Since the rollercoaster ride of NBC-turned-Yahoo sitcom “Community,” showrunner Dan Harmon has mostly steered clear of network TV’s constraints. Harmon’s niche sensibilities, marked by cynicism and meta references, were always an uneasy fit for a mass audience. Even during its airtime, “Community” teetered on the brink of cancellation. In the rapid expansion of television during the 2010s, Harmon discovered a more fitting home in cable and streaming. Despite the departure of “Rick and Morty” co-creator and star Justin Roiland due to allegations of sexual assault, the hit show is now entering its seventh season on Adult Swim. Additionally, earlier this year, Harmon played a role in adapting the web comic “Strange Planet” into a series for Apple TV+.
However, with the animated half-hour series “Krapopolis,” Harmon is making a notable return to a broadcast network. Airing on Fox, “Krapopolis” is guaranteed a level of stability that “Community” never had; before its debut on September 24, the show had already secured a renewal for a third season. Due to ongoing strikes, “Krapopolis” has become, by default, one of the cornerstones of its network’s fall schedule, with new live-action series postponed indefinitely.
This is a significant responsibility for a clever, high-concept take on the family sitcom genre, set in a loosely interpreted ancient Greece. Physically feeble but intellectually arrogant, 29-year-old Tyrannis (Richard Ayoade) is a forward-thinking man who enlists his warrior sister Stupendous (Pam Brady) and scientist half-brother Hippocampus (Duncan Trussell) to help him build a modern city-state. However, Tyrannis must first convince the skeptical, including his own parents: the vain goddess Deliria (Hannah Waddingham) and Shlub (Matt Berry), a creature combining elements of various beasts.
Throughout the three episodes screened for critics, many of the jokes in “Krapopolis” fall into certain patterns. Characters speak with the hindsight of millennia in their future, humorously “inventing” modern concepts like forensic science and sports commentary. Meanwhile, Greek mythology staples such as Athena (Amber Stevens West), Hermes (Michael Urie), and the Trojan horse make cameo appearances. Familiarity with the myths ensures that no one is surprised when ancient deities indulge in vanity or petty conflicts. Harmon and the writing team relish recasting Hermes as a mischievous troublemaker or Poseidon (David Koechner) as an overprotective father disapproving of Tyrannis dating his daughter.
The most potent asset of “Krapopolis” is its voice cast, injecting freshness into these recurring themes. Fans of “What We Do in the Shadows” will delight in hearing Berry, once again playing a perpetually lustful immortal. Waddingham, as Deliria, departs from her tightly wound “Ted Lasso” persona to fully embrace the role of a delusional diva akin to Jenna Maroney. Her entrance includes the triumphant proclamation, “Prepare to disappoint the goddess Deliria!” Tyrannis’ quest to modernize Krapopolis appears more as a rebellion against his mother, who has a penchant for turning foes into snakes, than a principled endeavor.
Three episodes offer a limited basis for evaluating a series guaranteed numerous seasons. In today’s landscape of early and frequent cancellations, “Krapopolis” seems set for a long run. The show’s flexibility in terms of its setup, allowing for an array of supporting players akin to Springfield’s residents, and the talented core cast provide promise. Within Fox’s well-established animation lineup, Harmon already seems more at home than he ever did in NBC primetime.