Primal

5 out of 5

Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

covers season 1

While I have enjoyed creator Genndy Tartakovsky’s jump to CGI Transylvanias, I was overjoyed to hear that he had not abandoned the hand-drawn animation via which I assume many of us fell in love with his style, whether on Dexter, or Samurai Jack, or others. A lot of other goodness came along with the announcement of Primal: that its caveman-led narrative suggested a mostly visual narrative, a dialogue-less setup that led to, arguably, some of Samurai Jack’s best episodes; that it would be on Adult Swim further suggested a more adult mood, a la Jack’s final season; and with Tyler Bates involved with the score, it was sounding like we were going to be getting something pretty epic, and cinematic.

And it’s all that, and it’s more.

It isn’t just Genndy’s designs that draw us in – though those surely are on full display here, in Spear, the caveman, or Fang, the dinosaur with which he forms a hunting / exploring partnership, or the various animals and creatures with which they tussle and interact – it’s his sense of timing, and his amazing grasp of mood. While Primal is absolutely more serious (and definitely more violent) than Jack’s generally more light-hearted tone, it’s still capable of producing guffaws via excellent “acting” amongst the leads, and the precise way the camera shifts between scenes and beats; this is in addition to some truly heart-racing action sequences, terrifying chases, and the often touching relationship that develops between Spear and Fang.

Speaking of which, the pairing of homosapien and dinosaur obviously draws a clear line across “realism” for the setting, but certainly the show is all the better for it: Genndy and his writers can indulge in monstrous ape-men, gigantic fish, flying devils, and more, all inspired well-enough by reality – and grounded with consistent physics, and mortality of its leads – but also fantastical enough to keep the adventures (and terrors!) endlessly interesting visually, and endlessly exciting.

It truly is a landmark show, in the same way Jack was, but evolved: the bonding of our lead duo (over shared losses in the first episode) is basic enough, but the layered and contextually realistic way the series edges their relationship along – Fang cannot speak, and Spear is still a neanderthal – is upper tier writing, on par with any praised prime time drama, while the action choreography can also go toe-to-toe with cinematic blockbusters. “Adult” cartoons have existed for a while, of course, but this feels like something different – it’s not “niche;” nor is it a concept that’s been transmuted to animation just because the creators like drawing. It needs to be in this format, and then watching any given episode should remove the need to preface a recommendation of it with “if you like cartoons…”