The Jack and Triumph Show is pretty much exactly what I expected from an Adult Swim show starring Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and Jack McBrayer. Robert Smigel has built a career on abusing others through his dog puppet Triumph, and McBrayer has built a career on taking abuse without ever losing his naivety and trustfulness. They’re a perfectly complementary pair, and the first episode of their show hammers hard on Triumph’s manipulation and abuse of McBrayer. And because it’s on Adult Swim, it’s ironically structured like a multi-camera sitcom, complete with studio audience, and regularly breaks the fourth wall.
The concept is that McBrayer, as actor Jack Mlicki, was Triumph’s child co-star in Triumph’s Boy, a popular TV show that ran from 1981 to 1992. Adrift as a grown child actor who can’t get work, and broke after his parents stole all of his TV earnings, Jack is encouraged into a life of drugs and prostitution by his best friend Triumph. He’s rescued from squalor by his former TV mom, who’s played by June Squibb, and who really doesn’t like Triumph. Squibb, so great in Nebraska last year, is probably the only 80-something Oscar nominee to ever threaten a dog puppet with rape charges.
Don’t worry about the plot to this first episode. It’s all just pretext for Triumph to insult his costars. It even builds up to a typical Triumph video package shot at the New York Comic Con, where he cruelly berates such celebrities as William Shatner, Hulk Hogan and Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart. Other than McBrayer appearing alongside Triumph in character, this bit could’ve run as a Triumph remote on Conan with almost no changes.
McBrayer and Squibb get the worst of it, though, during the show’s intentionally cheesy sitcom scenes. Squibb endures a nonstop stream of jokes about her age and size, with graphic references to her sexual activity. Triumph doesn’t insult McBrayer so much—he seems to genuinely likes his TV master—but he does use him repeatedly, exploiting the gullible persona that McBrayer developed on 30 Rock and earlier work. It’s like the relationship between ALF and Brian Tanner, only ALF is a cruel, cigar-smoking dog, Brian Tanner is a mentally and emotionally stunted middle-aged man, and instead of food or cats ALF wants money, drugs and women.
Despite its almost constant vulgarity, The Jack and Triumph Show is a fundamentally corny show. Part of that is the inherent nature of Triumph’s character—not because he’s obviously a puppet, but because his Don Rickles schtick was old decades ago. The satirical sitcom setting feels like a nostalgic callback not to actual sitcoms from the ‘80s and ‘90s but to the satirical sitcoms of that era like Get a Life and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. That ironic framework would probably collapse on itself if it didn’t have great performers like Squibb and McBrayer to fully commit to the spirit. They sell every line and insult with just the right amount of sitcom exaggeration, while still avoiding the vapid overacting of a Disney Channel show or Saved by the Bell. They might have to sacrifice a tiny bit of their dignity (or maybe almost all of their dignity, in McBrayer’s case) but Smigel needs game targets for Triumph to work, and McBrayer and Squibb are both great at playing the victim.
That’s what The Jack and Triumph Show is about, really: another chance for Robert Smigel and Triumph to abuse their coworkers. As always Triumph is too absurd of a concept to ever feel truly mean-spirited, and the deeply likable Squibb and McBrayer help smooth out those edges even more. And it’s just good to know that we live in a world where Oscar nominee June Squibb, Police Academy’s Michael Winslow and a vaguely Eastern European asshole dog puppet can wind up in the same project.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. You can follow him on Twitter @grmartin.