Smiling Friends Review: from the internet to TV


   The internet is a weird place for weird people. Back in the early 2000’s, before things like YouTube and basically any social media came around, we had a site called Newgrounds. By default, lots of people congregate towards obscure media and even produce that obscure media, and Newgrounds was just the place for that. Independent animators, artists, music producers and so much more were able to share their creations with other people on the site, no matter how putrid the content was. Many people that started off on Newgrounds as little kids actually have full-on careers now, and if they don’t have careers, they have a following… that’s gotta count for something. 

   On the site resided two, decently talented, animators; Zach Hadel and Micheal Cusack. Both of them made their own content with their own charm and style. They were both good at differentiating between any other art style and sense of humor. Case in point; you’d be able to immediately tell if you were watching a cartoon by either Zach or Micheal within a few seconds. Now, fast forward to the present, and the two have come together to create an extremely successful project for Adult Swim called Smiling Friends, a show about extraterrestrial characters working a job that has them going around town helping people smile.

   The show’s pilot initially aired on April Fool’s Day of 2020. The creators, while not thinking too much about it publicly, received copious amounts of praise and hope for the show. It was eventually greenlit for a whole season on May 19th, 2021. Later on in 2021, Adult Swim made a post on their socials saying that two new Smiling Friends episodes would be aired on January 10th, 2022. They were right about two episodes being aired, but what they DIDN’T say was that they were going to sneakily air the ENTIRE season under other show’s names. I was watching it on cable and noticed that new episodes just kept coming and coming… I thought I was committing a crime or something. 

   So, does it check out? Did it live up to the 21 months of hype it was conjuring as time went on? Yes. I’d even go as far to say that it exceeded expectations. This show was such a good refresher and had the charm of both Zach and Micheal that everyone loved. They didn’t try to make the show too serious or try to turn it into something it wasn’t… It was just a fun, goofy time. There were eight episodes in the season that was released, including the pilot episode, each one focusing on a different client that needed cheering up. The clients range from a painfully English celebrity frog to literally Satan himself. The show isn’t afraid to make over-the-top decisions, and I love it for that. Playing it safe with a project like this could have very much reduced its enjoyability. 

   EVERY joke in this show lands. It’s the first time in a really long while that I’ve fully thrown my neck back with laughter. Comedy is one of the key things people were taking away from the pilot, and are taking away from the episodes we now have. There were many cameos too, and the range is insane. One of the jokes in the show that came from episode three, “Shrimp’s Odyssey” actually ripped on a YouTuber named Chills, who is infamous for his trailed voice attached to the words, “Number 15… Burger King foot lettuce.” The crazy thing is that they got Chills himself to voice the character that ripped on him. That moment alone made me absolutely cackle, despite the joke being years old. Other fellow YouTubers and Newgrounds users are present in the show as small voice cameos as well, and they deliver their lines so perfectly, even with them being of zero significance to the plot of the episode. You may even notice that Gilbert Gottfried was in the last episode. Stick your ears out for his loud and very noticeable voice.

   The art style is super funky, in a good way. With this being an animated show, more things can be accomplished than if it was live-action. However, there are many more styles present besides traditional 2D animation; Claymation, stop motion, 3D modeling, and cell animation are here, to name a few. Plus, there are some segments where live-action actors are visible in the 2D world and it’s really goofy and enjoyable. So many talented animators, designers, and background artists came together to help Zach and Micheal make this project look as nice as possible, and they’re credited accordingly. Almost every single person that worked on the show has posted the processes or shots they worked on for the show on social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube. I’m always happy seeing the process of things like animation and art; it’s satisfying in some way. 

   All-in-all, Smiling Friends is an extremely good time and it is well worth a full watch-through, with all eight episodes only being eleven minutes long. I promise that literally anyone and everyone can enjoy this show as much as I have. I truly cannot wait to see if (and hopefully when) they do more of this, but the season we got was so perfect that I’m content with the knowledge that this may be the only season.