Q-Force didn’t deserve the preemptive hate it received on its trailer, but it’s still disappointing despite all the talent involved.
Q-Force would be much easier to examine if it turned out to be surprisingly good or as bad as the internet assumed after the release of its first trailer. It’s harder to write on a show that didn’t deserve the preemptive hate it received but also doesn’t deserve a lot of praise. This LGBTQ + spy cartoon absolutely has its heart in the right place and has little that might offend adults in the queer community. Unfortunately, it’s not very funny either.
The story begins in 2011, shortly after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Agent Steve Marywhether (Sean Hayes) is about to get a big promotion at the American Intelligence Agency, the show’s fictitious surrogate for the CIA and FBI, but when he turns out to be gay, his homophobic boss Dirk Chunley (Gary Gole) demotes “Agent Mary” and promotes straight agent Rick Buck (David Harbor). 10 years later, Mary and her team of queer spies – mechanic Deb (Wanda Sykes), hacker Stat (Patti Harrison), drag queen Twink (Matt Rogers) – are stranded in West Hollywood; but, when they uncover a terrorist plot, Mary V’s AIA mentor (Laurie Metcalf) gives the “Q-Force” the opportunity to save the world.
Q-Force himself feels like he’s coming out 10 years later than he should have. Pop culture parodies lean towards 2000s movies like brokeback mountain and The diary of a princess, and any show in 2021 where a drag queen praises Harry potter and there is not any subsequent joke about JK Rowling’s transphobia immediately sounds like a relic. The show’s politics hold up for the most part and portray some solid gags about the corporatization of Pride. Yet what might have seemed daringly progressive in Obama’s day now seems a bit obvious.
An animation show produced over two years will be limited in terms of topicality; although, in a way, the show is up to date enough to describe “the nipple cut of Cats,“which only became public in July. However, it is interesting to note how many Q-ForceAttempts at humor rely on the rejection of references and buzzwords. Creator Gabe Liedman wrote some hilarious episodes of shows like PEN15 and Big city, and producer Michael Schur has made hits of Office To Brooklyn nine-nine, so it’s fair to ask, how does Q-Force end up so comically flat?
Part of the problem is that Q-Force is the first animated show that many screenwriters and producers have worked on together. Schur’s past sitcoms relied heavily on actor interaction to sell the jokes. With Q-Force, the actors cannot interact. While most animated shows record the actors separately, the performances in Q-Force feel more distant from each other compared to other cartoon voices. This walled-in feeling contributes to the whole show never being completely cohesive. It’s easy to imagine people becoming fans of specific characters without really liking the show itself.
The individual characters are a mixed bag. Agent Mary agrees in terms of the serious aspects of the plot, but isn’t particularly funny or distinctive. Everything that happens with the obnoxious straight guys Rick and Dirk is tiring. Wanda Sykes manages to carry a lot of comedic loads as Deb. While Deb’s lines aren’t much smarter than anyone else’s, Sykes’s performance makes everything she says funnier. Stat is by far the most interesting, funny, and nuanced character with a true mid-season love story. There should have been more of her.
Then there’s Twink, the character whose introduction in the trailer sparked the most controversy. In the context of the series, as a gay archetype among many gay characters, he’s not really offensive. He is, however, a superficial character. As a member of the team dedicated to a few stereotypical interests and no working knowledge of anything else, he is clearly destined to play a buffoon role similar to Jason in The right place. However, while The right place built on empathy and understanding for Jason, Twink is one-dimensional.
Q-Force is watchable but mediocre, with a few positive highlights. It’s much stronger in terms of history than its pre-emptive enemies would have imagined, and its sexual positivity is refreshing. But, in terms of comedy and relevance, it’s a show that feels like it half-works. If he gets a second season, there are enough seeds of interesting ideas for it to improve, but it is questionable if Q-Force will actually hold viewers long enough to continue.
Q-Force premieres on Netflix on September 2.
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