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Strange Planet is a bit too strange

The charming Instagram comic does not translate well

A group of three blue aliens waiting in line. The one in the back looks incredibly excited, and the two in front of him are side-eying him. Image: ShadowMachine/Mercury Filmworks/Harmoniuos Claptrap/Apple TV Plus
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

I like candy corn, in that I often forget it exists till it’s directly in front of me and when I have a couple of pieces of it, I smile and enjoy my time with it. However, I know very well that if I ate more than a few bits of it, I would gag on the cloying artificial vanilla-y taste and feel it caulk up my throat and overload my senses.

This is also how I feel about Strange Planet, Nathan Pyle’s webcomic turned animated television show, which works way better in short, sweet bites than it does a whole series.

The webcomic launched in 2019 and quickly became popular. How could it not? It’s about a planet full of blue aliens who participate in many similar activities that human beings do, but they describe said activities in the most specific terminology possible. The general idea is for readers to chuckle as they see their everyday habits as viewed by an outsider to the human experience. Isn’t it funny that tea is basically a hot leaf liquid?

But, as it turns out, watching 25 minutes of these aliens going through the motions of everyday life and explaining what they’re doing by basically reading the dictionary definitions of their activities (and also thesaurus searching for the most complicated synonyms) is not nearly as charming as reading a four-panel webcomic. In fact, at its worst, it’s grating and off-putting.

A group of three blue aliens wearing flight attendant uniforms, making a toast in an airport bar. Image: ShadowMachine/Mercury Filmworks/Harmonious Claptrap/Apple TV Plus

Strange Planet is as sweet as its webcomic counterpart. And like its webcomic counterpart, that sweetness works best in small doses. If I read a few too many of the Instagram posts in a row, I feel like I’m being baby-talked to, so a full episode length of these cloying niceties that sound like they’re narrated by Young Sheldon comes off as particularly condescending. Some comics deserve a fully-fleshed out animated series. Some work best as what they are. Strange Planet is the latter.

This is not to say that the show isn’t good because it’s cozy or sweet — I love cozy and sweet shows where characters get along! It’s just that the overly saccharine tone combined with the robotic approach isn’t very funny when it’s not isolated to one four-panel comic. The reason the Strange Planet comic works is because each post is about one specific human experience. Centering in on just a couple of activities and viewing them from a distant lens is a fun exercise in thinking about human nature. But even if each episode of the show follows a particular tradition, supplementing that one activity with everything else about living as a regular human — which is, in turn, also explained in this overly technical jargon — tramples over the charm of the comic.

Look, I like candy corn in small doses. I also like the Strange Planet webcomic in small doses, when I forget it exists and one of the panels comes across my Instagram feed. I chuckle. I appreciate the sweetness. I think about how special the traditions that Strange Planet highlights can be, especially when I take them for granted. (I also think this about candy corn, when I inevitably return to it every autumn.) But I know that if I indulge a bit more, I’ll regret it and end up mulling about how much it makes my stomach hurt.

Strange Planet is streaming on Apple TV Plus. New episodes are out on Wednesdays.

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