What happens when you take a family from the Witness Protection Program, move them to New York City, and give them their own reality show? A lot, it turns out: assassination attempts, a divorce, a religious conversion, and a protracted stay at a psychiatric hospital, to gloss only a few episodes. And yet all this action still hasn’t been enough to take Delocated from being a funny premise to a fully operational satire. For its second season, Adult Swim has upped the show’s runtime from 11 to 22 minutes, but in so doing has reduced even its most inspired moments to mere punctuation. Whereas in season one Jon Glaser’s performance as “Jon” (whose name always appears in quotes to protect his real identity) was so transfixing as to be able to carry the entire duration of the shorter runtime, now his appearances alternate with longer interludes focusing on the Russian mob brothers Sergei (Steve Cirbus) and Yvgeny Mirminsky (Eugene Mirman). And while the season-long antagonism between Delocated (that is, the eponymous fictional show within Delocated, the actual show on Cartoon Network) and (fictional) spin-off show Yvgeny! may have been enough to garner at least a few laughs, this season’s decidedly less convoluted fraternal conflict has already grown tedious.
For now, then, Glaser’s performance remains the show’s primary comedic resource. His character’s appeal (if it can be called that) inheres in what amounts to a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There’s something almost dangerously seductive about how this affords him equal opportunity to abuse the people around him and aggrandize himself to the point of caricature, undermining any ground on which to reassure viewers of a logic to his mockery. Everything is a joke to “Jon,” including not just himself, but also his propensity to see everything as a joke. This recurrence to a strategy of mise-en-abyme ultimately feels like a cheap way of eliding a more sustained consideration of the show’s own critical impulses. So, while Delocated may appropriate the conventions of reality television, its ruthless sarcasm folds back on itself and defangs the very act of appropriation out of which it arose in the first place.
This ambivalence may be a product of the unsteady comedic patchwork that has been responsible for the development of the series so far. Glaser himself often resorts to an effective but easy frat-boy style of humor, like when he insists on referring to sex as “going to the Bone Zone,” or when he shimmies naked in front of his girlfriend and his F.B.I. protection singing, “Look out! It’s the wiggler!” Producers Vernon Chatman and John Lee (of Wonder Showzen fame) leave their unmistakable thumbprint, too, when Sergei records a video of sickle-and-hammer puppets spouting syndicalist rhetoric, or when “Jon”‘s barely pubescent son “David” (Jacob Kogan) recites a detailed description of sex reassignment surgery, claiming that he wants to be a woman.
Meanwhile, fellow comedians Mather Zickel, Jerry Minor, and Todd Barry serve as more or less expendable foils to “Jon”‘s antics. These competing approaches to humor haven’t yet emulsified, resulting in a series that is only funny or provocative inconsistently. One thing is clear though: If “Jon”‘s performance art homage to his own conception is any indication, the series is only going to get weirder.