Series Review: Smiling Friends (Season 2)


Smiling Friends (Season 2)
Creator: Michael Cusack and Zack Hadel
Adult Swim
Streaming on Max: 04.01

After almost two years and an April Fool’s fake release earlier this year (that everyone totally saw coming), Smiling Friends is finally back for a second season. The smash hit from YouTubers-turned-showrunners Michael Cusack and Zack Hadel rose to critical acclaim in 2022 due to it’s refreshingly bat-shit sensibilities and lack of an agenda compared to other adult animated programs. Where excitement for shows such as Family Guy and South Park that aim to cram topical satire in almost every episode has waned in recent years, the Smiling Friends hype has yet to die down as the show has been a breath of fresh air for fans of the genre and season two continues to rate highly with critics and perform favorably among viewers.

The first episode of the new season was teased to come out on April 1, which soon turned out to be a hoax from Adult Swim wherein which they had instead released an anthology of puppet remakes of previous episodes, which, as previously mentioned, I can say anecdotally that no one—in terms of the fanbase—was really surprised by. However, when Season 2, Episode 1: Gwimbly: Definitive Remastered Enhanced Extended Edition DX 4k (Anniversary Director’s Cut) finally premiered, many agreed it was worth the wait.

For those unfamiliar with the premise of the show, Smiling Friends follows the plight of Pim and Charlie, two employees of a small business that offers smiles to those in need. As such, when Pim stumbles into Gwimbly, a washed-up video game protagonist from his youth, Pim vows to put his skills to work to get him back on his feet with the help of Allan, the office cynic, instead of his usual partner Charlie. This episode’s critique of the video game industry is all too real, and is also indicative of what makes Smiling Friends work so well. While the show makes fun of things like the entertainment industry and the socio-political climate of the world, it’s not as mean-spirited as it could be. That, combined with the show’s reliance on absurdism, makes it feel like the show isn’t forcing you as the viewer to take a side on anything.

The next episode, Mr. President, sees Pim and Charlie help the President of the United States smile. In what could’ve been an echo chamber of past political commentary talking points, the show still manages to retain its voice. The episode does, however, feel like somewhat of a repeat of the Mr. Frog episode from Season One, so much so that Mr. Frog’s return at the end of the episode feels like a form of admittance from the writers. Additionally, the sub plot of there being a media cult controlling the election felt played out and not as ridiculous as the show is capable of being. Overall, this episode is still enjoyable, but not one of the show’s best or most original due to its groundedness and lack of frenetic energy.

The final episode that’s been released as of the time of writing this review is A Allan Adventure, which follows Allan on a troubled adventure to find more paper clips for the office and avoid hanging out with his landlord. What worries me about this episode’s critical success (it is the highest rated episode of the show) is that it doesn’t focus on our main duo of Pim and Charlie at all, and it feels concerning that we’ve only really seen them together for one whole episode out of the three that have been released. On the flip side, I’m excited by the fact that people are loving the other characters and this could develop into more of an ensemble comedy like Regular Show in the future. Also, people are correct to enjoy this episode—it’s Smiling Friends at its best, contrasting absurdism with mundanity to near perfection as Allan risks it all for a box of paperclips.

Overall, this season is just as strong as the first, and also indicative of the many directions the show could go in later on. At this point in the series, the most we can hope for is that the series doesn’t run out of gas and continues to spread its mission of making people smile. –Becca Ortmann

Read more tv and movie reviews:
Series Review: Fallout (Season One) 

Film Review: I Used To Be Funny