HBO Max’s ‘Close Enough’ Smiles and Aches at the Trials of Adulting
HBO Max’s “Close Enough” imagines the process of reaching 30 and “adulting” as a surrealist experience, which seems accurate as it happens to be set in contemporary Los Angeles. This animated series is both a trippy journey and a heartfelt one. Some of it is vicious satire, other bits are hopeful, and none of it rings false.
Living in L.A. are Josh (creator J.G. Quintel) and Emily (Gabrielle Walsh), a couple in their early 30s who have a 5-year-old daughter, Candice (Jessica DiCicco). They went to college, got the degree, had a kid, but can’t afford a place for just them so like most people in the city they have roommates. Their house companions are Alex (Jason Mantzoukas), a failed writer and fired junior college professor, and Bridgette (Kimiko Glenn) whose only career goal seems to be becoming a social media influencer while insisting on denying adulthood itself. Their adventures consist of everyday life as it is for the struggling lower strata of society in an increasingly expensive city. For Josh and Emily a major battle could mean realizing they no longer have the strength to stay up past ten o’clock at night.
J.G. Quintel is the award-winning creator of Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show” and he follows the same animation pattern here. But “Close Enough” almost seems to have a more personal edge to it. It was originally slated for TBS but was trapped in development hell until finding a home at HBO Max, which needs fresh adult-oriented animation content. Quintel was born in 1982 so he knows his main characters inside and out. Episodes only run a little over 20 minutes featuring two stories, some deal with ageism, others with the shattered dream of rising up the same social ladder as your parents. Quintel and his team conjure these chapters like mini daydreams. In one episode Emily becomes obsessed with going to open houses in expensive or gentrified neighborhoods. She reminds herself she will never be able to afford these luxurious homes with their swimming pools, but exploring them gives her a sense of freedom from her current, cramped dwellings. When she meets a dad escaping from his wife and triplets and a young influencer, they get trapped in a warped sitcom riff on “Full House” named “Open House.” It’s hilarious but also a bitter pill much of its audience will relate to. In a lighter tone than something like Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman,” Quintel’s take on millennials accepting their adulthood feels liberated by animation because it can use surreal wildness to say what in a live show would have a harder time getting across. To help Candice make a quilt for her class, Josh and Emily go to L.A.’s fashion district and utilize the services of sweatshop children, who in the morning turn out to be elderly homeless ready to attack. But the quilt gets made.
The better episodes in this first season of “Close Enough” are reflections on how in this fast-paced world suddenly being 35 marks you as “old,” because you can remember popular culture from two decades ago. Josh, Emily and Alex join Bridgette at a trendy L.A. nightclub any denizen of the city will recognize (a tab can quickly jump to $86). While Bridgette goes to flirt with a social media celebrity the others are horrified to discover that the club has a savage policy for those over 30, which results in a literal public execution. The episode ends on a wise and hopeful note but is merciless in its takedown of our obsession with age labels. Just wait for the true identity of the influencer Bridgette starts making out with. In another tale Josh has a crisis when Candice shows no interest in toys from his past, like a fire-catching Teddy Ruxpin that pleads, “let me die.” He’s overjoyed when she wants to learn skateboarding since that was his rebellious pastime back in the day. Yet he slides back into crisis mode when he breaks bones at a local skateboarding rink (maybe he was never that good) and a younger skater becomes Candice’s teacher.
Quintel peppers every episode with winks and references to the ‘90s. An episode opens with a timeline sequence showing how Josh and Alex have been going to eat Medieval Times once a year every year since high school, out of a devotion to the 1996 Jim Carrey movie “The Cable Guy.” Alex at the ageist nightclub rebelliously holds up his old Blockbuster Video card and even Candice’s kindergarten teacher is now a pot-smoking hipster. The season’s bizarre but very entertaining season finale Josh and Alex come across a talking “dog boy” who befriends them, recounting how he escaped from a lab where he would watch films like “The Mask” on VHS. Candice learns to quote the movie “Training Day” while hanging out with the landlord, Pearl (Danielle Brooks), a retired LAPD detective who lives with her adopted and eternally shirtless son Randy (James Adomian). In these times the show seems to say, a nice landlord becomes part of your inner circle. The talking dogs, roaming clowns demanding Alex pay a debt and shit-talking parrots our heroes encounter are simply part of the cycle of a stress-inducing life.
“Close Enough” retains a sense of fun all throughout, even as it expresses the frustrations of a generation still finding its footing in a sense, while beginning to raise their own kids. Quintel likes to tell relatable stories while making fun of everything in the world, while still holding on tightly to his memories. Fair warning to those under 30 who will laugh and smirk at this show, you too will travel down this road.
“Close Enough” season one begins streaming July 9 on HBO Max.