‘The Cuphead Show’ is pure cartoon lunacy, for better and for worse

The Netflix promotional poster for The Cuphead Show, based on Studios MDHRs successful indie game Cuphead, features The Devil, who plays a prominent role in the series shenanigans.

Screenshot courtesy of Netflix

The Netflix promotional poster for “The Cuphead Show,” based on Studio’s MDHR’s successful indie game “Cuphead,” features The Devil, who plays a prominent role in the series shenanigans.

by Jason Freund, Sports Editor

Many animated shows in the past few years have relied on intricate storytelling and deep yet flawed characters when presenting themselves on the small screen.

Episodes in such shows follow a tight narrative construct while pushing the boundaries to tell sometimes philosophical tales and lessons for the delight of the audience.

Then, there is Netlifx’s “The Cuphead Show,” created by brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauser, which does… none of that.

The show, based on Studio MDHR’s hit 2017 indie game “Cuphead,” presents itself as a love letter to animations of decades past such as Merrie Melodies and Fleisher Studios while telling simple stories spread out through a dozen 15-minute episodes.

The story follows the titular Cuphead and his twin brother Mugman as they get into various hijinks. Cuphead is an optimistic daredevil that usually gets himself into trouble more often than not while Mugman is the more level-headed of the two, usually bailing his gullible brother out of trouble.

The trouble begins when Cuphead, who is bored of doing the chores assigned to him, drags Mugman to the carnival for a much “deserved” break. Unbeknownst to the boys, the carnival is actually the “carnevil,” a soul-gathering scam run by the Devil himself.

After losing a game of skeeball, Cuphead nearly loses his soul until Mugman makes the last-minute save, grabbing his ghostly spirit and shoving it back into his body (cartoon logic, don’t question it).

This is all in the first episode, by the way.

What comes in the following episodes range from a rampaging baby bottle to vegetables with thick New York accents to an invisible sweater that can electrocute the Devil through the power of brotherly love. 

The show plays to its strengths when it is wacky and wild, but this is also one of its greatest flaws. 

There is no real “narrative” amongst the course of the first season. The “you owe the Devil your soul” plot is dropped in the next three episodes, but will get picked up at random just for it to be immediately forgotten about again.

These episodes are not perfect by any means. The writing is nothing special, the jokes — while creative and witty — don’t always hit their mark and Cuphead’s strong New York accent can get grating, especially when he is a heavy focus of the plot.

Also, while the visual style replicated the video game well and the sound design fits the cartoony vibes, there is just no real substance. Even the characters — while matching the video game personas — can be chalked up to being “Cuphead is a gullible yet happy moron” and “Mugman is an easily frightened wimp.”

But… it’s “The Cuphead Show.” It’s not meant to be taken seriously. Just saying the name out loud is like uttering a pun.

“The Cuphead Show” is at its best when it fully embraces being a cartoon. The brothers will casually pop their heads off and put them back on again, lasso the moon while dressed as roosters and react accordingly when their caretaker Elder Kettle becomes the usual victim of their (literally) explosive antics. 

It’s a Saturday morning cartoon filled with slapstick humor, colorful animation and goofy characters who get annoyed when the Tim Curry-esque Devil pops in for a visit. 

Yes, there aren’t any real stakes or drama or character arcs but that’s because it doesn’t need those things. It is an animated video game adaptation through and through with Easter eggs aplenty. 

“The Cuphead Show” is exactly what it presents itself to be: a pure cartoon. And when it is viewed in that scope, it turns out to be a pretty good one.