It’s fascinating how web series relate to the TV form they emulate, and Unleashed is no exception. The internet cartoon about animals (mainly dogs) who are trying to make it as actors in the film biz feels like a 90s sitcom. Not Friends or Seinfeld, but more like Mad About You, or maybe the later King of Queens. The point is it’s not groundbreaking, but not uninteresting either; it’s by turns very funny and then not funny at all.
Unleashed has been on since July of 2006, and is now in its sixth season. The show began with 18 eps a season, then in Season 3 switched to 9 slightly longer eps, so (if my calculations are correct) that’s approximately 72 episodes so far. That’s a lot of show. I spoke to series creator Ben Zelevansky, who told me that they’ve had a steady, if slow, progression of viewership, which “has plateaued at times, but never decreased.” So what does all this mean? There’s a formula that’s working – just like those old sitcoms.
Despite its ups and downs, the show maintains a simple but consistent production value. Voices are spot-on, animation is right for the show, and length is fine. The characters, on the other hand, range from engaging to barely tolerable. The telephone banter between Dog and his agent Stan is the best of the show – I could watch that for hours. Other favorites are Season four’s Mutt, Stan’s cousin from the old neighborhood who sounds suspiciously similar to John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and season six’s Fran, Stan’s sister, who covers for him while he’s in the hospital. But there’s a smattering of other not so funny characters – Polly (Dog’s female friend), Rex the celebrity dog, the acting professor.
All told, the laughs are hit and miss. I would wager there’s about a fifty-fifty shot you’ll get something funny. But the characters are likeable, and that counts for something. I guess like those sitcoms of old what you get here is a little comfort food, you know what you’re getting and you like the taste, but it ain’t fine dining. But also like those sitcoms of old, they’ve hit upon some kind of formula that as Zelevansky says, will last “until someone makes us stop.” Because…well, it works.