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Ever since the success, demise, rebirth and extended afterlife of the NBC-turned-Yahoo sitcom “Community,” the showrunner Dan Harmon has largely avoided the strictures of network TV. With his cynical streak and meta references, Harmon’s niche sensibility was always an awkward fit for a mass audience; even when “Community” was on the air, it was perpetually on the verge of cancellation. As television expanded rapidly in the 2010s, Harmon found a more natural home in cable and streaming. Despite the departure of “Rick and Morty” co-creator and star Justin Roiland amid allegations of sexual assault, the hit show is now entering its seventh season on Adult Swim; earlier this year, Harmon helped adapt the web comic “Strange Planet” into a series for Apple TV+.
With the animated half-hour “Krapopolis,” however, Harmon makes his official return to a broadcast network. Airing on Fox, “Krapopolis” is at least guaranteed the stability “Community” never enjoyed; ahead of its premiere on Sept. 24, the show has already been renewed through Season 3. And due to the ongoing strikes, “Krapopolis” is now, by default, one of the tentpoles of its network’s fall schedule, with new live-action series postponed until further notice.
That’s a heavy load to bear for an amusing, high-concept riff on the family sitcom set in an extremely loose rendition of ancient Greece. Physically weak and intellectually arrogant, 29-year-old Tyrannis (Richard Ayoade) is a man ahead of his time, so he’s recruited his warrior sister Stupendous (Pam Brady) and scientist half-brother Hippocampus (Duncan Trussell) to help him build a modern city-state. (“He tells powerless people they’re powerful and they like that, so they give him all their power,” one citizen says of Tyrannis’ skill set.) But first, Tyrannis must persuade the skeptical, not least among them his own parents: vain goddess Deliria (Hannah Waddingham) and Shlub (Matt Berry), a manticore-like hybrid of several different creatures.
Over the three episodes screened for critics, many of the jokes on “Krapopolis” fall into a couple of patterns. Characters speak with the 20/20 hindsight of millennia in their future — when Tyrannis goes to sulk in a “reading nook,” his scene partner points out that “there’s no written language, so there are no books” — and “invent” modern notions like forensic science and the sports commentator. Meanwhile, staples of Greek mythology like Athena (Amber Stevens West), Hermes (Michael Urie) and the Trojan horse make cameo appearances. Anyone familiar with the legends won’t raise an eyebrow at ancient deities debasing themselves with vanity or petty feuds, but Harmon and his writers still clearly enjoy recasting messenger god Hermes as a shameless pot-stirrer, or Poseidon (David Koechner) as a jealous dad upset when Tyrannis dates his daughter.
The strongest weapon in the “Krapopolis” arsenal is its voice cast, who help keep these setups fresh even after they quickly grow familiar. Fans of “What We Do in the Shadows” will revel in yet another opportunity to hear Berry, once again in character as a chronically horny immortal, pronounce the word “sexual.” As Deliria, Waddingham loosens up her tightly wound “Ted Lasso” persona, fully embracing the role of a Jenna Maroney-esque delusional diva. “Prepare to disappoint the goddess Deliria!” she crows by way of an entrance. Tyrannis’ quest to modernize Krapopolis is best understood as a middle finger to his mother, who’s fond of turning enemies into snakes, than a principled stance.
A trio of episodes is not much on which to judge a show guaranteed as many seasons. “Krapopolis” will last a long while, at least by today’s standards, when cancellations come early and often. But there’s promise in both the flexibility of the “Krapopolis” setup, which allows for a Springfield-like bench of supporting players, and the core cast assembled to carry it. Among Fox’s longstanding animation lineup, Harmon already feels more at home than he ever did on NBC primetime.
The first two episodes of Krapopolis will air on Fox on Sept. 24, with remaining episodes airing weekly on Sundays at 8:30pm.