It’s a big deal in the animation world when “Rick and Morty” co-creator Justin Roiland is attached to a new project.
Roiland, who also co-created “Solar Opposites,” is executive producer of the Hulu’s “Koala Man,” a new eight-episode animated series created by Adult Swim veteran Michael Cusack (“Smiling Friends,” “YOLO: Crystal Fantasy”) that’s well-written with occasional profanity and timely pop-culture references, both delivered with genial snark. It’s a hit-or-miss affair wrapped in a “Family Guy”-type animation style with enough absurdism and meta references that should appeal to the casual fan.
Cusack, 34, an Australian native, sets “Koala Man” is set in his hometown of Dapto, a suburb of Wollongong (OK, I looked it up) that’s described in the series opener as “the most boring, backwards, piece of s–t place in the entire world.” Dapto is home to series protagonist Kevin Williams (voiced by Cusack), balding, middle-aged family man who’s married to Vicky (played by “Succession” star Sarah Snook), who works in the high school cafeteria. They’ve got two kids at North Dapto High School — teenaged daughter Alison (Demi Lardner), whose aim is to be the most popular girl at school, at whatever cost — and her slightly younger brother, Liam (Cusack), nerdy and good-natured.
The family harbors a big secret: Kevin is also Koala Man, a wannabe bumbling superhero with no superpowers and a habit of only making things worse with his civic-minded obsessions (like making sure his Dapto neighbors put their trash bins out on the correct day). Kevin describes Koala Man as “a manifestation of my fractured psyche”; to others, he’s a barely tolerated “local vigilante nuisance” who’s routinely cursed out, laughed at, or both. He’s harmless enough, though Vicky’s tolerance for Kevin’s masked shenanigans is running short. Can’t he just drop the superhero routine already and pay more attention to his household chores?
That’s the basic setup for “Koala Man,” as Kevin encounters various forms of menace, including a killer flower, “Tall Poppy” that was dumped in a Dopto landfill in 1821 and is now eating everything in sight (including humans) — “I know I’m addicted. Please don’t judge me!” Tall Poppy cries out in a soul-baring admission — and the Tradeys, a group of local skilled laborers who actually do have superpowers but are no match, of course, for Koala Man (and Vicky, Alison and Liam). All the while, Kevin works at his boring IT job in the town hall under his loud, arrogant boss, council president Big Greg (Hugh Jackman), a legendary fisherman with an outsized ego … and a killer theme song for his flashy, self-promoting Website, (“Fishing Big with Big Greg”). Jemaine Clement (“Flight of the Conchords,” “What We Do in the Shadows”) voices pun-loving high school principal Bazwell.
It’s all in good fun and the Williams family obviously love each other, but “Koala Man” staves off sentimentality with a slew of barbs and zingers, many aimed at Australian stars who’ve abandoned their homegrown ship for glitzy Hollywood — including Alexandra Daddario, currently starring in “Mayfair Witches” on AMC, who also provides her voice for the series.
It may not be as sharp-elbowed as “Family Guy” and veers into unnecessary sophomoric territory — just because it can, I guess — but “Koala Man” has a good heart that beats a lot of what’s out there in the land of adult animation.