‘Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.’: The funny frustration of a supervillain in a tailspin
Patton Oswalt hilariously voices a big-brained bad guy with an organization that’s failing and a family that’s sick of him.
“I’m Dave Deepdishky, from Chicago. When I’m not chowing down on authentic hot beef sandwiches, I’m taking architectural boat tours and visiting the Sears Tower.” – A supervillain going undercover as a bona fide Chicagoan in the Hulu series “M.O.D.O.K.”
It’s not easy being a third-rate supervillain.
Case in point: one M.O.D.O.K. (for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), a huge-headed, big-brained, tiny-limbed, vainglorious bad guy who has been easily bested by the likes of Iron Man for years, all the while plunging his super-evil headquarters into near-bankruptcy and ignoring the needs of his wife and two children. One minute you’re talking about yourself in the third person and zapping foes with lethal energy beams and telling yourself you’ll one day achieve world domination, and you’re living in a comfortable suburban home with the wife and kids — the next, you’ve been pushed aside at work by a corporate takeover and you’re separated from your family, living in a crummy studio apartment and trying to put the pieces back together.
A 10-episode series available Friday on Hulu.
But hey. At least you’re a brightly colored, Lego-looking, stop-motion animated character voiced by the one and only Patton Oswalt.
Filled with quick-one liners and bloody good sight gags, brimming with pop culture references, reminiscent of adult-oriented animated series such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” and voiced by an all-star cast of comedic talents, “M.O.D.O.K.” is sure to please the hardcore Marvel Universe fans — but even if you have only a passing knowledge of the Marvel canon, it works as a stand-alone workplace and family comedy told from the perspective of a hapless supervillain who is duplicitous, sneaky, violent and megalomaniacal, but sorta kinda likable.
After all, it’s not M.O.D.O.K.’s fault he’s such a M.O.D.O.K. He was born with a giant head and a knack for experimentation. (As opposed to the M.O.D.O.K. of the comic books, who was originally an ordinary man named George Tarleton but was turned into a giant-headed, computer-brained bad guy in a floating chair by an Alteration Chamber experiment gone sideways. Something like that.)
After a prologue from M.O.D.O.K.’s childhood, we zap forward some 35 years, with M.O.D.O.K. leading the rather lame A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) association, which is populated by yellow-suited henchmen who take it as a big “win” when M.O.D.O.K. returns from a battle with Iron Man clutching a souvenir — Iron Man’s actual boot. This bunch is the Detroit Lions of evil organizations. With A.I.M. depleted of funds and about to go out of business, M.O.D.O.K. has no choice but to sign over the reins of the company to the powerful media conglomerate GRUMBL (shades of GRYZZL from “Parks and Recreation”) and its scarf-wearing, Silicon Valley-talking, annoyingly cheerful representative Austin Van Der Sleet (Beck Bennett), who is always telling M.O.D.O.K. he’s a legend even as he’s shoving him aside and taking control of the organization.
If that’s not bad enough, M.O.D.O.K.’s long-suffering wife Jodie (Aimee Garcia), a Mexican American author and vlogger, says it’s over between them and M.O.D.O.K. has to move out, much to the dismay of his adolescent son Lou (Ben Schwartz) and much to the indifference of his teenage daughter Melissa (Melissa Fumero), who, like her father, has an enormous head and small limbs and gets about on a hovercraft-type device. “M.O.D.O.K.” alternates between superhero shenanigans as our title character tries to regain his power and domestic comedy/drama, as when M.O.D.O.K. attempts to win back Jodie by time traveling with her to the Third Eye Blind concert they missed years ago — only to sail past the target date by four years. “We overshot Third Eye Blind and we’re in the year of Chumbawamba!” he laments.
Pop culture references to everything from Narnia to “Night Court,” from Hoobastank to “ALF,” are sprinkled throughout the series, as are nods to certain elements and worlds in the Marvel Universe. Mostly, though, this is a cool-looking, cheerfully dark, oddball adult comedy with great voice work by the brilliant cast and strong writing in every episode. By the time we get to the shocking final episode of the first season, we’re already primed for more “M.O.D.O.K.”