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In the premiere of FXX’s animated comedy Little Demon, Chrissy Feinberg (Lucy DeVito) discovers she’s the spawn of Satan. Literally: Her human mom, Laura (Aubrey Plaza), fucked the Devil (Danny DeVito, Lucy DeVito’s real-life dad) 13 years ago, and Chrissy was the result. Now her dad’s finally tracked them down, and as Chrissy warily lets him into her life, she finds herself increasingly torn between the ordinary teen girl life she thought she wanted and the apocalyptic dreams her father’s offering her — all the while trying to figure out who she really is as her own person.
It’s a tension echoed, with some corresponding awkwardness, in the show itself. In the first three half-hour episodes sent to critics, Little Demon can be wobbly in balancing its impish sense of humor and squishy sense of heart, its otherworldly shenanigans and its more grounded emotions. Still, its freewheeling, good-natured vibe is more amusing than not, and if it needs some time to find its voice, it’s earned that bit of patience.
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Danny DeVito, Lucy DeVito
Creators: Darcy Fowler, Seth Kirschner, Kieran Valla
The core concept of Little Demon is solid, taking relatable struggles and amping them up to goofy extremes. We’ve all heard (or felt) that puberty is hell, custody battles are war, shitty exes are the devil, deadbeat dads are monsters; it’s just that for the Feinbergs, these aren’t mere metaphors. When Chrissy gets her first period at the worst possible time, it doesn’t only feel like the end of the world, it very well may be. The event creates a cosmic black void over her town that threatens to vacuum up everything in the path, and that serves as a beacon for Satan to come get his kid, the Antichrist.
Little Demon‘s supernatural angle allows for plenty of room for its makers (Darcy Fowler, Kieran Valla and Seth Kirschner are the show’s creators) to let their imaginations run wild, and the amusement they find in executing their bizarre visions is evident and endearing. On his first walk with Chrissy through the metaphysical realm, Satan points out a figure by the side of the road. “Look at that guy. He’s got a bird head and he craps bubbles,” he explains. The character has nothing to do with the series’ plot or larger themes, but the random silliness is the point: “I thought that was pretty cool,” Satan shrugs.
Occasionally, the gags do get very dark. During Chrissy’s first lesson in demonic possession, she exits a little boy’s body just in time for the kid to come to as his father — who’s been driven to desperation by Chrissy and Satan’s supernatural taunting — is strangling him. Dad and daughter have already moved on, but Little Demon lingers on the unnamed family long enough to take in the terror on the child’s face and the horror on his father’s, and there’s no doubt the incident has left them with the sort of trauma that’ll take a lifetime of therapy to unpack. It’s deeply fucked-up and, if that’s your sense of humor, deeply funny.
More often, its humor lands at the intersection of gleeful, irreverent and juvenile. Its characters swear up a storm, unleash fountains of blood and gore, snicker at gross bodily functions (in the second episode, Chrissy adopts “pee pee poo poo” as a sort of catchphrase) and, in Laura’s case, strip down naked for arcane rituals without batting an eye. When a character is forced to shoot himself by Satan, he doesn’t aim for the head, or the stomach, or the foot — he blows a hole through his dick. “Why?” the victim wails. Satan’s response: “Comedy.” Little Demon really wants to make you, and itself, laugh.
Amid this endless stream of jokes, the show’s soul can get a little lost. Like Big Mouth or Rick and Morty, Little Demon tries to ground its NSFW humor and outrageous storylines in believable, sympathetic emotions, and in flashes it succeeds. After one of Chrissy’s misguided attempts at heroism spirals out of control, Laura tries in her own way to offer some perspective: “You’re not still beating yourself up, are you? This is all part of growing up,” she says, brusquely but not unkindly. The comment is a little comical (the specifics of Chrissy’s powers mean that what she actually did is not a typical rite of passage), but it’s also rooted in compassion and wisdom. The episode ends on a surprisingly sad note as a newly chastened Chrissy resigns herself to standing on the sidelines as a minor tragedy unfolds.
But it seems telling that even in that arc, it’s hard to parse what Chrissy’s motivations really were — whether her do-gooder drive was typical for her, or spurred by her excitement over her new powers. Despite being the center of the show, Chrissy feels underdeveloped in the first few chapters — she spends so much of her screentime getting in and out of supernatural scrapes that we’re allowed little insight into who she is outside of them. Satan feels similarly vague, even with DeVito‘s recognizable voice rendering him simultaneously inviting and a little shady.
But there are promising signs that Little Demon might find itself yet. The best storyline of the first three episodes sees Laura pressured into a night out on the town with Darlene, a self-described “perky neighbor type” voiced by Lennon Parham. In spite of herself, Laura manages to have some fun. She strikes up a sick-but-sexy banter with a handsome serial killer (“I want to open you up and see how hard your bones are”), and somehow ends up fighting alongside Darlene against a rampaging ego monster (William Jackson Harper) across a crumbling landscape.
Little Demon isn’t subtle about what it’s trying to say here. “Maybe I’m drawn to dark shit because deep down, I think I’m too screwed up for anything better!” Laura yells at one point, lest anyone in the audience miss the point. But the rapport between Laura and Darlene feels warm and weird enough to hang a real friendship on, and it offers a view of Laura beyond just the super-jacked, super-badass Sarah Connor type she’s presented as in the premiere. By the end of the episode, Little Demon has earned the half-sincere, half-ironic ’80s synth-pop needle drop that closes out their adventure. Little Demon has everything it needs to be a winner. It just has to find its own path to joining them all together.
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