Birdgirl, Season 1, Episode 5, “Topple the Popple”

Let’s cut to the chase here: rather than do an extended intro explaining what Birdgirl is and providing an appropriate analysis of it in that regard, I’ll save that for another review in the event that I should go back and cover the earlier episodes. The short version is that it’s a spin-off of Adult Swim’s cult classic Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, a show that ended way, way back in 2007, meaning that Birdgirl is left with the task of pleasing old fans while still welcoming new ones who might not have even been born when the first series aired.

Has it been successful in that regard? That depends on who you ask. Some say it’s trying too hard to be a clone of Harvey Birdman to the point where many of its new characters are essentially “copies” of those that came before. Others say it’s a charming update. For me, I come to it from the unique perspective of being only a little familiar with its predecessor, meaning I’m coming to it mainly as a fan of superheroes, Adult Swim comedy, and Paget Brewster.

That being said, I’m finding the quality varies by episode. Last week’s escapade involving the company building trying to kill everyone was probably the best the series has had to offer so far, whereas this adventure–“Topple the Popple”–is a bit all over the place. And a lot weirder.

As I said earlier, I’ll save a full introduction for this series for another write-up–meaning that’s when I’ll do proper character introductions. For now, I’ll try to keep this as simple as I am able to so as not to completely lose non-watchers (and, in fairness, it’s confusing enough for those of us who do watch).

Following Sebben & Sebben finally getting out of the stone age and having the internet installed in their building, Judy finds herself under pressure to make her first major public decision as CEO of the company she has recently inherited from her father. In a moment of hastiness on her part, she makes the seemingly harmless choice to change the ridiculously-sized can for a soft drink called “Topple Popple”, one which markets itself as a soda intended for “big hands” (make your own Trump jokes for this one, folks). I’d be tempted to say it was all a non-matter, but hey, if they started selling Pringles in a bag, I might be pretty upset too.

Which is to say that things backfire quickly. Even Dog with Bucket Hat (who is, well, a dog with a bucket hat) is outraged, accusing Judy of meddling with something that made her father’s business empire iconic. Her board meeting on the matter is a disaster (with many members angrily smashing themselves into windows), and soon the media is accusing Judy of not being fit for her new position.

Judy initially doesn’t take the matter too seriously, viewing the whole “scandal” as a reason for yet another stress headache. Charlie, however, is immediately concerned that Judy’s supposed “enemies” will use this as a reason to crush her, while Meredith the Mind Taker (not exactly a subtle nod to a character on Harvey Birdman) attempts to be as helpful as she can be (by her standards) but instead becomes addicted to caffeine as she’s never actually tried the famous soda before now. Least useful of all is Gillian, who continues to be “the millennial” of the group and as such only speaks in social media lingo.

The “problem” with all of this from a narrative standpoint–or at least from a character one–is there doesn’t seem to be any real motive for Judy’s determination to make the change outside of her own annoyance with it. But as a new CEO, she does have to look at what such a move would do to potential sales, so it actually is from a financial perspective an irresponsible decision to make so rashly. Yes, yes, it’s all a very silly thing to get “outraged” over, and yes, the public overreacts to something that at the end of the day won’t have a huge impact on their daily lives. But, for better or for worse, corporate American culture works that way. We like our McDonald’s fries served in red cartons and our Big Macs given to us in cardboard boxes, regardless of whether or not we should. It may be a capitalist form of comfort, but it’s a form of comfort all the same.

In any case, Judy eventually starts getting threats from someone who claims to have hacked information on her, but it turns out to be a lot of non-damning stuff such as extended security footage of her playing with her cat (Charlie is not relieved, saying a sex tape would’ve been preferable, as the video makes Judy not seem nearly threatening enough to her oppressors, which is another sign that she takes the world of business as an actual war). The “big reveal” is that Judy’s stalker isn’t some sexist MRA out to get a female CEO as her friends fully expect, but a woman who loved the overly large can due to the unusual size of her palms.

I haven’t mentioned the talking foreskin yet, have I?

In the B-story, Paul–still traumatized from his near-death experience from the building that tried to kill everyone–is reunited with, yes, his foreskin, who, yes, talks, and speaks with a laid-back British accent as though he were a Yellow Submarine character. Paul’s foreskin takes him to a utopia where other foreskins live, and then the foreskins try to sacrifice Paul and film his death on Instagram, and yes, this is the sort of thing that can only happen in an Adult Swim show.

It’s all…weird. There are some laughs that come by default from the obscurity of the whole thing, but the best joke is saved for the end when Paul’s foreskin takes possession of his penis and forces him to have sex with an old flame of the foreskin’s, and if that all sounds messed up, it kind of is, but the satisfied smile on the foreskin’s face as he lays down on the pillow when it’s all over kind of makes it worth it. And yes, this all does in fact happen.

“Topple the Popple” represents another example of Birdgirl trying to find its feet, and while I think this is a series that works much better when it has a straightforward and more coherent storyline (even if those storylines do involve killer skyscrapers or toilets, or whatever else is “normal” on Adult Swim), it’s enjoyable enough, largely thanks to the likability Brewster brings to the character of Judy. Next week is somehow already the season finale, so it will be interesting to see what kind of voice the show gives itself after its first six episodes.

* Other stuff…

* Unlike Paul, Charlie doesn’t seem too torn apart by her experiences of being haunted by a demonic force last week–even though it revealed that she’s committed many, many crimes against humanity to get where she is.

* Speaking of Charlie, her threatening emails to employees–each with her own voice announcing that they had received mail–were definitely a comedic highlight of this one, along with Meredith’s excessive soda drinking.

* And speaking of Meredith, I really like her. She seems to be getting a lot of flack from some for being too similar to a Harvey Birdman character, but she’s appealingly cynical and even kind of sweet in her own way (and yes, that includes memory-wiping a hapless co-worker so she can have sex with him 1,500 times without him boasting about it to others. Last week’s episode was really great, guys).

* Another good gag: Charlie and Meredith spending way too much time overanalyzing which photo Judy should use on her online profile, as though each one will make some grand differing statement about her on a feminist level when all of her options are her simply sitting behind a desk.

* A talking foreskin. What else am I supposed to say about that? It’s a foreskin that talks! Fucking Rick and Morty hasn’t even done that (yet)!