Film

Disney Goes Dada: With ‘Right Now Kapow,’ XD Learns to Love the Gag

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Right now, Disney XD is probably best known for its increasingly relevant Star Wars Rebels series, as well as for being the only cable channel with an emoticon in its name — at least until the inevitable debut of the Trump 🙁 Channel. Disney XD is also on probation with the likes of me for its decision to not renew Craig McCracken’s brilliant Wander Over Yonder for a third season, in spite of letting Phineas and Ferb run for four and a few crossover specials that took advantage of the fact that Disney also owns Star Wars and Marvel. Phineas is a show beloved by many people I respect but that I found unpalatable after the formula became clear: The title characters are a couple of fun-lovin’ boys who just want to enjoy their summer vacation, but their killjoy older sister is always trying to kill their joy because girls hate it when boys have fun!

Granted, the success of the show says more about the taste of the audience than it does of Disney XD, because Phineas got the numbers and Wander did not. And Disney XD has done a few things right, including staying out of Gravity Falls producer Alex Hirsch’s way until that show ended in February.

That Phineas and Ferb was Disney XD’s flagship series was made clear by the fact that the channel premiered in 2009 with a repeat of an episode originally broadcast on the regular Disney Channel in 2008, a burst of in-house corporate synergy that brings us to the trans-corporate synergy of Justin Becker and Marly Halpern-Graser’s animated sketch-comedy series Right Now Kapow.

Right Now Kapow is being touted as Disney XD’s first collaboration with Warner Bros. Animation — not Disney’s first collaboration, mind you, but Disney’s secondary basic cable channel’s first collaboration. And if Right Now Kapow doesn’t quite fill the void left by Wander and Falls, it’s still an interesting anomaly among Disney XD’s original animated programming, offering a degree of gag-driven randomness more common to Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

Kapow is a mix of blackout gags and recurring sketches featuring six performers: Dog (Michael Blaiklock), Candy (Alana Johnston), Ice Cream (Kyle Kinane), Diamond (Emily Maya Mills), Plant (Betsy Sodaro) and Moon (Baron Vaughn). They’re BoJack Horseman–style anthropomorphic characters with human bodies and heads matching their names — Moon is a slightly less nightmarish Mac Tonight — and play different parts in each bit, taking on different shapes as needed. The standout is Baron Vaughn, long one of the hardest-working men in comedy (and also the new Tom Servo on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot!), while Betsy Sodaro’s vocal performance suggests Steven Universe‘s Amethyst doing a Carol Channing impression, which is about as high as praise gets.

Right Now Kapow continues the common practice on Disney XD and elsewhere of combining two distinct 11-minute episodes into a single 22-minute broadcast. As with any free-form show, the segments are hit-and-miss. Sometimes the best are the quickest, like a 10-second bit in the second episode: Dog and Ice Cream are in prison, both bulked up and looking rough. Ice Cream draws a diagonal line across four horizontal tally marks on the wall, and Dog asks, “So you been in here for five days or somethin’?” To which Ice Cream replies, “Nah, man, nah — that’s my escape plan.” He then removes one of the five vertical bars from the door, leans it diagonally across the others and walks out. It’s deadly simple, but that’s also its strength. Ernie Kovacs might have done this sort of gag, though he would have let the visuals do all the work.

The recurring sketch in the first half of episode four about a detective who keeps bringing in eccentric outsiders (a Murder, She Wrote–style elderly mystery novelist; a Medium-esque psychic) rather than trained experts to solve a robbery is a lovely piece of comic escalation, while that same episode’s second-half sketch in which a family of super-ripped bodybuilders tries to come to terms with their daughter, Candy, marrying noodle-armed nebbish Moon becomes a single joke beaten to death. That may be appropriate on a metatextual level — a recurring gag in the sketch is the family accidentally breaking Moon’s bones — but it doesn’t make it any more engaging.

Right Now Kapow tends to feel overlong at 22 minutes. A gag-delivery system with no true story or sense of forward momentum, it features no world that you’d want to spend time in or characters you would want to connect with. It might have been a better fit with the other Warner Bros. Animation shows on Cartoon Network, where an episode can be just 11 minutes, in and out. Of course, unless it’s being force-shown to you as part of the Ludovico technique, there’s nothing preventing you from bailing at any given point — but it’s also just good enough to reward you if you keep you going, and every so often a truly hilarious sketch emerges.

Right Now Kapow is by no means essential Disney XD viewing like the late Gravity Falls and Wander Over Yonder or the current Star vs. the Forces of Evil — and if you’re looking for a series that shows Phineas and Ferb how to do brothers-against-the-world stories right, it’s called The Amazing World of Gumball and airs on Cartoon Network — but it’s a pleasant comic diversion if you stumble upon it. And these days, being pleasantly diverted can be more than enough.