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‘Koala Man’ Review: Your New Favorite Marsupial Hero

Koala Man -- "Bin Day" - Episode 101 -- Kevin forgets to take the garbage bins down. (Photo: Courtesy of Hulu)

At a time where both the superhero genre and adult animation continue to dominate pop culture, there’s one brand new show that boldly asks the question: “what if the two were entwined?” The answer to that question is absolute madness. And it’s wonderfully exemplified in Hulu’s Koala Man.

Created by Michael Cusack (Smiling Friends, The Paloni Show! Halloween Special), the series is set in a fictionalized version of the small Australian suburb named Dapto. It follows a middle-aged man named Kevin Williams as he juggles his home life and his passion for fighting crime as the local vigilante known as Koala Man. There’s only one problem though: Kevin isn’t the most effective superhero, nor is he beloved.

Imagine if everyone was mildly annoyed every time Batman showed up to save the day. While Batman isn’t always the hero Gotham needs, at least the city and its citizens still appreciate him. At the start of the series the same can’t be said for Kevin or Koala Man. Funny enough, when you first meet Kevin in episode one, he’s closer to being a “Karen” than any kind of local hero. By day, he measures his neighbors’ grass and he’s always checking to see if they are in possession of the proper permits to do anything. And by night, he rarely fights any actual crime. That all changes when a mysterious villain called The Kookaburra arrives, bringing with him a slew of supernatural and uniquely Australian antagonists for Kevin and Koala Man to face-off against.

Koala Man — “Ode To A Koala Bear” – Episode 105 — Kevin brings Liam his jacket. (Photo: Courtesy of Hulu)

Over the course of the show’s first season (a mere eight episodes), Kevin works hard to earn his title of superhero. One of the best things about the show is how it opts to stay away from some of the cliches that have always defnied the genre too. In fact, the show turns the classic quote from “Spider-Man” about “power” and “responsibility” on its head in the most unexpected way. In addition to Kevin not having any real superpowers as Koala Man, he doesn’t have any actual power in his personal life either. No one in his family respects him. And no one in town really cares for his work. It’s kind of brilliant how some of the best moments in the series are the results of him realizing how little power he has. It’s in those moments where he takes responsibility for his actions that he slowly acquires the ability to become a better person. 

Now, power is one of the series’ biggest themes. So much so that we see its value and meaning  explored in subplots featuring Kevin’s wife and kids too. Sarah Snook (Succession) voices Kevin’s wife, Vicky, and throughout the season she has an arc which emotionally mirrors Kevin’s. The same way Kevin comes to terms with his power and limits as Koala Man, Vicky slowly realizes her own power as both a woman and a valued member of the Dapto community. By the end, she makes a decision that could have an interesting impact on Koala Man’s existence. It’s a fun tease for a potential second season.

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Conversely, comedian Demi Lardner plays Kevin’s daughter Allison, who wants nothing more than to be the most popular girl in school. This leads her on a dark path of potentially being a villain herself as she does anything and everything to wipe out those above her within the school’s hierarchy.

In addition to playing Kevin, Cusack also plays his son Liam. Early on, the character has an encounter with a group of villains that gives him his own special ability. So while everyone is busy dealing with their own issues, it’s funny to witness him have an actual superhero origin story and to have it be mostly ignored. 

Aside from the Williams family, however, the animated version of Dapto is filled with several other over-the-top, morally gray, and straight-up hilarious supporting characters, including Big Greg voiced by Hugh Jackman. Unlike most of the other roles in his career, Big Greg is in the background. He’s both Kevin’s boss at work and an actual local hero who seems like he could be the show’s antagonist. As the series goes on, however, he reveals himself to have a fittingly “big” heart and an even bigger soft spot for Kevin. Other standouts include a local named Spider, who is probably the closest thing to Koala Man’s sidekick, and Maxwell, an old man who may or may not be a time traveler. 

Koala Man — “Deep Pockets” – Episode 102 — Vicky bans soft drinks at school. (Photo: Courtesy of Hulu)

Like The Simpsons, Family Guy, and every other great animated sitcom, the characters truly make Koala Man worth the watch. But some of the best characters are not always allies. As mentioned earlier, each episode features a different villain that nods to a particular part of Australian culture. For example, one episode features a carnivorous flower meant to symbolize the “tall poppy syndrome” most Australians use to describe local celebrities who get to big for their britches. There’s a quartet of villains that blatantly rip off the popular (and kid-friendly) Australian musicians The Wiggles. The show even introduces its own version of Dom Torreto to draw a stark contrast to how overly confident Americans are to Australians. 

While the constant allusion to Australian culture could easily isolate the audience, it’s done so tastefully and humorously that you feel anointed watching it. Cusack is so careful in telling this story that you don’t even realize he’s casually inviting you to both make fun of it and celebrate it with him. 

Koala Man isn’t perfect. Are there some plot lines that feel forced? Yes. Is it consistently funny? No. But it’s hard to deny that its fierce optimism and obvious admiration of humankind grows on you. At a time where some cry that comedy is dead and others fear inevitable superhero fatigue, Koala Man bravely ventures off into a place too many people forget exist. And it’s not Australia. It’s our hearts.

✯✯✯ ½

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