As a lonely college sophomore, I didn’t have much to occupy my time aside from hours of Overwatch and my Doritos-greased controller and the occasional evening walk to have the illusion of productivity. Because I lived alone, I certainly needed to find ways to occupy my time. On my evening routine of finding something on streaming, I came across Regular Show on Hulu, a show I remember back in my late years of high school but ultimately missed out on. Thus began my obsession of binging J.G. Quintel’s absurd slice-of-life series about a lazy but well-meaning anthropomorphic mockingjay and raccoon working at a park with their hot-tempered gumball machine boss, immortal groundskeeper gorilla, and park owner lollipop. The presentation is definitely insane. A “regular show”, it is not.
Regular Show came out at an important time of Cartoon Network’s life-cycle. Led by then-Cartoon Network CEO Stuart Snyder, the network aired a barrage of live-action reality and sports shows for an obviously cartoon-dominant station. But like a prayer that was heard, Pendleton Ward’s groundbreaking Adventure Time kicked down the door of the world, becoming an instant hit that surged Cartoon Network into a new Renaissance period. What followed suit was Regular Show, a story and character-focused comedy that still contained an adult edge to it. Regular Show ran for a highly-impressive eight seasons, plus a movie that acted as the show’s ultimate finale. As a college student that was just now starting to understand the mundanity and responsibilities involved in life but still had to make the most fun out of it, it was the perfect show for me.
Having been a storyboard artist for Camp Lazlo, creative director of Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and creator of the aforementioned Regular Show, J.G. Quintel became a popular figure among the animation community. Regular Show ended in January of 2017, where fans looked out for what Quintel would be up to next. That’s when in July 2017, a trailer for his next venture, Close Enough, was released. On-brand with Quintel, it looked appropriately whacky and insane, but we heard nothing of it until three years later. With eight episodes and 15 “mini-episodes” divided in total, it proved to be a crazed spiral into madness, while also remaining a reflection on what adult animated shows can become. F is for Family and Rick & Morty are way behind the time.
Close Enough follows aspiring game developer Josh Singleton and his guitarist wife Emily Ramirez, and their trials while raising their young daughter Candice while living with two roommates — Alex and Bridgette — who also happen to be a divorced couple. The set-up is wholly familiar (the daily lives of a family vicariously displayed ala cartoon characters), especially for adult animated sitcoms. So what is it about Close Enough that separates it from the likes of Family Guy or The Simpsons?
There’s a certain level of homeliness displayed in Close Enough that I feel can’t be found much of anywhere now on adult programming. Compared to more cynical adult cartoons like F is for Family and South Park, Close Enough outdoes its competition by displaying the characters as what they are: characters devoid of archetypes. The friendships found in Close Enough feel real within the show’s insanity. Josh, Emily, and Candice is a family that truly loves each other. They’re never sick of or are dismissive with each other in the same vein as Family Guy or about any Adult Swim program. Yes, they have their frustrations with each other, as do all families. At their best, a family should worry about each other’s security and support their aspirations. They’re as real as animated cartoon characters can get in a world of talking snails, stripper clowns, and cursed sitcom houses.
The easiest show I can compare it to would be Bojack Horseman. Does it have the same level of grounded writing or nuance that makes Bojack so special? Not exactly. Close Enough may not be a gritty and dark interpretation of addiction and depression, but contains the same level of self-aware and humorous writing. What Close Enough does have, however, is an optimistic and bright view of life. For the show’s shortcomings, the relatable humor can sometimes miss, but when it hits, it especially hits.
Mordecai and Rigby from Regular Show are instantly-recognizable figures. It’s a show where anything hairy or inanimate can live, breathe, and work a 9-to-5 job. What a contrast, then, for Close Enough to be composed of almost entirely human characters. Yet despite the potential to be a slower and moodier Regular Show, Close Enough is not without its moments. There’s still some insanity to be had here (homeless British children transforming into ravaging senior citizens overnight and a nightclub full of babies are definitely highlights), but doesn’t go as far as I feel it could have. This is either an appraisal or criticism depending on your attitude towards the tone, but it felt quite right. That said, there’s not a major escalation that is felt beyond the first couple episodes and the last episode in-particular felt like a dud, but for what it is, it’s an appropriate contrast to Regular Show‘s growing insanity.
Close Enough hurts most with its constrained target audience. The show as a whole is still effective – some jokes just may not land as well for younger people as it will 30-year-olds. Jokes about Weezer, Teddy Ruxpin, and 90’s sitcoms are frequent and hard-hitting. It’s all still quite funny and relatable, but the show as a whole feels restrained, unable to reach a younger audience outside of the odd Fortnite reference every now and then. It’s a strange limitation for a show with such limitless imagination. If it can appeal to a wider array of audiences and age groups while still maintaining its charm of 80’s and 90’s nostalgia, the show can grow into a much bigger following.
Being episodic, Close Enough doesn’t need persistent and sharp attention to understand the story or universe. Consequently, that comes in harming the overall development of the characters. Themes of self-acceptance, being a devoted spouse and parent, and being a dependable friend are often repeated throughout the season in ways that do feel inconsequential, as entertaining as they may be. These themes aren’t bad in themselves but the general tone can feel far too repetitive for its own good.
If Regular Show was an adolescent show for kids and teens with fast-paced writing and a youthful wit, then Close Enough is a show that wants to display a slice of life in a grounded and an ever-so-slightly real context for thirtysomethings. And while I’m just barely outside the show’s target audience, anyone who understands the mundanity of life, jobs, and a family can instantly gravitate towards the show’s sarcastic and dry wit. Close Enough may not be entirely original, but its cast of relatable characters and the constant absurd, maddening humor and conflict makes it one of the freshest animated shows to come out in quite some time. I hit the show with a fat recommendation, a show for fans of J.G. Quintel and for thirty somethings tired of the boredom of life as well. If you’re looking for an animated adult show not held down by overt sexual gags and violence, then look no further than Close Enough.