An animated series inspired by electronic act Major Lazer has been a long time coming. The group’s G.I. Joe-esque avatar previously proved his star power in videos for “Hold The Line” and “Get Free,” and talk of the Major’s move to TV dates back as far as 2011. In 2015, Major Lazer enters FXX’s recently relocated Animation Domination block with a built-in mythology, an established archnemesis (General Rubbish, voiced here with diabolical relish by James Adomian) and two (soon to be three) albums of musical interludes at the ready. That’s the foundation for a late-night cartoon that enters the scene with all the poise and fearlessness of a protagonist who has a ray gun where his right forearm should be.
In a Jamaican dystopia ruled by aristocratic grump President Whitewall (J.K. Simmons at his J. Jonah Jameson-growliest), Major Lazer (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) leads the resistance effort with the assistance of Whitewall’s daughter, Penny (Angela Trimbur), and hacker whiz kid Blkmrkt (John Boyega). Their adversaries include vacationing vampires, monstrous strains of ganja, and a codeine-fueled supervillain with the voice and signature facial hair of Mad Decent signee Riff Raff. But conflict—and the explosion-filled fight sequences that follow it—is mostly a third-act concern for Major Lazer. In the grand tradition of Inspector Gadget or Ruby-Spears’ Mister T cartoon, the superhero’s young sidekick drives most of the action here, setting up the villainous pins that Major Lazer knocks down.
The cast is strong and the structure solid (if familiar), but Major Lazer’s graphic and sonic palettes are stronger. Though it riffs on one of the crudest periods in TV animation, Major Lazer remixes the chunky outlines, washed-out colors, and fantastical content of ’80s Saturday-morning fare into something that’s psychedelic on purpose. It looks like ThunderCats or the Filmation Ghostbusters, but feels like a midnight movie. The show’s official Animation Domination debut, “Bad Seed,” flows lucidly from one mini-music video to the next, as Penny’s black-light-poster-come-to-life bad trip slams into Major Lazer’s own, considerably chiller “high-atus.” The demise of the week’s botanical foe is a foregone conclusion (turns out he doesn’t stand up to heat very well), but damn if Major Lazer doesn’t look great getting there.
That sort of visual inventiveness has become Animation Domination’s calling card: The soft-focus-storybook aesthetic of the block’s Stone Quackers makes it TV’s most enticing late-night idyll, no matter its characters’ bad behavior. Major Lazer takes the look and feel of shows whose only saving grace is nostalgia and soups them up into a compulsively watchable and knowingly whacked-out midnight snack. It took a while to get here, but the care that went into Major Lazer is evident in every sinister shadow splashed across Whitewall’s face and every zig-zag reflection in Lazer’s sunglasses.