The first time you see the various wacky superheroes of The Awesomes, the new, enjoyable enough animated series created by Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers and Michael Shoemaker for Hulu, it’s in a commercial for beef jerky. I don’t mean that the episode begins with a faux-commercial for beef jerky—it opens in the middle of a superhero fight—I mean that the ad that Hulu is airing with The Awesomes, two episodes of which are available starting today, features the Awesomes selling desiccated meat. In the event that you ignore this sales pitch, at the end of each episode the Awesomes do some very blatant in-episode, beef jerky promotion as well. (“It tastes great.” “This sounds like a commercial.” “It tastes great.”) The Awesomes may be a rag-tag bunch of superheroes, but they are above average product-placers.
30 Rock, with its bold in-episode shilling of Snapple, made squeamishness about product placement seem uptight. It went so over the top with its endorsement, it co-opted the hard sell and made it a joke. This is the 21st century: What is this thing called “selling out”? Is the difference between advertising for a product and being the product around which advertising is assembled a meaningful one? And if it’s funny, who cares? And yet, still, selling beef jerky—and having the selling of beef jerky be the most remarkable aspect of your very first episode—is not a very super-heroic introduction. Even 30 Rock didn’t sell Snapple in the pilot.
Maybe the explanation is that the Awesomes are not supposed to be your average superheroes—they are below the average. Professor Doctor Awesome, Prock for short (voiced by Meyers) is a very bright but very weak mutant, one who has long lived in the shadow of his father, Mr. Awesome, the world’s strongest champion, a man who has led the world’s pre-eminent superhero team, the Awesomes, for the last 70 years. Upon his retirement, Prock begs to be charged with the team. He is, but there is barely a team left; everyone thinks he’s a joke. And so with the help of the dim Muscle-Man (Ike Barinholtz), a strong man with an amazingly thick thatch of chest hair, and the office manager Concierge (the very funny Emily Spivey), he sets out to reassemble the Awesomes with a bunch of misfit, reject superheroes that better teams had no use for. (As Muscle-Man puts it, “The Awesomes: Our Bar Is Lower.”)
As one would expect from a Seth Meyers cartoon, The Awesomes can be knowing and clever, with a positive attitude that skews a bit arch. Upon his retirement, Mr. Awesome, who hasn’t had time to crack a book in 50 years, really wants to flee to outer-space and read The Feminine Mystique, which has always sounded racy to him. One of the new recruits, Impresario, can conjure anything with his mind, but he has such an overbearing mother that everything he imagines—a giant fist, a vacuum cleaner, a toilet—has her hectoring voice attached to it. When the main villain, Dr. Malocchio (Bill Hader) escapes from prison, he tells a guard, “I am going to need a Tom Ford suit, tuna Carpaccio, and three hookers.” And as the Awesomes prove their mettle, it’s not because Prock’s a superhero, so much as he is a smarty-pants. It’s his brain that makes him special.
This is not to give the impression that the cheerful Awesomes is some intellectual cartoon: It is also the second animated series in a little over a week to feature a villain made of poop. This bad guy, made from all sorts of sewage, is called Compost and gets flushed down a giant toilet. After this victory, the team returns to headquarters and… starts selling us beef jerky. As the team and the show come up in the world, maybe one day they’ll be allowed to just sell themselves.