Animated Netflix show tries to be ‘Rick and Morty’ but ends up at sub-‘Family Guy’ levels
In the sixth episode of the quirky animated conspiracy theory themed office sitcom Inside Job on Netflix, flat earthers play a prominent role. If you’re not familiar with the flat earth conspiracy theory, it’s actually pretty straightforward. They argue that the North Pole is the center of the world as we know it, and that the United Nations flag is what the world actually looks like. Antarctica isn’t a continent, but rather a wall of ice on the outer rim of our circular world. Whatever lies beyond is unknown, hidden from us by nefarious forces.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
If you thought that sounded interesting, and something that the premise of Inside Job could easily incorporate into the show, I’ve got some bad news. It’s quite obvious that no one involved in Inside Job did any actual research into conspiracy theories at all. Inside Job presents flat earths as simply dumb and crazy, driven by a completely arbitrary desire to instead just find the edge of the world and prove they’re right. Which is especially silly because everyone knows the Earth has to be round because of all the monsters and mole people. That’s not a joke.
Well, I mean, I guess Inside Job kind of presents it as a joke, but then that’s the problem. Inside Job is a show that’s extremely smug whenever it comes to any character that it can easily caricature into being a strawman, despite its own internal continuity being just as ridiculous, yet often far lazier and not particularly consistent. In a rare moment of genuine self-awareness, frat boy yes-man manager Brett expresses tepid confusion about the existence of a moon colony, since the moon landing was faked. Apparently, we had to fake the moon landing to cover up the the fact that our lunar astronauts were sex-crazy separatists.
The show unfortunately and almost immediately undoes this potentially solid premise with a Ken Burns documentary gag featuring John F. Kennedy making a crude sex joke and with someone forcing Ken Burns to make the documentary himself at gunpoint. This isn’t even the first John F. Kennedy sex joke in the show. Inside Job had filled an entire previous episode with variations on the exact same tired, referential humor in the context of John F. Kennedy clones running amuck. There’s no actual humor in any of these references, all of which are just incredibly crude caricatures.
Yet despite having devoted the better part of an episode to poor celebrity voice imitations, Inside Job then has the nerve to make a whole episode about how terrible the 80s were. It makes much of the bad fashion, the racist tropes, and the vapid consumer culture. The climax hinges on the idea that fetishizing the 80s is bad, yet the show itself barely understands what the 80s even were. The show-with-a-show of “The Growing Years” is an obvious play on Growing Pains and The Wonder Years, yet bears little similarity to either sitcom, instead appearing to be a Leave It To Beaver pastiche. Which isn’t even accurate when it comes to describing 50s pop culture, let alone the 80s, a fact that will frustrate anyone with any slight actual knowledge on the subject.
And that’s the single most cryptic part of Inside Job’s soulless referencing that seems to have affected nearly all present-day alleged adult animated sitcoms. They’re not even based on accurate references, just arcane memories. Take another episode which parodies James Bond. Not any modern version, mind you, but the Roger Moore version which was considered the low point even last century. Inside Job tries to critique the character from a feminist perspective, yet almost impressively manages to apply feminist critiques that don’t actually apply to the character.
The Bond parody is a stalker, when the actual Bond is notorious for treating women as disposable. It also describes him as embodying toxic masculinity, a rather glaring case of not understanding what the term toxic masculinity actually means. It refers to hegemonic male power structures. Bond’s gimmick is acting outside of power structures and defying them as necessary. And the parody Bond, unlike the real one, doesn’t even appear to actually report to anyone.
Incredible as this may sound, even these lazy critiques are among the better individual storylines of Inside Job, since they at least try to make arguments. So much of the rest of the show is just references for the sake of references. Sasquatch, Mothman, Sheeple, lizard people, an Aztec calendar that is, as usual, misidentified as a Mayan calendar, and the robed shadow council which apparently controls Cognito, the corporation where our characters work, and via that, the world. With exceptions like the dimwitted President, apparently. But there’s no meaningful lore. The show just expects us, as viewers, to know what these references are and approve accordingly in our superior knowledge.
Which finally gets me to the characters, and for that matter, the actual situation of this situation comedy. Inside Job isn’t really about conspiracies at all, it’s just office politics in wacky situations. And I should note, in a rare moment of praise for this show, that the lead characters themselves aren’t all bad.
Our lead, Reagan, is a genius eccentric thirty-year old scientist with stunted social skills. Lizzy Caplan voices the role with genuine frustration, ambivalence, and even nervous self-awareness. She plays excellently off of Christian Slater, who plays her emotionally abusive yet mostly misanthropic father Rand, the former holder of Reagan’s job who groomed her as a potential successor. Lizzy Caplan also works well with Clark Duke, voicing Brett, who is conventionally attractive, dimwitted, yet genuinely sincere and desperate for people to like him. All three personalities contrast well with each other, and their interactions are the show’s highlights.
The rest of the cast is much worse, with supporting roles that all basically boil down to people who are obnoxious jerks in slightly different ways. John DiMaggio’s Glenn Dolphman is a psychotic general turned half-dolphin via scientific experiment. Tisha Campbell’s Gigi Thompson is arrogant and talked in a lot of social media references I couldn’t be bothered to follow.
The script really has it in for Joe Rogan, for reasons it couldn’t be bothered to actually explain for those who don’t know what opinion they’re supposed to have about him. Magic Myc is some sort of psychogenic fungus who’s just rude to everyone all the time. Bobby Lee’s Dr. Andre does science and also lots of drugs. He’s also Asian, and about as racist a stereotype as what Inside Job tries to strawman in the eighties episode.
I actually might not have noticed except that Reagan’s character is also (half)-Asian, with a similar overall character and role at Cognito, but played with attempted dignity and pathos so that there’s actual stakes and tension in regards to her success and failure without constant clumsy, pointless references being made to her ethnic background. The supporting cast ends up wrecking Reagan’s own character arc by association, as the final two episodes hinge on Reagan and her co-workers liking and respecting one another–something which simply hasn’t changed from the first episode to the last, with Brett being the notable exception because he actually tries to be a good person.
This, of course, is also at odds with the alleged premise of Inside Job. It clearly implies that Cognito is evil, and that Reagan’s professional goals aren’t admirable. The show refuses to treat Reagan’s choosing to tie her self-esteem to her job in spite of this obvious fact as ironic, or the likely actual source of her neurosis. The show that considers itself the height of wit for being able to throw out a Raytheon reference out of nowhere is incapable of grasping the darker subtext of why people consider Raytheon shorthand for sinister and evil in the first place, and openly mocks people who think the deep state exists in an internal continuity when the deep state does, in fact, indisputably exist.
Inside Job is only the latest in a long line of adult animation that sees itself as Rick and Morty in execution despite being more Family Guy in practice. It’s a trend that’s bothersome mainly because of the sheer smug attached to it, a weird determination to mimic the banter of The Office rather than It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, despite explicitly coding the characters as naïve at best and outright malicious at worst. Those two sentences probably meant nothing to you unless you’re actually familiar with those four shows, as well as the associated discourse around them.
If it even made sense to you, it’s possible you might at least understand Inside Job. But if it just sounded like gibberish be forewarned–nearly every joke in Inside Job requires familiarity with conspiracy culture and pop culture that I thought was excessive even as a person whose professional occupation expects that level of familiarity. And even knowing the references, I still didn’t think the jokes were funny!