There are a bunch of great, idiosyncratic voices on IFC’s new animated sitcom “Out There.” It should be an aural spectacular. The cast includes Megan Mullally, who was a filthy-rich Betty Boop on “Will & Grace” and continues to squeak and squawk on “Childrens Hospital” and “Parks and Recreation”; Fred Armisen from “Saturday Night Live” and IFC’s “Portlandia,” who can mimic anyone from a Eurotrash art dealer to Prince; and Pamela Adlon, the woman Louis C.K. fell for on “Louie,” whose raspy helium stylings have been heard in many animated series, including “King of the Hill.” Also on board: Kate Micucci, the ukulele-playing Shelley on “Raising Hope,” and her sweet little-girl mew.
But “Out There” is actually a quiet comedy, with more soft moments and understated vocal performances than you might expect given the cast. The show is written and directed by Ryan Quincy, animation director and producer of “South Park,” and he appears to be ready to swing away from the more high-pitched, maniacal sounds of that cultural satire. “Out There,” which premieres Friday night at 10:30 after “Portlandia,” plays like a reaction to a lot of TV’s rebel animation series such as “South Park” and “Family Guy,” as it takes a gentle look at nerdy high school boys coming of age. Rather than abrasive and hyper, the tone of “Out There” is bittersweet.
Quincy voices the central character, Chad Stevens, who delivers a hangdog voice-over about how bored he is. Life as a 15-year-old in the nowhere small town of Holford is “mind-numbingly ho-hum,” he tells his father. He’s an innocent loner — “a soloist,” he calls himself — until he becomes best friends with a more extroverted kid named Chris (Justin Roiland). Chris is always plotting to scandalize the school and humiliate a bully named Troy, and Chad becomes his accomplice. Together, they make fools of themselves in front of their classmates, while Chad tries to impress his crush, Sharla (Linda Cardellini).
The show has elements of “The Inbetweeners,” “Superbad,” and Cardellini’s show “Freaks and Geeks,” the one-season high school classic that still reairs on IFC. Our underdog heroes undergo hallway humiliations at school, when they’re not dealing with their clueless parents. In one episode, Chris and Chad try to learn about sex, in another they go to a school dance — the “Give Peace a Dance Dance.” Meanwhile, Chad’s father is obsessed with catching Chad with drugs, which is because he was heavily into illegal substances as a kid. Chad, who oozes sheltered boyishness, is clearly drug-free.
By the way, Chad, his little brother, and their father have furry dog-like heads with rodent-chicken facial features. All the other characters on “Out There” are cartoon replicas of humans, but the Stevens men are sweetly otherworldly, with fuzzy fringe hanging down around their necks. If we forget about Chad’s outsider status for a moment, a quick look at his face is enough to remind us.
Is “Out There” any good? It’s just fine, although it never strays outside the conventions of poignant coming-of-age stories. Everything about the show is too familiar. The sincerity is refreshing in an animated context, but the characters and the stories are old hat. Except for Chad’s head, there’s too little that’s distinctive about the world Quincy has created. It’s not very out-there at all.