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Animation Domination High-Def: Axe Cop, High School USA!

Fox bats .500 with its first two animated ideas, getting primetime preview before latenight slot

With:
Voices: Todd Barry, Charley Damski, Giancarlo Esposito, Rob Huebel, Vincent Kartheiser, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally (“Axe Cop”); Ike Barinholtz, Nathan Barnatt, Rachel Butera, Kartheiser, T.J. Miller, Mandy Moore, Mark Rivers, Dino Stamatopoulos (“High School USA!”)

Taking a page from the Adult Swim playbook (including its producing auspices), Fox is rather shrewdly using its Saturday latenight slot to experiment with a number of animated concepts, under the porous-sounding umbrella “Animation Domination High-Def.” The first two, receiving a Sunday preview, highlight the hit-miss nature of modern animation aimed at young dudes, with “High School USA!” pretty badly misfiring and “Axe Cop” emerging as a wacked-out, irreverent hoot, full of colorful absurdities. Neither feels like a mass-appeal hit, necessarily, but “Axe Cop” at least deserves to carve out a cult following.

Why a sunglasses-wearing, dinosaur-riding, birthday-cake-eating, zombie-killing cop (voiced, in an inspired bit of casting, by an uncredited Nick Offerman from “Parks and Recreation”)? The obvious response would be, “Hey, why the hell not?”

Adapted from a Web comic created by a young boy, the series essentially eliminates any niggling details — like plot or story — to indulge in nonstop, highly stylized action, with no apparent limits on time or space. As such, Axe Cop doesn’t abide by any known laws of nature, and thinks nothing of flitting to another planet to thwart evil, with his trusty sidekick, Flute Cop (Ken Marino).

The martini-dry writing is full of knowing genre winks, such as when marauding zombies turn tail and run, leaving a puzzled Axe Cop to deadpan, “Zombies always fight me till I chop off their heads.”

If “Axe Cop” is disarmingly (or perhaps more accurately, beheadingly) funny, “High School USA!” flunks its admission test — an exercise in tiresome naughtiness for its own sake. Designed to resemble Archie comics, the show focuses on a group of high school kids led by Marsh (“Mad Men’s” Vincent Kartheiser), his gal pal Cassandra (Mandy Moore), dimwitted bully Brad (T.J. Miller) and the egg-headed (not to be confused with Jugheaded) Blackstein (Nathan Barnatt).

The girls make out, there’s an “It gets better after high school” dance, and the politically correct school labels Brad a bully, which of course makes him want to punch people and things. All told, the gags are as indistinguishable from a dozen other cable or Web shows as the generic look is.

Presenting two cartoons within a half-hour (running about 10½ minutes each, sans commercials), “ADHD” is really aimed at the ADD crowd; still, capitalizing on the old “Mad TV” berth is a logical way for Fox to try to inexpensively seed new animated concepts — as opposed to just asking Seth MacFarlane to keep churning out titles — and it’s tailor-made for cross-pollination with the Web.

Besides, in TV terms, batting .500 out of the gate actually isn’t so bad. Especially if you’re wielding an axe.

Popular on Variety

Animation Domination High-Def: Axe Cop, High School USA!

(Series; Fox, Sun. July 21, 9:30 p.m.)

Production: Produced by Friends Night.

Crew: Executive producers, Nick Weidenfeld, Hend Baghdady, Dave Jeser, Matt Silverstein, Dino Stamatopoulos (“High School USA!”); supervising producer, Matthew Chadwick; producer, Ethan Nicolle; creative director, Ben Jones; writers, Jeser, Silverstein (“Axe Cop”), Stamatopoulos (“High School USA!”); editors, Al LeVine, James Atkinson. 30 MIN.

Cast: Voices: Todd Barry, Charley Damski, Giancarlo Esposito, Rob Huebel, Vincent Kartheiser, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally (“Axe Cop”); Ike Barinholtz, Nathan Barnatt, Rachel Butera, Kartheiser, T.J. Miller, Mandy Moore, Mark Rivers, Dino Stamatopoulos (“High School USA!”)

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