I finished watching the first season of Archer a few weeks ago and loved it. The show is a perfect storm of black humor mixed with modern office politics and 60’s era spy agency spoofs. I laughed out loud like I was watching Arrested Development all over again.
Unfortunately, I’m not writing about Archer as it really has nothing to do with video games. Instead, I’m here to tell you about Code Monkeys, a somewhat similar television show in that it shares the office politics and back-in-the-day setting. What it doesn’t share, however, is the humor.
Running between 2007 and 2008 on the G4 network, Code Monkeys features just two seasons and 26 episodes. Created by Adam de la Peña, the show follows the goings-on of a game development studio in the early 80’s. The series is entirely available on Netflix Instant Watch where I watched the first two episodes.
Starting off with a comparison to Archer is probably unfair, the two shows really aren’t in the same league as each other. Code Monkeys is probably more on the same plane as South Park or some Adult Swim shows in terms of animation style and humor. The animation is probably the best thing Code Monkeys has going for it, the pixel art is wholly reminiscent of the bygones era of gaming and recalls gems like River City Ransom. Newer gamers might not even recognize the general style except that the new Scott Pilgrim game used it.
The show also letterboxes the main action with old school health and information bars. I didn’t totally figure out the correlation, but it appears the main character on screen is linked up to the Zelda-style hearts at top. There’s also a numeric score that seems to always be trending up and messages will appear at times too. Whether there’s a consistent rhyme or reason to all this, I’m not entirely sure, but it is kind of a neat distraction and excuse to smirk at some of the side jokes.
Most of the time, Code Monkeys is simply not funny. A large percentage of the jokes rely on the fact that the show is set in the 80’s and “this situation couldn’t possibly happen in the future *wink *wink*” kind of joke. The second episode also plays on the super easy target of the development team making E.T. and then blaming the atrocity on Colecovision. Never mind the fact that the development of E.T. is incredibly well documented and had nothing to do with Coleco.
The first episode features Steve Wozniak playing himself as the boss of a small development studio called GameaVision. He has decided to get out of the video game business and into computers (cue jokes about apples ad infinitum) and sells the company to some Texas oil tycoon who knows nothing about games. The characters in the office are also introduced, but I was just bored by about the 15 minute mark. Getting Steve Wozniak to play himself seems like a great coup, but the guy is obviously not an actor and just there for the nerd wink.
The second episode is just more of the same unfunny but as I mentioned earlier, covers the development and release of E.T. There are an excessive amount of jokes between the Texan boss and Spielberg arguing about how much they agreed upon for the license and then I think they introduced George Lucas at the end but I was pretty much tuned out by then. The episode’s one redeeming moment was a Spy Hunter parody where the developers tried to chase down the semi-truck carrying E.T. cartridges. Well researched scene and fun to watch, I wouldn’t have minded just more straight video game parodies like this to tell a story.
Code Monkeys would have been better off as a web series, served in really small chunks with focused stories and jokes. The two episodes I watched wandered around and felt overly long, even at 22 minutes. Steve Wozniak guest starring in the first episode and the Spy Hunter chase in the second were probably my favorite moments, but I’m not willing to watch any longer, much better television is out there.