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A Midseason Review of Tartakovsky’s ‘Primal’

Brogan Gerhart Follow Jul 29, 2020 · 3 mins read
A Midseason Review of Tartakovsky’s ‘Primal’

photo from HBO Max, graphic by Alexander Tuerk

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If you thought cartoons were just for kids, think again. Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Primal” is a savage, epic ride through what could have happened if Samurai Jack was sent into the past to fight monsters that bleed instead of robots and demons that simply spark and sputter.

First premiering on Adult Swim in October 2019, “Primal” pushes Adult Swim to the deep end, with terrifying creatures, heart-wrenching plot developments and lots and lots of gore.

Tartakovsky, who is known for creating the animated television series “Samurai Jack,” “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Star Wars: Clone Wars” and “The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy,” is a prolific creator of animated television and an exquisite storyteller.

“Primal,” the most recent of Tartakovsky’s creations, shared many aspects of the series “Samurai Jack,” in which Jack, a samurai warrior, is sent into the future to fight the demon Aku.

In “Primal,” Spear, a caveman struggling to survive in a prehistoric world, is not actually the infinite-great grandfather of the Jack Tartakovsky fans know and love. However, “Primal” succeeds in capturing the same cool, silent cinematic shots as the 2001 classic with beautifully-animated backdrops.

This time, there is no dialogue at all (save for a few awesome roars, if you count that sort of thing) and the animated landscape is impressively colorful and vibrant, aesthetics that work with the moving characters to create a sense of depth and perspective.

The show’s stunning visuals compensate for the lack of dialogue. From lush, pastel jungles to barren deserts lit by a blood-red moon, the world Tartakovsky has created feels real, dangerous and teeming with an awesome variety of scaly, scary and deadly beasts.

I anticipated bare-bones visual storytelling, but the characters’ emotions were conveyed with depth and care. Using detailed facial expressions, body language and flashbacks, Spear comes across as relatable and vulnerable in an environment that lacks both sympathy and humanity.

Throughout the five-episode first half of season one, Spear fights alongside an unlikely companion: a female tyrannosaurus rex named Fang, whose giant size and view from the top tier of the food chain make her and Spear’s friendship difficult, but, through shared trauma, emotionally fulfilling and exciting.

As Spear and Fang learned to coexist, I was briefly reminded of another dynamic duo, Hiccup and Toothless in DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon.” Then, as Spear jumped off of Fang’s back, thrusting a stick through a dinosaur, its blood spraying out of its punctured side, I smiled to myself realizing “Primal” is very different.

Whether creating quality shows for children or adults, Tartakovsky’s fight scenes are consistently stunning, and “Primal” is no exception. However, the series is not for the faint of heart — the ample gore was occasionally too much for me.

The blood and gore are animated in an artistic style I can certainly appreciate — like a Jackson Pollock painting with exclusively red. However, wait until the kids go to bed for this one. The show will be more enjoyable without having to pause it when you want to save your family members from future nightmares.

Adult Swim announced on Twitter that the next five episodes will premiere in fall 2020 — and I will definitely be tuning in to this masterful work of animation. (4/5)

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Written by Brogan Gerhart
Public Editor, Staff Writer