Show: Smiling Friends

Ethan Woelbern, Features Editor





Smiling Friends is really good. Like really, really good. It’s been a while since a show has made me really laugh, the kind of laugh that leaves you trying to catch your breath. But, halfway into the first episode I was already in desperate need of a respirator. 

Smiling Friends is Adult Swim’s latest foray into adult animated comedy. It follows the main characters Pim and Charlie as they go on adventures working for the Smiling Friends Corporation, a business that specializes in helping people with their daily troubles.

The show feels like a bunch of friends trying to make each other laugh. There are jokes constantly being thrown at you so if one doesn’t completely land, you are already off to the next. These rapid fire jokes help maintain a speedy flow through each story so there are constant opportunities to make the audience die laughing.

The show feels inspired by internet humor with its short succinct punchlines and out-of-left-field jokes. Other adult sitcoms like Family Guy have tried to capture the hilarity of this style but focus too much on making the jokes random, leading them to lack comical coherence. With Smiling Friends, we finally see the first true bridge between the worlds of the internet and television. It makes sense, after all: The two creators of the show, Zach Hadel and Michael Cusack, both got their start as YouTube animators.   

For the longest time, I’ve associated the modern adult animation genre that Smiling Friends falls under with the bottom of the barrel in comedy. Sure, early Simpsons, South Park and some of Rick and Morty were good, but apart from that, the scene has been pretty lackluster. 

Most of these shows usually fall into one of two categories. They either use the “cartoon characters doing crass things” formula for making jokes or just make everything that occurs random, hoping that something eventually sticks. Neither of the two methods is very effective and often only results in a complete mess of a story and paper-thin characters without real development.   

Smiling Friends contradicts these norms. It doesn’t bank on the random-equals-funny format but still remains hilariously absurd. It isn’t trying to make you laugh because cartoons are doing adult things, but instead focuses on creating actual jokes that have set-ups and payoffs. The main characters, Pim and Charlie, feel like fully fleshed out people with main traits, flaws, and quirks. All of these things are used to create the baselines of the jokes. More often than not, the jokes that make me laugh the hardest are those that occur during a normal conversation.

The animated format is essential for the comedy of Smiling Friends to be funny as it is. Most jokes are made using creative and interesting animation techniques that serve to heighten the joke further. Instead of just telling ordinary jokes in animated format most comedy is derived from creative uses of the animation medium such as changing animation styles to signify pain or attractiveness, or  using hyper-realistic animation for a cartoony creature and pencil sketches for humans. Every design choice feels like it was done to add to the comedy of everything. The dynamic between Pim and Charlie is already super funny, but making them into these weird looking purple and yellow creatures just helps to set up each interaction between the two of them to leave me wheezing on the floor. 

Admittedly, the plot of each episode is often pretty ridiculous, but at least they’re all coherent: a trip through hell to make Satan get off of his PC after being killed by a falling Christmas tree, trying to cheer up a shrimp who just got dumped, trying to help a canceled actor after he embarrasses himself on live television. The premises are zany and the episodes themselves, even zanier, but they do have a coherent and logical story that can be followed throughout. 

Overall, I think Smiling Friends has really done something special. It has brought back the quality of adult animation that we know and love while still providing something new to experience. The addition of short–form internet comedy into the show will help pave the road for future shows to even further hone this style. At the end of the day, this show makes me laugh, and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?