Definitely one of the better entrants in last year’s Fresh Blood, animated superhero series Koala Man has now been made into a full-length pilot episode. (You can watch it on iView along with the pilots from the three other Fresh Blood winners – and we’ll be posting reviews of each one over the next couple of weeks.)
Koala Man’s basic premise – an everyday bloke dresses up as a superhero koala to solve problems in his local area (such as annoying groups of layabouts taking over the park) – was a good one. And the initial three Fresh Blood sketches (also available on iView and YouTube) were strong, showing our hero helping typical suburban Aussies involved in typical suburban problems, but in the style of a Marvel film, complete with over-dramatic swells of music, and Koala Man giving a philosophical monologue to camera about the difficult and tortured super life he leads at the end of every episode.
What was particularly promising about Koala Man was the last of the three sketches, which showed Koala Man enjoying his weekend only to be interrupted by a door-to-door salesman touting cheaper electricity. After Koala Man sees off the annoying salesman, the action cuts to the lair of a mysterious half-seen figure with a beak congratulating the salesman on riling up Koala Man. Cliffhanger: the guy with the beak wants to bring Koala Man down, one annoying electricity salesman at a time…but why?
So, if you were expecting more Koala Man along the same lines (or to learn more about Beak Guy’s evil plot) in this full-length pilot, you’ll be disappointed, as there have been some changes made to the concept that don’t necessarily work.
Koala Man turns out to be Kevin, a divorced middle-aged man with a teenage son and a day job. So far, so kinda in the style of Clark Kent/Superman, except we don’t get a sense of Koala Man’s origin story and we spend way too much time with Kevin and not enough time with Koala Man.
In the pilot episode, Kevin is excited about an event happening at work; he works at the local council and they’re unveiling a new fountain the next day. Except, the fountain’s annoyed local residents to the extent that they’re protesting outside – and someone’s taken matters into their own hands by putting detergent in the fountain and now there are bubbles everywhere. Who or what will resolve this?
While Kevin’s colleagues attempt to get through various bureaucratic local council hoops, such as filling in the correct forms, before they can take action on the fountain/bubbles problem, Koala Man tries to track down the fountain vandal. It’s a decent episode plot idea, for sure, but comedy-wise there isn’t enough good material in the script to make this solidly funny for 23 minutes.
There are some good ideas for gags, such as the stuff about local government bureaucracy form filling, which culminates in an amusing sequence in the council’s “War Room”, but overall the show lacks the comic spark of the original short episodes. That and understanding Koala Man’s real life doesn’t seem to add much. It would probably be funnier not knowing Kevin or his personal life at all, making Koala Man a mysterious but slightly full-of-himself guy who thinks he’s making a difference to the world by keeping local streets safe. It’s a bit like what would have happened in Frasier if we’d ever been shown Maris: a massive comedic letdown, and a total joke killer.
The other problem is, well-known animated shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad and even Australia’s own Pacific Heat, usually have very high gag rates, so there was an expectation that Koala Man would too. An expectation it just hasn’t delivered on.
Having re-watched the original Fresh Blood sketches of Koala Man, we’re wondering what went on in the process of producing this pilot. Why was the decision made to focus less on the superhero parody comedy and more on the man behind the superhero? And why did anyone think that would make a better show?