The WB, which has as its mascot an animated frog, seeks its first primetime animated hit with “The Oblongs,” a darkly comic view of a deformed but not dysfunctional family. Based on the Edward Gorey-like work of author-illustrator Angus Oblong, toon is produced by Jace Richdale (“The Simpsons”) and Bruce Helford (“The Drew Carey Show”), who invest the social satire with a sunny disposition. In fact, there’s something almost too good-natured about this show, which seems to want to be naughtier, edgier, more daring than it is. The WB will generate sampling as it airs the pilot three times its first night before settling for single showings Sundays at 8:30. The idea is for “Simpsons” watchers to flip channels to this similarly toned cartoon, but it will be extremely hard for this derivative effort to peel away the audience for the sharper, more original “Malcolm in the Middle.”
The family Oblong consists of armless, legless father Bob; bald, alcoholic mother Pickles; conjoined twin teenagers Biff and Chip; hyper, droopy-eyed Milo; and the youngster Beth, who has a phallic growth sprouting from her head. These mutations stem from the Oblongs’ residence in the Valley, which has long ago become flooded with chemical spills from the local plant where Bob works. The wealthier folk, represented by the easy-to-despise Klimer family, live up on the Hill, untouched by and uncaring about the pollutants down below.
Despite their oddities, the Oblongs are quite the all-American family. Bob, voiced by “Saturday Night Live’s” Will Ferrell, is ever the optimist, never allowing his limblessness to slow him down. Pickles (Jean Smart) was raised on the Hill but journeyed downward when she fell in love with Bob. Despite the fact that the move cost her her hair, she shows no regrets and expresses great love for her children. At least for the first three episodes, the real center here is Milo, an adolescent who never changes his T-shirt, which is marked with the simple expression “No.”
The producers clearly would like Milo to strike the same chord that Bart Simpson did years ago, or that the South Park clan managed more recently, and end up being plastered on coffee cups and lunch boxes around the world. But Milo’s not much of a rebel, and in his basic passivity he’s not especially entertaining. He looks and acts more like Tommy from “Rugrats” than Bart or Cartman. By episode three, his whole family is overshadowed by the far more compelling Helga, an obese, obsessively conformist girl voiced by Lea DeLaria.
Richdale’s writing can certainly be amusing, but the satirical targets are tired — the chemical plant boss who threatens to revoke the family’s health insurance, a Bible-toting spinster who seeks to adopt and reform the gluttonous Helga — and the resolutions unimaginative. Everything here reeks of “Simpsons” mimicry, even the basic rhythm with which the jokes unfold. To stand out and break out, a show like this needs to offer a genuinely original voice. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what “The Oblongs” is lacking right now.