Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
There are smatterings of humor in Pacific Heat – an animated cop spoof created by Aussie outlet Working Dog for Netflix, and incorporating the voice talents of Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Rebecca Massey, Lucia Mastrantone, and Tom Gleisner – that hint at the devotedly wacky, willingly meta send-up of adult animation as a genre that a show like it could one day become.
In one scene, a coarsely caricatured Asian drug lord (dubbed Mr. Bang Choi, naturally) is menacing the four members of the titular Pacific Heat special unit through a borderline-indecipherable accent, when his dialogue starts to appear at the bottom of the screen. His eyes flickering down, he yells, “Are you putting subtitles on me?” The villain seethes beside an army of gun-toting henchmen as an officer blithely reassures, “Just the key verbs.”
The joke lands but, unfortunately, such fourth-wall-breaking wisecracks are a deviation from the nonsensical norm in Pacific Heat. Led by cocksure, clueless Special Agent Todd Somerville (Sitch), the village of idiots comprising this series’ “crack team,” supposedly the most elite undercover unit in Australia’s sunny, glamorous Gold Coast – which also includes the oafish Special Agent Zac Valentic (Santo Cilauro), perpetually let-down Special Agent Maddie Riggs (Rebecca Massey) and less effectual Special Agent Veronica “V.J.” Delane (Lucia Mastrantone) – are far more prone to plain idiocy than playful self-punking.
Indeed, in the two episodes made available prior to broadcast, the series seems almost admiredly dedicated to dumbness as a comedic destination unto itself. That’s not a self-sabotaging mission – a lot of shows coast by on so-dumb-it’s-funny humor – but Pacific Heat never mixes its ingredients in a convincing or even particularly coherent manner.
Comparisons to Archer, which have rightly hounded the series since its first promotional material dropped online, are so inevitable that it’s better just to lean into them. Like that acclaimed series, Pacific Heat blends action-packed “mission” plots – in one episode, the gang infiltrates a crystal meth ring run out of a local strip club, while in another they undertake an off-the-books hostage-rescue attempt – with ribald, rapid-fire exchanges between its characters.
Both also adhere to the same realistic, period-spanning animation style, equally reminiscent of Mad Men and James Bond, alternately beautiful and jarring to behold. And yet, there’s much to Archer‘s success that Pacific Heat fails to mimic, most prominently that the former’s manic, screwball energy is only made sustainable by the efforts of a mightily talented, painstakingly balanced cadre of voice actors.
It’s telling how watching a show like Pacific Heat makes you appreciate the artistry of an Archer even more. Though Sitch handily swings the role of the go-getting alpha-male leader and Cilauro mines his right-hand man’s dense delivery for a healthy modicum of laughs (in fact, none of the actors are bad on their own terms), what’s missing is any spark of chemistry between them. It sounds like a series where every actor recorded separately, potentially weeks apart, but never got a handle on the distinct vocal energies and rhythms of their castmates, instead speaking their lines into a metaphorical void.
The ensuing, discombobulating effect is exacerbated by poor choices in the editing room that render all the dialogue a tad too rapid-fire, cramming it together in an unnatural, accelerated way that makes keeping track of punchlines or plot points surprisingly difficult. The scripts only pay off in one solidly clever touch, where it seems that every Archer-esque flashback a character initiates is directly witnessed by the other characters, who immediately cross-examine it with snarky comments. Otherwise, they’re too much, all the time.
All the great animated series, Archer and Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty especially, understand that comedy can be gleaned from long, silent pauses as effectively as from witty one-liners. But Pacific Heat refuses to give its characters any breathing room, instead overstuffing each episode with an overabundance of zingers and ultimately pointless gags.
Series cast in the Archer mold are incredibly hard to pull off – just ask Moonbeam City or any of the Adult Swim one-and-dones. They require smartly sketched characters who are condemnable and compelling for the same reasons, ones who are either savvy, street-smart participants in a senseless world or altogether senseless themselves. Part and parcel with such characterization comes the deceptively complex task of world-building, of constructing a sandbox these larger-than-life characters can believably inhabit – or self-consciously push the boundaries of. Pacific Heat, at least in the episodes provided, does not seem particularly hip to the importance of either requisite, or to the importance of providing soul and personality to counterbalance ratatat writing and colorful cartooning.