Remember how in the first episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the sentient fast food items were kind of, sort of a crime-fighting team? And how the show abandoned that conceit so quickly that its very title was rendered even more surreal than it already was? I thought of that quick progression during the second episode of Moonbeam City, which takes only minutes to disassociate itself with the business of even spoofing a police procedural – in contrast to the pilot, which took a solid twelve minutes or so. For the first few minutes of the episode, set at a “children’s rave” sponsored by the city (and later revealed to be mandatory), Rob Lowe’s Dazzle Novak seems vaguely assigned to supervise the event and/or prevent some manner of wrongdoing, and attempts to stop a petty bike theft in between his attempts to drop the bass.

But once Dazzle catches a glimpse of CrimeZappers, a true-crime re-enactment show, he becomes consumed with the desire to see his exploits reimagined on television. CrimeZappers agrees to chronicle his encounter with the bicycle thief, and Dazzle visits the set to offer his unsolicited consultations. Unsatisfied with the show’s one-take work ethic, he secures police funding to produce his own re-enactment. But his vision still isn’t coming toether, and his lust for a self-aggrandizing TV segment eventually places him in the Krakmoonistan desert, sporting a Francis Ford Coppola-style beard (and, ah, huskiness), with crew members dying everywhere.

Taken on its own, this is a wonderful bit of escalation; the arc from simple crime to low-budget re-enactment to a phantasmagorical, nudity-filled, massively expensive vanity project would be the pride and joy of many a sketch-comedy writer. But as a second episode, it’s maybe not the best choice, given that it more or less rehashes the music-manager distraction Dazzle goes through in the first episode, alongside a similar rivalry with Rad Cunningham. As before, Will Forte makes his role as Rad feel very much like his own thing, even if the writers are just steering Rad toward Forte-ish touches (like the way Rad’s bravado turns to sobbing, pleading embarrassment at the drop of a hat).

Of course, this is an animated comedy kind of, sort of spoofing ’80s cop shows, so a degree of formula, even in its perversions of formula, is probably unavoidable. What’s more inadvisable about this episode is its excursion outside of Moonbeam City and its accompanying stylizations, even as the trip itself provides plenty of laughs. After the rave-set opening, which cranks up the show’s neon color scheme even further to great effect, the show spends a lot of time in a series of visually flat locations: dark alley; a cheap re-enactment of a dark alley on the CrimeZappers set; and in a dark room where the cops all gather to watch CrimeZappers. Not every episode has to be a shot of glorious neon-drenched Michael Mann-ish nightlife. But in an animated show with relatively limited animation, it would be nice to see more of that show’s signature production design and colors.

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Given the vagaries of airing schedules versus production schedules, especially on an animated comedy that has far too much bloodshed and too many tangents to attempt any real continuity, it’s entirely possible that this was not the second episode of Moonbeam City ever produced. And either way, it makes sense why this episode was aired second: it’s very funny! The children’s rave and the hallucinatory quality of a newly girthy Dazzle’s cinematic wanderings maintain the show’s welcome strangeness – though the go-to jokes about people getting suddenly killed or dismembered remain a little old-hat in this post-Adult Swim world. I do wonder if this episode reveals a secret premise of the show: that every week, Dazzle will glom onto to a new non-police job, possibly on the fringes of the entertainment industry, causing Rad to follow suit. Weirdly, that (probably nonexistent) formula, reminiscent of those Simpsons episodes in Seasons 10 and 11 where Homer was constantly getting a new job, might clarify and improve what otherwise feels like a sometimes-hilarious retread.

Stray observations:

  • I don’t want to turn this section into a compendium of joke spoilers, so I’ll just note that the show continues its firm commitment to signage gags, not just with ads on the streets of Moonbeam City, but with a nice little group of movie posters in the home of the shady financier who gives Dazzle the big budget he needs.
  • And, fine: I’ll also say that I can see “Ahhh! My average looks!” becoming a go-to cry for me.

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