Curiously, the title of IFC’s new animated comedy, Out There, ultimately refers not to where its unhappy-in-adolescence primary characters are, but where they desperately long to be. Perpetually sullen and sad-faced, the awkward and awkwardly drawn youths at the center of the series desire nothing more than to escape their humdrum existences in the small back-country town of Holford. Rather than utilizing its off-the-wall artwork to aid in spinning increasingly warped tales of disgruntled pre-adulthood, Out There presents an array of by-the-numbers boyhood scenarios that frequently feel stale, having an indistinct, been-there-done-that vibe. The best thing creator Ryan Quincy’s series has going for it is, indeed, its uniquely oddball visual style, which suggests the cover of Dinosaur Jr.’s Without a Sound come to life. Unfortunately, the remainder of the proceedings don’t quite measure up to the standard the eccentric animation sets.
Out There focuses on two dejected teenagers who couldn’t be more different, but, as so many BFFs typically are, become instantly engaged by the other’s strangely comforting personality. It’s an average case of opposites attracting, as the shy, sheltered Chad (voiced by Quincy) finds everything he isn’t in the outspoken and bizarrely boisterous Chris (Justin Roiland). The boys are ultra-unpopular, and it’s because of their outsider statuses that they first meet, their chance encounter eventually forging an alternative path down which they might not have otherwise ventured. Walking home by himself, in an eerily vacant rural landscape that recalls David Firth’s flash cartoon Salad Fingers, a despondent voiceover narration detailing his total dysphoria, Chad spots Chris, nearly naked, tied to a tree in the middle of the woods. The pilot, the strongest of the early episodes by a fair margin, goes on to depict, in a surprisingly sincere manner, how these two wayward, juxtaposed juveniles come to bond within a community they equally despise.
Chris’s mission to construct a makeshift hot-air balloon, confess his love for a classmate, and tap dance in front of his peers before making his grand escape from Holford is a plan so crazy that Chad, who’s been trapped in a household where his paranoid father, Wayne (John DiMaggio), constantly thinks he’s on drugs, can’t help but enjoy taking part in. Standing in Chris’s way is his mother’s deadbeat hippie boyfriend, Terry (Fred Armisen), who perpetually resides on the living-room couch, sipping box wine and speaking to Chris in naïve cosmic riddles. There’s also a variety of run-of-the-mill schoolhouse bullies, who are so bland in characterization that their names aren’t worth remembering. Chris and Chad’s scheme is derailed time and time again by unexpected obstacles, concluding with a massive tree being lit ablaze in Chris’s yard. The flames are clearly a symbol for the pair’s spiritual rebirth; the friends quickly come to realize, for the moment anyway, that they’re stuck in Holford, a place that simply won’t let them leave, and they’ve got to make lemonade with the lemons they’ve been given. Sadly, none of this is very funny and the pacing is uncharacteristically slow, causing the episode’s 22 minutes to persist at a crawl.
Chris and Chad’s relationship, as archetypal as it may be, is the heart and soul of Out There, and even though the series periodically employs less than imaginative plotting, such as the pair going to great lengths to catch a glimpse of a naked woman or attempting to gain popularity through ill-advised methods at a school dance, there’s something to be said about its perplexing watchability. Think of it as the theoretical converse to FX’s canceled Unsupervised, which began on a sour note but established sufficient momentum as it progressed. Whereas the energetic whippersnappers at the center of that series always looked on the bright side, taking pride in their dingy borough’s unplesantness and striving to better society as a whole, Out There’s low-spirited lads have been issued a gut-punch reality check right off the bat: Their life sucks—and most likely always will, but the trick is learning to live with that fact. Out There believes its characters can prosper in doing so, but doesn’t collectively make an honest effort to portray their compassed journey in an imaginative fashion.