the show's true strength, Delocated needs to relocate the Mirminskys, making more room for Jon’s stupidity to reach full flower.

Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Previously.TV and has written about television for Yahoo, Vulture, the New York Times Magazine, and TelevisionWithoutPity.com, which she co-founded. She lives in Los Angeles.

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