Cartoon Network primarily is working two angles when it comes to its original programming–wacky, absurdist shows bordering on nonsensical (Uncle Grandpa, Teen Titans Go!) and weird-but-deeply-impactful shows (Adventure Time, Regular Show, Steven Universe). Clarence, The Amazing World of Gumball, and CN’s newest show, We Bare Bears, bridge the gap between those two extremes, bouncing between the extraordinary and the endearing, with Daniel Chong’s show fitting right into this template. It’s the story of three bear siblings living together in a cave while they attempt to do human things, and that’s really it.
If that premise sounds kind of “internet-y,” then you’d be correct, since it was based on Chong’s webcomic. The web sometimes feels like it was built on the idea of “cute, chibi-designed creatures trying to do stuff,” which doesn’t exactly translate to an ongoing show. But Chong and his staff brings a bit more nuance and personality to its characters: Grizz (Eric Edelstein) is the ringleader and the one who comes up with the most hair-brained schemes; Panda (Bobby Moynihan) is the sensitive-but-lovable one with a desire to meet the right girl, and Ice (Demetri Martin) is the quiet-but-creepy one, who talks in the third person and possesses a stoically aggressive streak mostly played for comedy. Together, they find themselves in some sort of bizarre yet generic conflict that works mainly because of the bears’ easygoing and genuinely-loving bond.
Tone-wise, We Bare Bears reminds me of, strangely enough, Johnny Bravo–another CN show that involved a clueless main character(s) getting involved in a basic plot that dovetails into bursts of absurdity. We Bare Bears is a lot more low-key though, with little background music, a more muted color palette, and a simpler vibe. It’s not a must-watch show by any means, but it’s charming and breezy enough to enjoy within its brief run-time. If anything, it’s the show’s voice actors that really bring its characters to life, with Moynihan’s soft-spoken, introverted Panda being my favorite. (It’s clear that Ice Bear’s direct quips are geared to make him the breakout star but Panda wears his heart on his sleeve, which makes him more effective and well-rounded as a character.)
“Everyday Bears” is a bit different from the rest of the week’s episodes, which follows each ursine character dealing with a silly-if-rote problem: Grizz tries to befriend some Frisbee players and gets stuck in a tree; Panda tries to fight off a mouse that’s ruining his online life; Ice tries to fix a Roomba but it ends up going crazy instead. It makes for a good summary of the characters and the tone of the overall show, but it lacks the kind of warm-hearted, familial camaraderie that book-ended some of the previous episodes. Panda’s story is the strongest, primarily because his commitment to maintaining a meticulous online life creates a lot of hilarity, especially in how fast he loses friends. Ice’s savvy in fixing, then avoiding, the killer Roomba makes for some amusing visuals but the lack of his signature line-readings is somewhat disappointing. Grizz’s story possesses the heightened absurdity that the show is working to excel in, although it sort of ends with a hollow, if funny, climax.
Really, I’m sort of hard on the ending to Grizz’s story because We Bare Bears seems partially interested in exploring the concept of “the Other,” in which these sentient bears are viewed as off-kilter, socially-separate weirdos that no one wants to really associate with. And while the bears’ more outlandish behaviors may go to explain some of that, there’s a slightly sad layer underneath it all where the public will opt to mostly ignore or distrust these bears until they “earn” their attention or platitudes. The only way Grizz is allowed to play with the human Frisbee players is by retrieving their Frisbee; the show seems aware of this slightly-discriminatory attitude but “Everyday Bears” more or less ignores it by the end. It would interesting to see if the show will explore the problems and consequences of such an attitude in future episodes, but until then, We Bare Bears is a very good “just okay” kind of show.
- Quick reviews: “Our Stuff” - A decent start for the season, where the bears go on a personal mission to find their stolen possessions. The misdirection with the pigeons was a nice surprise, suggesting more bizarro endings like that are going to be the norm. B
- “Viral Video” - Patton Oswalt voices a popular koala who gives Grizz some perspective when he attempts to make a viral video. One of the better and more comical depiction of how the internet works in this day and age, although “Meme-Con” might be a bit overboard. B+
- “Food Truck” - The bears try to sell calzones out of a food truck. This episode in particular suggests the disconnect between humans and the bears. I mean, what other reason would anyone decline free sample from a food truck? B+
- “Chloe” - A young girl (Charlyne Yi) studies the bears for her college presentation. This episode also strongly suggest that disconnect, with Chloe slowly coming to terms with the bears behavior and friendship… kind of. Wondering if the show will explore the idea of treating the bears as “objects of study” as opposed to actual “people.” B+
- “Panda’s Date” - Panda falls in love with a woman who saves his life. Panda’s song is a lot of fun but this falls into a lot of uncomfortable cliches that most “guy has crush on girl” stories have. At least the brothers’ relationship is strong. B-
- Panda is apparently a fan of manga.
- Ice Bear is apparently a fan of his ax.
- Grizz is apparently a fan of making friends no matter what.
- “Ice Bear settled that out of court” is my favorite Ice Bear quip so far.
- If anything, the theme song by Estelle (Garnet!) is so, so good.