Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 18, 2021)
Best-known for the series Samurai Jack, filmmaker Genndy Tartakovsky goes into the distant past for his newest animated adventure, 2019-20’s Primal. In this one, we head back to prehistoric days.
All 10 episodes appear on this Blu-ray Disc. The plot synopses come from the series’ official Adult Swim website.
Spear and Fang: “Tragedy forces a caveman (voiced by Aaron LaPlante) and a dinosaur to rely upon each other for their survival.”
Wait – wasn’t that the alternate pilot to The Flintstones? Of course, in this version, it’d be as if one of Dino’s siblings ate Wilma and Pebbles to send Fred on his own despondent journey.
Unlike the wisecrack-heavy Flintstones, though, Primal comes with zero dialogue. Instead, it relies on the animation to speak for the characters, and that becomes an interesting potential challenge.
At least for this episode, the series seems up to it, as the pilot offers a pretty compelling tale. We get a good intro to the characters and a nice mix of action and drama in this solid show.
River of Snakes: “Man and beast are challenged to find a way to live together.”
While the pilot offered a basic “origin story”, “Snakes” shows the growing pains as Spear (the caveman) and Fang (the dinosaur) get to know each other. It also offers a bit more comedy than the decidedly downbeat debut episode, so it becomes a quality way to advance the characters.
A Cold Death: “In the harshness of the primordial winter, a herd of wooly mammoths hunt for the murderers of one of their own.”
“Death” goes down an unusual path given its focus on the mammoths. We spend a fair amount of time with the wooly that Fang and Spear eventually kill before we get to the herd that comes after them. Throw in some flashbacks to Spear’s life with his now-dead family and “Death” turns into a compelling episode.
Terror Under the Blood Red Moon: “The horrors of the Red Night challenges Spear and Fang for their very survival.”
After the emotional range of “Death”, “Moon” goes more for wild action. That makes it less impactful than the prior show but still a good entry, as we get some crazed battles here.
Rage of the Ape-Men: “An oasis of peace only leads to a brutal attack from a tribe of ape-like men.”
Oh, they had Trump supporters in prehistoric days? I kid, I kid! (I don’t kid.)
After the mania of “Moon”, “Rage” starts on a tranquil note, as Spear and Fang come across an apparent oasis. Of course, with a title that includes the word “rage”, we know matters won’t remain so calm for long, and eventually matters go ape-crap crazy. This adds up to an unusual and intriguing episode.
Scent of Prey: “Spear struggles to nurse Fang back to health and escape the scavengers of the primordial world.”
I guess they didn’t have veterinarians for dinosaurs, huh? This theme leads to a quieter Primal than usual, but it manages to use the space in clever ways and it also deepens the bond between our main characters.
Plague of Madness: “A relentless dinosaur infected with a terrifying disease pursues Spear and Fang.”
Shades of COVID! Well, not really, as “Plague” seems more like a zombie-ish thing, but it’s still spooky to see a show in which a transmittable disease ravages the land. It’s a bit more disgusting than it needs to be, and that dampens the plot somewhat, but it still becomes an interesting view of the subject.
Coven of the Damned: “A tribe of mysterious, primitive women seek to further their coven by using dark magic on Spear and Fang.”
Don’t expect these witches to offer any sexy prehistoric eye candy, as we find nothing but withered crones. The theme does offer a novel twist for Primal, though, as it takes us from the series’ usual violent combat into something more mystical. The shift works, especially since “Coven” follows some unexpected paths.
The Night Feeder: “A horrific unseen terror stalks the night as well as our heroes Spear and Fang.”
Though not a bad episode, “Feeder” feels a bit derivative, as it reminds me too much of “Plague”. Granted, it takes us into some different story choices, but it still becomes a somewhat lackluster show because it seems a little repetitive.
Slave of the Scorpion: “Spear and Fang are confronted by a much more advanced human than they’ve ever encountered before.”
That revelation offers a novel twist for Primal - and one that feels like a potential push toward Season Two, in which Spear and Fang might spend more time with “advanced” humans. Whatever happens in subsequent shows, “Slave” delivers a creative season finale.