Something is definitely amiss if you don’t recognize the name Genndy Tartakovsky in the year 2022. The multi-hyphenate filmmaker rose to prominence working on The Powerpuff Girls and Batman: The Animated Series, later creating Dexter’s Laboratory and Star Wars: Clone Wars before directing the first three Hotel Transylvania films, but he really hit his groove in creating Samurai Jack.
More recently, he has already won three Emmy Awards for his Primal series, which airs during the Adult Swim programming block of Cartoon Network. So far, Genndy has won five Emmy Awards, three Annie Awards and one Winsor McCay Award among others, and with the release of Primal‘s Season 2, I expect that total to increase next year.
It’s true, Season 1 became My Guilty Pleasure and I was immediately hooked. If you can accept the alternate-history premise of Primal, you will definitely enjoy the ride. This is a series depicting the life of a Neanderthal named Spear, who coexists with a Tyrannosaurus rex named Fang. Individually, they struggle to survive but their relationship evolves as greater threats appear. Those would include other prehistoric beasts, as well as some mythical creatures and even Iron Age Homo sapiens. It’s a crazy juxtaposition, one that involves very little dialogue, and it really works.
Spear is a strong and smart caveman (even for a Neanderthal), but he’s also a beast. He’s crudely portrayed at times, but the overall visuals of the show are stunning. In the second season, the character and his storyline get a little more complicated. Grief, sadness, depression, learning how to communicate/speak a language are themes that are explored. Our hero learns that he’s not alone in this world, as others like him (but more advanced) are out there, which absolutely leads to more savagery. There are new rivals for man and beast, but mostly the audience learns that both are incredibly lonely.
Once rivals, Fang and Spear have formed their own tribe. Their best fiend/pet relationship fluctuates at times and a large portion of this season is spent searching for Mira, an imprisoned Arabic-speaking human. But before finding and freeing her, the duo faces challenges by a Celtic tribe, Viking warriors and even a megalodon! And the show took a major turn during the final third of the season with the introduction of Surtr.
Dragged to a fiery underworld, a previously perished Chieftan is offered an opportunity to have his soul returned in exchange for the lives of Spear and Fang. The Viking warrior accepts this test by the unnamed god, returning to Earth as a shapeshifting back-from-the-dead demonic entity. The arrival of an undead world, as well as an all-powerful deity (there better be more!) was a highlight, as well as the fact that this show defies genre limitations, offering action, adventure, fantasy and horror elements within each and every episode!
Now, I wasn’t a fan of the jarringly different English murder mystery of “The Primal Theory,” which seemingly featured Charles Darwin proving there’s a primitive beast within all of us, if the situation evolves just right. I’m assuming Genndy created it to further Spear’s developing character, but it felt a little too on the nose. You shouldn’t have to explain who the main character is with a one-time story that flashed forward hundreds of years into the future, most likely never to return. I’d rather see one more Spear-Mira adventure.
Speaking of Mira, one final theme of the series is rebirth. The audience finally learns that Fang is female(!) when she lays a trio of eggs, which work their way into the primary storyline. But the grand finale shocked me the most. Sex is simulated, which really pushes the limits of what can be shown on a late-night animated series, even if it is intended for adults.
The result is a new direction for the series, if it is renewed as expected. If so, it will be reborn, heading into a new direction as the dawn of humanity grows. Primal proves there can be nice savages found within a prehistoric world. And I fully expect Genndy Tartakovsky to receive yet more recognition from his industry peers next year, when his latest season is lined up for even more awards.