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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Moonbeam City’s “Quest For Aquatica” is conceptually funny but lacking in killer gags

Illustration for article titled Moonbeam City’s “Quest For Aquatica” is conceptually funny but lacking in killer gags
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In “Quest For Aquatica,” Moonbeam City’s Dazzle Novak proves as distractible as ever from the business of police work—in this case, proving that an obviously faked suicide is not the open-and-shut case that his rival Rad insists it must be. For a moment, Dazzle’s insane and incompetent policework outstrips Rad’s lazy and even more incompetent policework. But then Dazzle goes undercover to question some dolphins (the supposed suicide is a drowning) and the episode’s tangent reveals itself.

To its credit, said tangent a) does not involve Dazzle getting involved in any particular aspect of popular culture and b) does involve Dazzle dressing up in a robotic dolphin suit and falling into genuine infatuation with a genuine dolphin. Their affair happens by chance; specifically, because of Dazzle’s hatred for a mandatory CPR class and his susceptibility to the ramblings of Chrysalis’s visiting father, who waxes poetic about the call of the sea. Hence Dazzle’s discovery of Rad’s clearly-non-suicide case, and his (accidentally correct) desire to prove Rad wrong by lingering in the ocean.

During Dazzle’s first underwater sojourn, the show seems to be ribbing, however slightly, humans’ tendency (often expressed through nature documentaries) to project decidedly human-centric narratives onto the lives of animals. In a matter of minutes, Dazzle has assigned names and personalities to a number of dolphins that do little more than frolic playfully and then swim away from him. They’re all constructs around the one he really cares about, who he christens Splasha. He enters what he considers some sort of relationship, and cavorts with Splasha to the gentle tones of “Aquatica,” a spoof of the smarmily quasi-mystical song “Africa” by Toto. The shots of the sea, rendered in a state of perfect, permanent state of pre-sunset, go full-on Trapper Keeper in their soft-edged lushness.

Parodying Toto is more the show’s speed than pointing out actual human foibles, and that’s fine. “Quest For Aquatica” goes ever more bonkers as the story moves over to an illicit dolphin-racing ring, a robotic whale suit, and a second character voiced by Will Forte. This might seem like overkill or stretching the small cast too thin, but I say, hell, give him three per week, see how he does. This episode, fourth-aired but apparently produced earlier (production codes imply that it was second, with the third still, as yet, unscheduled through the first seven airings, though the show doesn’t use enough continuity to make the scrambled order much on a plot/character level), certainly gets points for perversity. But despite admirably high levels of lunacy, it’s not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as it should be. Maybe it’s because the ramblings of Chrysalis’s father (voiced by Patrick Warburton, who earned his place as an animation mainstay with his delightful performance as Kronk in the underappreciated Disney romp The Emperor’s New Groove) isn’t all that original, or because the initial suicide doesn’t really connect to the dolphin story in a satisfying way, even as a gag.

Gags are, in the end, this episode’s deficit; the idea of Dazzle falling in love with an oblivious dolphin is funny, the idea of Dazzle’s utter impatience with CPR (and the cornball jokes of the CPR instructor) is funny, and the idea of cruel dolphin races is funny. But these funny set-ups sometimes lack the punctuation of great gags. “Quest For Aquatica” is probably better than the pilot in terms of its bold weirdness, but after three weeks of promise, it somehow feels a little worse. Maybe it should have aired second after all.

Stray observations:

  • A sketchy Russian aquatic park is exactly the kind of concept this show tends to nail, and it was thus: it generates maybe the biggest laugh of the week in the closing moments of the episode.
  • This week in striking Moonbeam City imagery: the noirish shadows of blinds that Pizzaz can apparently summon at any opportunity get even more blatant, repeatedly appearing when there’s no particular light source to explain them.
  • But the show’s most impressive display of visual prowess comes right away, with a Dazzle-narrated taxonomy of Moonbeam City murder methods, bathed in electric red, that turns out to be an unhelpful PowerPoint presentation.
  • This week in Moonbeam City signage: Actually, maybe not anything? If there were any good sign gags, I missed ’em.
  • This week in Moonbeam City names: Dazzle’s dolphin alias is Dorsal Finstripper, because of course Dazzle thinks that dolphins would have attention-grabbing first and last names.