Ever wondered what goes on behind the genteel voices and tasteful sounds of NPR? The new stop-motion comedy “In the Know” peeks behind the curtain with a grin. Created by comedy heavyweights Mike Judge, Zach Woods, and Brandon Gardner, this show blends quirky animation and surprise celebrity interviews into public radio parody.
The premise? Woods voices Lauren Caspian, host of a tiny NPR talk show struggling to boost its puny listenership. Lauren fancies himself an intellectual and “modern thinker” even as he drives his colleagues bonkers with narcissism and performative wokeness. Judge voices a spaced-out film critic, while the rest of Lauren’s team – a producer, engineer, intern, and researcher – try cleaning up the chaos.
Here’s the fun part – those segments alternate with real video chats between Lauren and human guests like Ken Burns, Norah Jones, Roxane Gay, and more. Woods improvises absurd questions, while celebs attempt to chat through their chuckles. The clashing visual styles echo Lauren’s divided nature as smug radio host and insecure man-child desperate to seem “pure” and “woke.”
So if you enjoy cringing at NPR elitism but also love losing yourself in the warm voice of a host listing their favorite podcasts, “In the Know” offers some wicked smart satire wrapped up in workplace laughs. The puppetry pops with surprising expressiveness, while plots that start odd only get wonderfully weirder. It’s the audio treat even Terry Gross can love.
A Quirky Crew Brings “In the Know” to Life
The weirdos behind “In the Know” are the true stars that make this show shine. At the center struts Zach Woods as narcissistic host Lauren Caspian, boasting the prototypical NPR voice – if NPR hosts namechecked their sperm count and bathroom habits on air. Woods makes cringing at Lauren’s virtue signaling compulsive listening, while letting real insecurity peek through the blowhard bluster.
Yet the supporting cast often steals the spotlight. There’s Sandy, Lauren’s addled film critic pal voiced by Mike Judge with hilarious space cadet aplomb. Sandy loses debates with breast pumps or rants about the male gaze in “Zombie Birdhouse” era Iggy Pop music videos. Then there’s Lauren’s savvy producer Barb, voiced by J. Smith-Cameron of “Succession” fame. Barb smiles through chaos while trying to solve her husband’s murder, proving absurdly sweet-natured for the media biz.
The gang’s also joined by Fabian, a hyper-woke researcher voiced by Caitlin Reilly who takes political correctness to its breaking point. She’s a walking eye roll hampered by being the show’s broadest satire…until later episodes allow peeks at her secret self-doubt. Rounding out the ensemble are audio engineer Carl (Carl Tart), the show’s lone voice of reason, and oblivious intern Chase (Charlie Bushnell). Their messy relationships breathe life into the office.
While human celebrity guests also feature, often seeming lost within awkward interviews, the heart of “In the Know” remains its band of weirdos. With expressive puppets guided by top-notch voice talents, the animation makes each smirk, sigh, and meltdown burst with comedic power. No matter the scene-stealers surrounding Woods, it’s the gang’s quirky chemistry binding this whole kooky show together.
Handcrafted Humor: How “In the Know’s” Animation Amped Up the Laughs
The minds at ShadowMachine studio deserve real props for bringing the quirky world of “In the Know” to life. The painstaking art of stop-motion animation turns Lauren’s radio studio into a masterfully detailed dollhouse sandpit. Every curly hair on Sandy’s head seems to bristle with life under mood lighting. Fabian’s body seethes when irritated, her limbs flinging wildly outward like an offended cat.
That hand-crafted attention to detail lets the show’s seasoned voice cast play to the fullest. When Lauren grits his teeth wearing a desperately fake grin for guests, we feel his barely concealed contempt. The human interviews may boast big celeb names, but their stiffness leaves the puppets’ improvised interactions bursting with more comedic juice.
Since the characters were physically built pose by pose, animators craft gags otherwise impossible in live-action sitcoms. In the pilot, an entire B-plot spins out from an unwanted bathroom squatter because he can be kept bizarrely off-screen. Later episodes feature a breast pump breaking down over Sandy’s nipple and Lauren vgauling over Fabian’s interview with an MMA fighter about their mutual “bone soup” pain.
ShadowMachine went on to nab an Oscar nod for Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” remake using similarly spectacular craft. Yet it’s the weird humor enabled by their animation that makes “In the Know” worth tuning into. When the visual gags get increasingly odd in late season 1 episodes, it stops feeling like writers going for broke and more like creators finally allowed to spotlight the beautiful insanity they’d built into this kooky cast all along.
Smart Satire and Silly Laughs: The Comedic Core of “In the Know”
When it comes to skewering NPR elitism, “In the Know” can hit the bullseye or miss the mark. Moments satirizing fussy liberal attitudes thrive thanks to creators critiquing their own insider perspective. Like any office, tensions between demanding bosses, weary staff putting out fires, and idealistic newbies bite closest to home.
The show’s celebrity interviews often highlight host Lauren’s most glaring hypocrisies. He hijacks chats about activism and inequality to sprinkle in personal overshares, less interested in uplifting marginalized voices than looking “pure” himself. During a segment meant to spotlight a queer guest, Lauren instead namedrops his recent colonic. Seeing guests struggle to react when coefficients and passive sperm counts get uncomfortably shoehorned in by a virtue-signaling ally cuts close.
However, the show’s attempts at sendups of “very online” progressive attitudes sometimes sound more like conservative gripes. Lauren’s hyper-woke coworker Fabian draws more eye-rolls than insight ranting about pronouns and problematics. She improves once her over-the-top stance gets punctured by rumored illness and admittances that performative behavior masks secret boredom. But the show is sharper when homing in on how information bubbles limit mental flexibility versus parodying protests over minor perceived slights.
Thankfully, “In the Know” truly hits its stride when embracing comedic chaos beyond PC culture wars. A breast pump breaking mid-use or a guest raging over a vintage Iggy Pop music video’s male gaze offer truly weird surprises alongside the incisive workplace laughs. Celebrity interviews may be the show’s spine, but the plot’s strange detours into sci-fi conspiracies and self-discovery prove its secret weapon.
Rather than chasing trendy discourse, “In the Know” sparks most when focused on its band of lovable freaks and geeks. The animation realizes an absurdity latent in public radio’s hushed aesthetic, using inventive visual humor to mindfully twist tidy respectability into beautiful chaos.
Finding Its Footing: How “In the Know” Hits Its Stride Over Time
Part of “In the Know’s” charm lies in its relaxed pace, evoking an NPR program where hosts luxuriate in contextualizing ideas before making their point. Yet early on, that gentle rhythm and time spent on obvious satire leave some episodes playing like low-key podcast background noise rather than must-see TV.
The building blocks of something great percolate under the surface, though. As viewers settle into the staff’s relationships and small creative choices accrue, the payoff emerges in later chapters. Plotlines grow more ambitious, diving into oddly affecting stories about discovering self-worth through chair shopping or viruses causing bone soup pain. The muted atmosphere makes their left turns into sci-fi conspiracy and psychedelic stylistic breaks feel earned, not random.
After establishing each character’s comedic niche, the writers then sneak in vulnerability that complicates their roles. Lauren’s insecurity bubbles up to challenge his blowhard self-mythology, while Fabian’s over-the-top attitude gets punctured by rumored illness threatening her sense of identity. Barb’s cheer as she privately investigates her husband’s murder touches the heart. Rather than coasting on quick satirical sketches, the show reaches for tricky tonal balance – and sticks the landing.
Much like its public radio influences, “In the Know” settles into a personality over time as repetitions become comforting versus dull. The more imaginative later episodes highlight untapped potential still to explore with its lovably quirky band of misfits. Sticking through the initially slow simmer rewards audiences with a uniquely heartfelt and hilarious viewing experience in the end.
Tune Your Dials to “In the Know” for Original Comedy
So does peering behind public radio’s genteel curtain reveal comedic riches or just ego-stroking emptiness in “In the Know”? At its best, this show mines humor from small truths in creative ways rather than leaning on tired stereotypes. The weaker bits feel like low blows crafted through guesswork rather than lived experience. Thankfully, the writers minimize stumbling blocks as the short first season finds its footing.
By the finale, “In the Know” strikes a careful balance between affectionately humanizing its naive heroes and confronting their hypocrisy with acerbic wit. The show’s secret weapon in threading that needle lies in its fully-realized animation. ShadowMachine’s lovingly hand-crafted physical comedy takes the cast’s quirks further than most live-action sitcoms would dare. Midway fantasy breaks exploring nightmares of forced small talk and violence enacted by office furniture reveal hidden depths to these weirdos.
With only six initial episodes, imperfections are easier to forgive knowing the positive creative momentum built by the closing credits. Woods finds nuances in narcissist Lauren when arrogance gives way to vulnerability, while Judge’s spaced-out film critic Sandy leaves ’em laughing. With more time to nurture relationships and expand stranger plotlines percolating under the surface, this radio show parody could become appointment viewing with a vibe all its own.
It may not achieve literal must-listen status for casual viewers, but “In the Know” absolutely deserves a spot in your queue for comedy fans craving innovative style. Its heartfelt oddity sticks longer than easy jokes about pronoun debates, ultimately hitting high notes by embracing weirdness within slick packages – both in its public radio subjects and stop-motion flesh and blood. This underdog show subtly encourages us to accept our own over-the-top ideas and reach beyond self-imposed limits…even if that just means hearing out your office coworker’s rant about the latent male gaze in Iggy Pop’s “Zombie Birdhouse” video. Tune in.
In the Know
Despite uneven moments, "In the Know" remains a comedy lover's delight. Its risky creative format of blending celebrity interviews, public radio satire, and surreal stop-motion animation largely pays off even where the funny sometimes falls flat. With a stellar supporting cast and more fictional escapades enhancing inventive physical comedy, this weird show offers an irreverent yet wise balm for our age of snackable, straightforward content
- Clever satire of public radio and "performative wokeness"
- Strong voice performances and expressive animation
- Memorable weirdos like Sandy and Fabian steal scenes
- Celebrity interviews mine surprising humor and commentary
- Grows more ambitious and imaginative over time
- Lead character Lauren too one-note as smug hypocrite
- Some attempts at satire feel obvious or regressive
- Early episodes play as background noise rather than must-see
- Human guests seem wasted and interviews uneven