The idea of a videogame whiz presented the real-life opportunity to ply those talents saving the world, a la “War Games” or “Tron,” is so inherently commercial that every modern generation must have several of them. Even so, Cartoon Network’s “Level Up” is a clever addition to the genre, one where a mismatched trio of teens must corral trolls, ghouls and the world-conquering megalomaniac they have allowed to pass from the computer world into this one. Although the action is too broad and silly to create any real jeopardy, the tone bodes well for lighthearted fun.
Oddly, “Level Up” also bears a resemblance to ABC’s sitcom “Man Up,” though the three role-playing gamers here turn out to be much more tolerable than their grown-up counterparts.
Wyatt (Gaelan Connell), Dante (Connor del Rio) and Lyle (Jessie T. Usher) travel in different circles at school, but at night they unknowingly team up to battle evil as “Black Death,” “Sir Bickle” and “Wizza.” In the 90-minute movie used to launch the half-hour series, their surprise over this shared connection quickly gave way to battling back the minions of Maldark intruding on their reality and, yes, threatening the Earth.
At first understandably freaked out by what they assumed was “some sort of viral marketing campaign,” before long, they started fighting off all manner of threats — visualized either through computer imagery or makeup.
Written by Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman, the series premiere proves more sitcom-y than the movie, with a grunting Barbarian game character (Bob Mark Gibbon) temporarily escaping into our world, creating all sorts of “What do we do with him?” complications.
Fortunately, “Level Up” is presented with a knowing sense of pop culture pitched beyond just prepubescent kids. The group also picks up a female member (Aimee Carrero), whose presence adds zest if only because she makes the boys (especially Wyatt) so uncomfortable.
Cartoon Network has enjoyed mixed success with its live-action adventures, which reflect a calculated attempt to broaden its appeal demographically and to advertisers. By that measure, “Level Up” feels like its most logical extension to date — one that meshes high-school-sitcom situations with a cartoon look and sci-fi sensibility.
For a network whose aspirations are complicated by the inconvenient presence of “Cartoon” in its name, the mixture of those elements adds up to a show that, happily, mostly finds the right level.