Netflix Pulls the Plug on Quality Animation


Screengrab from Inside Job’s official trailer.

Adult animation is a cesspit. It’s a genre built upon little more than pure shock value, favoring vulgarity over subtlety or quality art design. I, myself, have long since given up traversing this cavernous rabbit hole of poorly-animated gross-out gags in search of quality television. Nonetheless, Shion Takeuchi’s Inside Job proved to be a wonderfully surprising exception to the rule. Boasting fluid animation, sharp writing, and clever social commentary, Inside Job defied genre expectations as an exceptionally intelligent comedy. 

Takeuchi’s dedication to quality earned Inside Job positive reviews, strong ratings, and a dedicated cult following. So of course, Netflix made the logical decision to cancel Inside Job less than two years after its debut, revoking a second season renewal and effectively killing the show before it could even start.

Inside Job explores Cognito Inc., a shadow government corporation secretly running the world at large. We follow Reagan Ridley (Lizzy Caplan), an ambitious robotics engineer desperate to run the company. With her genius intellect and unparalleled work ethic, Reagan seems like the perfect CEO for Cognito. However, she’s passed up the promotion in favor of Brett Hand (Clark Duke), a simple minded yes-man who climbed the corporate ladder through likability alone. Polar opposites in every conceivable way, Reagan and Brett must work together as a team or else the shadow government will spiral out of control. 

Between flat-earthers, 9/11 truthers, and QANON, it’s safe to say that modern day conspiracy theorists have spent the better part of a decade as walking punchlines. The jokes write themselves, and Inside Job could easily get a pass as nothing more than a lowbrow dig at some easy targets. And while Takeuchi and her writers certainly have their fun mocking various crackpots, they go the extra mile by deconstructing the underlying philosophy behind these beliefs. 

Misinformed as they are, most people turn to conspiracies as an attempt to make sense of the inherent madness of the world around them. They want to believe that there is some mastermind behind the curtain, a greater force responsible for all the chaos of our day to day life. After all, there has to be some order behind life’s general mayhem, right? This where Inside Job shines brightest, masterfully deconstructing the deep-seated naivete and optimism associated with these theories. 

Cognito is everything conspiracy theorists dream about: an all-powerful new order secretly running the world from the shadows. Unobstructed by democracy or ethics, Cognito effectively holds the fate of the human race in their hands. However, not even the shadow government can escape the bureaucracy of capitalism and institutional dysfunction. Even with all this responsibility, the higher-ups at Cognito prove nothing more than petty and corrupt, more concerned with their own careers than world domination. Rife with embezzlement, workplace misogyny, and corporate downsizing, the all-knowing shadow government is frequently no more functional than your typical retail chain. 

Clever satire aside, Inside Job is a comedy first and foremost and a gleefully effective one at that. Ignoring genre expectations, the show eschews cutaway gags for clever dialogue, crafting a comedy deeply rooted within its characters. Reagan herself is a fantastic lead and breath of fresh air in terms of adult animation protagonists. Takeuchi gets a lot of laughs out of Reagan’s neurosis, often contrasting her intensity against a deeply sophomoric work environment. Watching Reagan try to keep her cool amongst her legion of dysfunctional coworkers proves endlessly entertaining, thanks in large part to a gleefully agitated vocal performance from Lizzy Caplan. 

That being said, it never feels like the showrunners are exploiting Reagan’s social challenges for pure schadenfreude. She’s a shockingly relatable character, suffering from realistic problems both internally and externally. Anyone afflicted with any kind of social awkwardness will definitely resonate with how Reagan struggles to form healthy friendships. Furthermore, the obstacles she faces at Cognito serve as a tragically timely parallel real world corporate chauvinism. Reagan’s co-workers repeatedly write her off as nothing more than a shrew, refusing to respect her despite her obvious qualifications as a more-than-capable leader. Such stinging social satire adds some clever insight into an otherwise uproarious ensemble piece. 

Inside Job’s greatest strength is its cast, for the supporting characters prove just as entertaining as our leading lady. Brett is an exceptional comedic foil, with Duke’s irresistibly chipper performance providing a nice counter to Reagan’s deep-seated cynicism. Christian Slater turns in some delectably megalomaniac work as Reagan’s alcoholic father, relishing his lines with deranged egomania. The always-hysterical Andy Daly proves a perfect fit for Cognito CEO J.R., playing the role of a corrupt corporate stooge without an ounce of shame. Such strong vocal performances help carry relatively simple comedic characters and elevate already-impressive scripts. 

Inside Job had a fairly strong start. While not a smash success, it garnered positive reviews and showed potential to grow into a really successful property. With a stacked voice cast, clever commentary, and fluid animation, this could have been something really special. This is why it hurts so much that Takeuchi’s wonderfully weird show was a victim to Netflix’s algorithmic obsession. 

The streaming service is no longer interested in playing the long game with their content. If a new series doesn’t dominate the world, it’s as good as gone. But not every show is going to become a pop culture sensation right out the gate. Some of the service’s most acclaimed content, like Bojack Horseman, took years to be recognized as anything more than a cult curiosity. Had Inside Job been given that chance, we could have gotten something on par with Futurama or The Simpsons. As is, we’ll just have to settle with the supremely entertaining, if frustratingly incomplete, season we got.