Smiling Friends Is The Most Realistic Animated Show I've Ever Seen (2024)

My neurodivergent brain demands that my hyperfixations change all the time, seeking out new obsessions that make my brain pump the happy juice for a bit. Right now, that honour belongs to Smiling Friends, an adult animated series that friends and colleagues have been recommending for months and so, in recent weeks, I finally decided to check it out.

Zach Hadel and Michael Cusack’s animated show just wrapped up its second season and has attracted a global audience and viral success thanks to clips from its ten-minute episodes, unorthodox fan art, and TikTok sounds that take its jokes further. I can’t scroll through my feed without hearing “How do I look yellow man?” or Gwimbly’s iconic catchphrase being creatively regurgitated. Smiling Friends’ wholesome hooks won’t let go.

As its name suggests, Smiling Friends is all about friends who make you smile. Charlie, Pim, Allan, and Glep work for a nebulous agency who is contacted by random people to try to cheer them up. That could be a suicidal middle-aged man who lives with his parents, the President of the United States, or the literal devil himself. It’s utterly absurd, but incredibly grounded in how it depicts the characters and dialogue.

Smiling Friends is available on Max and Channel 4, but its creators have said that if you need to pirate the series then that’s cool, too. Gotta love that independent spirit.

While some of them resemble animals and weird monsters, and different animation styles are smashed together to give it a bizarre aesthetic, everyone in this world talks and behaves like relatively normal human beings. The humour is drawn from how they react to situations that in most circ*mstances may drive you crazy.

There are episodes where Pim and Charlie are abducted by aliens and end up partying with extraterrestrials before destroying entire planets, but how the people they encounter talk and interact with them is grounded in our own reality. Certain scenes are improvised or take a lot of inspiration from real-life scenarios too, and it’s clear the actors are allowed to build on the existing writing and bring their own takes to each scene, which can be quite a rare thing with animation.

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The first season, especially, was made on a small budget where Hadel or Cusack were not only voicing characters and writing the material, but also animating sequences and drawing backgrounds, turning Smiling Friends into a high-budget Newgrounds flash animation instead of the next big hitter from Adult Swim. It’s through this wholesome, everyday, genuine identity that it’s been able to build such a reputation.

If they are legal in your State, I highly recommend watching Smiling Friends on edibles. I may or may not be speaking from personal experience.

It’s the first season finale that cemented its brilliance for me. ‘Smiling Friends Go To Brazil’ is billed as an adorable holiday episode where all the characters leave work for a bit and relax, but the entire thing takes place in the airport. We join the gang after they step off the plane and do what every friend group does on holiday. You figure out how to get to the hotel, find something to eat, and talk about the things you’re excited about going and doing.

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Unfortunately for Charlie, Pim, Alan, and Glep, one of them forgot to check the group chat and book the hotel. So here they are, stuck in a foreign country with nowhere to stay while Mardi Gras is right around the corner. Arguments erupt in an instant, with Pim claiming he didn’t know the hotel was his responsibility before accusing his friends of ganging up on him, when in reality they are frustrated for the exact same reasons.

The dialogue feels like a real conversation, to the point where I was feeling second-hand anxiety from these creatures, or critters as the show likes to call them, at each other’s throats. In the end, they try to call their boss to pay for a hotel, but are too scared to take his money and instead just decide to call it quits and go home. I know it sounds dull, but it’s so funny because it draws from reality in spite of its abundant absurdity.

Small details like the eye and hand movements of characters as they begin to understand the gravity of the situation, or Allan picking up a menu and pretending to read it as Pim and Charlie’s argument becomes more and more heated, or the shift to sudden politeness as a waitress comes over to their table to drop off drinks and food.

It seems so real in spite of its absurdity, and that’s where so much of the humour comes from. How, despite travelling to a new planet to meet aliens and discover the Earth is flat, Pim and Charlie are still just pretty normal guys going about life in a pretty normal way.

Next: Why I Abandoned Radahn For New Game Plus In Elden Ring

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Smiling Friends Is The Most Realistic Animated Show I've Ever Seen (2024)
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