‘The Fungies’ Is Succeeding Where Much of Adult-Aimed Animation Fails

[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]

Where to Watch ‘The Fungies!’: HBO Max

It’s not easy to describe what exactly the Fungies are. The theme song for the animated HBO Max Original presents them as “prehistoric fungi,” though de facto main character Seth (voiced by Harry Teitelman) is basically shaded like a tomato and the inhabitants of bustling Fungietown live in giant mushroom buildings, so everything in this world follows a kind of internal children’s-show logic. Whatever adjectives you choose to use, that character design serves as the first and main draw of “The Fungies!” (I’ve seen the title with or without punctuation, but it’s nice to have non-“Jeopardy!” titles that have official exclamation points.)

Most of the creatures of “The Fungies!” function somewhere between Potato Head, putty, and whatever’s in a lava lamp. Normal day-to-day life involves detaching and rearranging limbs, getting smushed together as component parts of giant innovative apparatuses, and in the case of Seth’s siblings The Twins, existing as modular halves of a single whole. Out of context, it all sounds like curriculum for preschool body horror, but in practice, “The Fungies!” is a funny, breezy, and elastic ride.

With a TV-Y7 ranking, it’s all the better knowing that this a show accessible to all ages, particularly when it’s free of a lot of the unforced errors that have plagued the recent wave of adult animation. There’s an endearing weirdness to “The Fungies!” that’s not just built on gross provocation. It keeps the occasional rhythms of an elementary school student making up new rules with each new turn in the story, yet all done in tight 11-minute chunks.

Whether you have a little one in tow or just need a palate cleanser after a particularly rough day, these episodes are as packed with comedy heavy-hitters as they are sight gags. Sam Richardson, Edi Patterson, and Jennifer Coolidge are all in the main cast, bringing just enough of their on-screen work into a world where they can play around and blend in with this show’s playful, goofy vibe. “The Fungies!” has jokey sarcasm without being malicious, and can be laid back without becoming distant in a performative way.

Even the show’s music is a welcome formula tweak. Most episodes have an original song — some delivered in a kind of Oingo Boingo for Beginners style — that doesn’t drive home a lesson about sharing or cooperation or the power of science as much as it sings it from the background. And that theme song (which, fair warning, will take up shop deep in your subconscious and loiter there for weeks) makes the ideal backdrop for an intro that lays out all the ways that “The Fungies!” will toy with more than just your concept of gravity.

The first two episodes in the HBO Max collection of 60 (the show eventually aired episodes on Cartoon Network this past summer) are a solid preview of what’s to come, and the Episode 10 block of five microscopic shorts prove just how quickly “The Fungies!” can make good on its comedy chops.

One More Reason to Watch: Do you want to see/hear NPR host Terry Gross voice a kindly small dinosaur who helps the Fungies and is also just on hand for reactions to strange new things happening in the town? Of course you do. She’s great.

Pair It With: This year, Sara Watkins put out “Under the Pepper Tree,” an album of covers peppered with everything from the Willy Wonka classic “Pure Imagination” to the Beatles’ “Good Night.” It’s more than just a parade of sleepy lullabies or singalongs, which gives it the same feeling of a bridge between childhood and whatever comes next.

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