‘Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.’ Is the Demented, R-Rated Disney Superhero Epic You Didn’t Know You Needed
The new animated Hulu series, created by Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum, is a wacky standout in Disney’s deeply interconnected Marvel universe.
With WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Marvel has now expanded its cinematic universe to Disney+. That more or less spells doom for any of its other small-screen efforts that weren’t integrated into its larger ongoing superhero narrative—be it ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter, or Netflix’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage—and suggests that going forward, just about everything it produces will operate under one interconnected, all-enveloping Marvel umbrella. Thus, Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., a stop-motion animated series premiering May 21 on Hulu, is a stand-alone venture that feels behind the eight ball even before its premiere—a situation that’s too bad, given that it’s a bizarre, rollicking affair which proves that the entertainment juggernaut’s properties are fit for many different types of idiosyncratic adaptations.
“It’s idiotic to put a mental condom on the horse penis that is my mind,” proclaims M.O.D.O.K. (Patton Oswalt) in an early episode of Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., thereby confirming that this isn’t your usual PG-13 Marvel endeavor. Created by Oswalt and Jordan Blum, it tells the story of M.O.D.O.K. (short for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), a giant-headed, small-bodied villain who flies around in a hover chair, and who dreams of conquering the world—and murdering the Avengers—and establishing a utopia over which he’ll rule. He’s your typical maniacal narcissistic wannabe-authoritarian, a crazed lunatic with a Napoleon complex who loathes a world that doesn’t respect him, and fumes over his constant failure—thanks to cocky Iron Man (Jon Hamm) and company—to achieve his dreams.
The hook of Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.’s is that it’s conceived as a sitcom-y saga about M.O.D.O.K.’s life, with family and work problems receiving equal attention. M.O.D.O.K. is married to aspiring self-help guru Jodie (Aimee Garcia), with whom he has two kids: disaffected teen daughter Melissa (Melissa Fumero) and oft-described weirdo Lou (Ben Schwartz), the latter of whom is obsessed with adding magic-trick elements to his upcoming bar mitzvah. That M.O.D.O.K. is Jewish (Jodie is Latina) is merely one of the random aspects of Blum and Oswalt’s show, which moves between M.O.D.O.K.’s suburban domicile and his evil company AIM. After one too many epic battles against the Avengers—not to mention excessive R&D costs—AIM is in trouble, and M.O.D.O.K. agrees to sell it to a shadowy collective represented by unbearably cheery creep Austin (Beck Bennett). Compounding M.O.D.O.K.’s travails further, he’s always butting heads with lead techie Monica (Wendi McLendon-Covey), as well as being pestered by Gary (Sam Richardson), a cheery one-armed minion who, like the rest of his staff, is outfitted in a yellow hazmat suit designed for maximum generic anonymity.
Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. plays like a cross between Archer and Robot Chicken (whose creator, Seth Green, is an executive producer), using its peculiar and dexterous stop-motion style to enhance its rat-a-tat wittiness. Following in those influences’ footsteps, it’s an adult comedy aimed at an over-30 crowd that’s comfortable with outlandish profanity, and geeky enough to pick up on shout-outs to Marvel esoterica. Wonder Man (Nathan Fillion), the Brood, Arcade, the Leader (Bill Hader) and many more second- and third-tier characters from the company’s rich roster make an appearance, which feels natural for a series about M.O.D.O.K., a relatively lesser-known Marvel baddie who’s too strange and cartoony to ever make the leap to the big-screen. M.O.D.O.K. is a neurotic, insecure, angry psycho who can’t catch a break at home or at the office, and Oswalt voices him as an unhinged fiend who’s also a put-upon everyman, coping with the same sorts of dilemmas and frustrations as the average American—a balancing act that allows the comedian to imbue the villain with both fury and sympathetic sweetness.
Awash in self-conscious nods to its own superhero-fiction nature and its minor-league relationship to the MCU, and exhibiting a jokey fascination with ’90s and ’00s culture—for instance, an early episode hinges on a Third Eye Blind concert—Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. radiates Oswalt’s particular brand of lovably goofy-yet-furious humor. At the same time, it thrives thanks to a stellar supporting cast, led by McLendon-Covey as the resentful Monica and Schwartz as the off-the-wall Lou, that operates on the same hyper-off-kilter wavelength, hurling insults, one-liners and offhand non-sequiturs at each other with speed and sharpness. Though each episode runs under 25 minutes, they’re chockablock with action. Blum and Oswalt jam a considerable amount of gonzo plot and character detail into each installment, all while maintaining running narrative threads involving M.O.D.O.K.’s efforts to regain control of AIM, win back Jodie (who leaves him early on), earn the respect and love of his kids, and contend with a younger M.O.D.O.K. who, thanks to some early time-travel shenanigans, winds up in the present, hell-bent on destroying his older self for growing up to be a failure.
Via that twist, Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.’s makes literal its villain’s battle with himself, which ultimately colors every one of the season’s ten chapters. M.O.D.O.K.’s quest for acceptance and love, both professionally and personally, is the material’s driving engine, and it’s addressed through wildly eclectic storylines that turn mundane problems absurd, and outlandish superhero scenarios ordinary. The proceedings are powered by writing that revels in insane left-field twists and creative R-rated dirtiness, as when Lou admits that he fears his parents’ divorce will result in him doling out “happy endings behind an Arby’s,” or when numbskulled compatriot Armadillo states that M.O.D.O.K. is the brains of their operation, and the rest of them are the “fisters.” The mischievous joy of making a dirty Marvel show is often front-and-center, so that when M.O.D.O.K. at one point exclaims, “Looks like my teenage daughter is gonna help me get laid!”, you can almost hear Oswalt chuckling over getting away with such a line.
Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. ends with a cliffhanger that promises even more twisted temporal madness, and a recent tweet by Blum suggests that there are already plans in the works for a second go-round. That seems well-earned, given the deftness with which he and Oswalt have crafted this idiosyncratic superhero series. Still, one wonders if there’s really room for a show as off-the-beaten-Marvel-path as this in the company’s portfolio, which is defined by uniformity and interconnectivity. Time will surely tell, but in a just future, M.O.D.O.K. would reign supreme.