Off the Air poster

Before I get into the meat of this Off the Beaten Path review, I want to ask you a question. What comes to your mind when you think about Adult Swim? Like, what makes Adult Swim so singular compared to other channels? On the one hand, when I think about Adult Swim I think about their content. Classic shows like The Venture Bros and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, new classics like Rick and Morty and Primal, and the wild short-form content like Too Many Cooks and Unedited Footage of a Bear. You know, the content that is inseparable from the channel.

The classic network logo

But that’s just surface level. I mean, every network has distinct programming, that’s just a straight-up fact. So let me ask you again. What makes Adult Swim so distinct, so singular? To me, it’s the ethos. It’s an ethos defined by cheap DIY content made by the viewers for the viewers, short-form counter-cultural surrealism perfect for insomniac stoners, and late-night animation for anyone but kids. I remember watching a documentary about Adult Swim once (I’m not sure where), and they said Adult Swim is the MTV of the 21st century. Honestly, I can’t argue against that – classic MTV was before my time, so I can’t speak from experience if Adult Swim carried the MTV torch.

But enough pre-amble. The topic of this review is season 1 of the cult Adult Swim show Off the Air, a show(?) that is the 2000’s-era Adult Swim incarnate.

*there are no trailers for Off the Air S1 or any consistent intros, so I’m skipping that this post

So is Off the Air good? Or at the very least, is season one good? In my opinion, it is? And yes, that question mark is intentional.

A Quick Note About Off the Air S1

Still from Off the Air episode Space
A lone astronaut

Also, before I go on, I want to make some comments about what I will be talking about. Namely, this won’t be like any review I’ve written before.

If you’ve read my previous reviews, you know I like to focus on the writing elements like character arcs, story beats, symbolism, the works. Sure, I make sure to mention the acting, along with the more technical aspects like cinematography, sound design, set design, editing, I could keep going.

But the thing is, Off the Air features none of those. It’s just show creator Dave Hughes making a visual mixtape of whatever weird shit he finds on the internet and stock footage archives. So yeah, this review is going to be hella different than anything I’ve written before.

How are the segments?

With that said, let’s leap into what Off the Air S1 does right and what it doesn’t do right. First and foremost, Hughes succeeds in his goal of making a visual mixtape that evokes the experimental spirit of old school Adult Swim. Oh good lord is he successful. This truly is the reincarnated spirit of old school Adult Swim given a physical form, to the point it could only be found on Adult Swim. If it weren’t for some of the recognizable viral videos and some often used trap music, I would have thought Off the Air premiered back in like 2001 or 2002. So, you know, a real home run there.

In terms of segments, with a show like this and Cake (a similar new show of FXX that I’ve been watching), not every segment is going to be a winner. Some segments were just straight fire, especially if they had some good musical backing. There were also segments in Off the Air S1 that I just wasn’t vibing with at all, either because I found them uninspiring or because they creeped me out more than they made me laugh. That said, I thought the segments were fine on the whole.

The creepiest thing in the season

What’s more pertinent is that I think Hughes has a very specific taste in what he wants. So specific that it can feel surprisingly one-note. This was especially notable to me in the first few episodes like Animals.

Don’t get me wrong. The segments were incredibly fun to watch as a whole, especially the more complex animation shorts. My big issue was that they started to feel samey to me. This struck me as odd since Hughes does manage to find a diverse set of videos and animation that fits the old school Adult Swim mold. It’s more the content of the segments tends to be surreal or fucked up in similar ways.

Look at Animals for an example. The two best segments were 2D animated music videos that both featured lots of bright and vivid colors and involves a lot of psychedelic imagery melding into different things in a constant loop of creation and destruction. Granted, this gets better later on, especially with Dance. That said it’s something that Off the Air never fully gets away from.

What about the runtime?

A typical transition from one segment to the next

If there’s anything that tempers the samey feeling of the segments, it’s the pacing. Hughes manages to pack in segment after segment after segment, all within a 10-minute span. In a way, this breakneck pace is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you start losing interest in a segment here and there (somehow), you’ll only be a few seconds away from the next segment. On the other hand, you don’t have time to catch your breath because when you do you’re already into the next segment.

Speaking of runtime, the short runtime and quick pacing mean it’s incredibly easy to watch a whole season or two in a sitting. Hell, the first season of Off the Air could fit into a slightly longer episode of Veronica Mars (another show I’m currently watching). But this is also a double edge sword.

Seeing as there aren’t any traditional breather segments (that aren’t at minimum psychedelic), narrative presentation, and/or recurring segments that act as anchors for the episodes, it’s surprisingly easy to forget just what you watched. If you were to put a gun to my head and told me to list the segments of Dance in order, I couldn’t do it. And I watched that yesterday.

One of the better Quarter Life Poetry segments on Cake

On a similar note, I think that Off the Air S1 has the perfect runtime. Namely, I don’t think you could successfully market this as anything other than a 15-minute episode with commercial breaks. Why you ask? Well again because without a narrative backbone like what Cake has with Oh Jerome, No and Shark Lords and/or without good recurring segments like Quarter Life Poetry, Drifters, or Two Pink Doors, it’s easy to get lost and exhausted.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some heavy psychedelia and surrealism, especially when high. I watched Yellow Submarine last 420 while blasted out on edibles. As memorable as it was, good lord can Yellow Submarine get tiring. I mean it can be too much at times. Off the Air S1 wisely avoids that by being as bite-sized as you can on a broadcast TV network. Even then, I can easily see people getting to that point where they need to shut it off, especially if you watch multiple episodes in a sitting.

The crux of Off the Air S1‘s watchability

A lowkey image from Yellow Submarine

This brings me to what I consider the crux of whether or not the first season of Off the Air is good or not. Namely, this is not a show for everyone.

Now I don’t mean this in a “Spicy City isn’t meant for everyone” sense. Off the Air S1 can actually be really good. It’s more in the sense that this is so niche that I can see many people being turned off by the show, which I can fully understand.

Not everyone is going to be into a kaleidoscopic cavalcade of crazy. Especially if there’s nothing to anchor the episodes like a recurring segment to act as a backbone, a breather segment, or a segment with a narrative. I can even see someone who either doesn’t like to get high or who can get overstimulated having an issue with Off the Air S1. Hell, I watched Animals while writing this sober, and it didn’t hit nearly as hard.

All that said, I do think Off the Air can get just as much love from a small, dedicated fanbase. While I can fully understand people not being into the show, I can see this being catnip to a certain kind of viewer.

Plus, keep in mind that this is only the first season I’m reviewing. The season may be rough at times, but Dance and Body show me Off the Air has some great potential. Plus, I gotta mention, I watched a later season episode last night called Liquid. And you know what? It blew Dance and Body out of the goddamn water. Like, I was surfing a Northern Lights head high, and that shit fucking floored me. Makes me excited to watch and review more of the next 10 seasons for you all.

In Conclusion

So yeah, that’s the brief flash that is Off the Air S1. In the end, I may have my complaints, but I still thought it was a wild ride worth trying out. Is it the best thing I’ve reviewed for you all on Off the Beaten Path? No. If anything I’d put it on the lower end of the quality spectrum of what I’ve reviewed so far. This is also easily the most niche show I’ve reviewed. So niche to the point that it pushes more people away than it pulls people in.

That said it’s easily the boldest and most out-there show I’ve reviewed, which I commend. I’d rather watch a failure that takes a big swing and misses than one that plays it too safe, like Crashing. Like, I dare you to tell me this show doesn’t have one hell of a unique ethos and soul. I fucking dare you. If there’s any doubt, the highlights of this season prove that Off the Air has some good potential, enough to keep me on the hook. Here’s hoping future seasons build on that potential.

Final Recommendation: Recommend with Caveats

My Episode Recommendations

  1. Animals: Recommend With Caveats
  2. Food: Recommend With Caveats
  3. Dance: Recommend
  4. Space: Recommend With Caveats
  5. Body: Recommend

If You’re Interested in Watching Off the Air S1

If this review has piqued your interest in Off the Air S1, or at the very least hasn’t fully turned you off of trying it out, you can watch it at Adult Swim and at YouTube.

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By Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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