On Facebook, Instagram, and various other online platforms, fake news is chipping away at the very fabric of American democracy—so it was high time such insanity was ridiculed in merciless animated fashion. Inside Job goes some way toward achieving that end, affording an intimate peek at Cognito Inc., a secret organization that covers up the fact that every conspiracy theory is real, and that the country—and world—is run by a shadow board of robed elites consumed with acquiring profit and power. Created by Shion Takeuchi and executive produced by fellow Gravity Falls alum Alex Hirsch, it’s a workplace comedy that jovially mocks our brain-fried reality—even if, ultimately, it stops just shy of truly miring itself in today’s muck.
Which is to say, Inside Job doesn’t touch upon the Big Lie and anti-vax nonsense currently addling the minds of so many Americans. It does, however, takes great pleasure in pretending that our myths and fantasies—about Bigfoot, the moon landing, Yale secret societies, and more—are less fictional than we assumed. Over the course of its 10-episode first season (Oct. 22), it provides a loopy and humorous tour of our national derangement via the story of Reagan (Lizzy Caplan), Cognito Inc.’s resident genius and a woman whose intellectual prowess is matched only by her evil inclinations—conquering the planet is often high on her list of priorities—and, consequently, her desire to ascend the corporate ladder.
Reagan is the daughter of Cognito Inc.’s bitter former CEO Rand (Christian Slater), who now spends his days recording YouTube videos in an effort to expose the company’s secrets, as well as drinking himself silly—a pastime which so ruins his liver that he needs regular organ transplants that are facilitated by Cognito Inc.’s new boss JR (Andrew Daly). Reagan also works with a collection of misfits who help round out the show’s cast: PR and Manipulation’s Gigi (Tisha Campbell), who exploits social media to dupe and enslave the masses; Glenn Dolphman (John DiMaggio), a right-wing military fanatic who took a super-serum that turned him into a half-man, half-dolphin creature; Andre (Bobby Lee), a mad scientist with an insatiable hunger for sex and mind-altering narcotics; and Magic Myc (Brett Gelman), a tentacled psychic mushroom who hails from the Hollow Earth, the subterranean realm that’s also the apparent home of the mole people, sea monsters, and the family from Land of the Lost.
This ragtag bunch is thrown for a loop when, out of the blue, JR saddles them with a new colleague: Brett (Clark Duke), a handsome and vapid frat boy-turned-suit whose only skill is being charming and coasting by on his white-guy bona fides. That the qualified Reagan initially winds up in professional competition with Brett is one of Inside Job’s many sharp jabs at corporate power/gender dynamics. Yet as with most of its contemporary concerns, the show doesn’t preach or press too hard. Absurdity is the real order of the day, and it generally revolves around some covert bombshell that was kept hidden from the American public, like the fact that Reagan has replaced the current too-dumb-to-be-controlled president with an automated duplicate (dubbed ROBOTUS), or that many of the rich and famous are actually lizard people known as reptoids, or that the moon houses a hippie sex-cult commune run by Buzz Aldrin, who never returned to Earth after his 1969 Apollo 11 mission with Neil Armstrong.
In presenting conspiracy theories as valid, Inside Job both highlights their lunacy and creates scenarios fit for bonkers flights of fancy. Like so much modern animated comedy, the visual style is colorful and elastic, the pace is rat-a-tat-tat frenzied, and the one-liners are pointed and full of nods to popular movies, TV shows, and online culture. The overarching tone is brazenly self-conscious, such that in the nostalgia-heavy fifth episode—in which the gang visit a city that’s been deliberately frozen in the ’80s—the series makes innumerable references to well-known touchstones (E.T., sitcoms, toys, etc.) while simultaneously slamming men’s habit of quoting their favorite films in order to compensate for their inability to come up with an original joke of their own.
The result is that, outlandish conceit aside, there’s nothing particularly novel about Inside Job, and that goes for its protagonists as well. A tough and manic striver who’s also grappling with a dysfunctional upbringing courtesy of her wacko dad, Reagan functions as the hyper-competent Leela to dim and sweet Brett’s Fry. Furthering those Futurama parallels, Myc is the foul-mouthed and inappropriate Bender of the group, while Glenn is its Zoidberg and Gigi is its Amy. This isn’t to claim that the show has purposefully modeled itself after that Matt Groening cult hit (with which it also shares voice actor John DiMaggio); rather, it’s simply to suggest that it employs a familiar and straightforward template, no matter the weirdness of its actual plots, full of aliens, mind control, doomsday devices, and an entire installment dedicated to skewering James Bond as a retrograde sexist whose bad behavior is only cherished by dads.
Inside Job has been made with a specific target audience in mind: thirty-to-fortysomethings who spend a lot of time on Twitter and will therefore get jokes about Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson and flat-earthers (including a predictable, and not-so-subtle, dig at Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving). That’s all well and good, although the proceedings are best when eliciting laughs from scenarios rooted in Reagan and Brett’s hang-ups about friendship, parents, acceptance, ambition and the frequently thorny relationship between the present and the past. Moreover, it’s generally funniest when it’s at its most random, such as Glenn posing as a vaping Georgetown student so he can convince unsuspecting stoners to sign up for the military (“Sacrificing yourself to the state is bae!”), or Guillermo del Toro being saluted by the reptoids for directing The Shape of Water.
In its sixth episode, Inside Job knocks conspiracy theories as just another form of capitalism, since individuals primarily promote them for their own profit. That goes for this series as well, even if, in its defense, it’s at least upfront about the ridiculousness it’s peddling.