Praise Petey from Freeform sounds a little crazy on paper – to be clear, I mean it’s a good thing. The half-hour animated comedy centers on a New York fashionista ( Anne Murphy) who, in the premiere, is surprised to discover that she’s inherited her cult of the backwoods from a late father she barely knew (Stephen Root). If nothing else, it’s a premise I’ve never heard of before; it’s so specific and weird that I have to assume that someone was pretty excited about it at some point.
Alas, despite the top-notch voice cast and a few jokes aimed directly at my own millennial female media crowd (if you mentioned the Chris Evans GQ profile, it might be aimed at you too), the overall impression left by P raise Petey is not at all impressive. It turned out to be neither repulsive enough to loathe nor impressive enough to like, and, in the end, it didn’t turn out to be special enough to actually be remembered.
Kudos to Petey
Bottom Line An interesting premise turned into a so-so show.
Friday, July Afternoon 10(Free Form)21 Cast:
Annie Murphy, 10John Zhao , Kilsey Clemons, Stephen Root, Amy Hill, Kristen Baranski
The universal quality of the series is evident early on. “I’m Petey, a girl with a boy’s name, so you can like me,” Murphy chirps in the premiere montage of her daily routine: coffee, therapy, yoga (which she also calls therapy), meditation (which she also calls therapy). Her work at the fashion magazine included seemingly random categories of “good clothes” and “bad clothes” and trying to stay unnoticed in meetings where editors debated whether to wear “shirts” or “pants” this season. The joke, I suppose, is that glossy media types are a uniquely dull bunch—and that’s fair enough, except for when Meryl Streep berated Anne Hathaway for being condescending in The Devil Wears Prada a few years ago, all of these observations will feel stale 10. A desperate choice to move to a new utopia in the wilderness of “Western Carolina”. When she arrives, covered in mud and unprepared for life beyond the high-rises of Manhattan, she is sadly greeted by a group of people who are already greeted by her father’s prophecy that he will be succeeded by a great daughter. Pitty was uncomfortable with their traditions, such as human sacrifice (especially character actors) and daily orgies (though Pitty’s father’s wives were quick to clarify that he used the term loosely: “We mostly just helped him turn on the TV remote and listened to him describe movies he’d seen on the plane”). Peaty is determined to modernize the organization from the inside, like a “female CEO of a super-toxic company.”
After six seasons of playing a similarly sweet but self-absorbed socialite character on Schitt’s Creek
, Murphy may be playing Petey in her sleep — and the first five episodes (of a ten-episode season) sent to critics don’t exactly call for her to come out on her own. Still, she’s a solid anchor to an intriguing cast that also includes John Cho as the Bandit, Petey’s sexy cowboy friend/enemy/lover; Kiersey Clemons as Eliza, the no-nonsense local bar owner and Petey’s new best friend; and Christine Baranski as White St. Barts), Petey’s perpetually icy mother.
If only their collective appeal could be matched by an equally compelling script. Kudos to Petey for its generally upbeat, good-natured vibe that keeps it from getting too harsh, and some of its jokes are smart enough to warrant a laugh. For example, I appreciate the absurdity that Petey’s wooden ex-fiancé is a real plank, even though the repetitive visual gags are less amusing. Some of the excesses of “New Utopia” are outrageous enough to be reminiscent of the Stranger Things show that could have happened. The sight of a “human table” made of bodies twisted together for Petey’s use is aptly funny and frightening at the same time. The “human shih tzu” curled up at Petey’s feet became uncommonly cute after a while. If the series had been sharper or more ambitious in other ways, these occasional giggles might have felt like enough.
But that’s not the case, so
compliments on Petey’s work partly scattered in the long stuff, just there. That includes the show trying to address its own core premise. I don’t know what the hell Anna Drezen, creator of praising Pitty , is trying to say about cults or people who belong to cults. The series vaguely expresses the notion that we all belong to cults in some way, and that (darkerly) many of us deep down want to be told what to do and what to believe.
Still, there’s a huge gulf between Petty refusing to buy a printer when Mercury is retrograde, and her father’s followers dedicating their lives to a man who won’t let them use real money or watch uncensored movies. In a post-NXIVM, postWild, Wild Nation world, there may be no viewers who need to have the dangers of cults explained to them, yet praising Petey’s timidity to dig into that gap in satire or commentary feels like a missed opportunity.
Instead, the cult business has largely been honed over time into a series of minor, mostly harmless eccentricities. In episode five, Petey’s past and present collide when his ex-husband and his new fiancée decide to hold their wedding on a picturesque farm in a neo-utopia. In classic sitcom style, Petey initially tries to hide everything creepy and weird in the neighborhood, going so far as to send the biggest weirdo out to collect pine cones in a remote forest — only to have all the weirdness come crashing through the door at the most inopportune time and teach a lesson about the importance of tradition. This is the most cohesive chapter of the season, and certainly the most heartwarming. Ironically, it also seems least willing to accept that should let praise Petey for something different — not the familiar sweetness of small-town comedies, but the twisted, thorny character of cult life.