I missed Adult Swim’s initial December airing of the five-part miniseries “Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter,” but when I found out that the show was set in Vermont, I hastened to catch up. An absurdist melodrama about a gun-toting, neon-clad vagabond and the werewolf-plagued small town that commissions him as a bounty hunter, the show is half “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” half “Jaws”—filtered, however, through the camp sensibility of previous Adult Swim products, including “Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and the viral short, “Too Many Cooks.”
The humor of “Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter” also has something in common with Parker-Stone productions like “That’s My Bush” and “Team America: World Police,” seeking to put forth new popular entertainment by creating an exaggerated version of old popular entertainment, intensifying the ironic pleasures of its eternal familiarity by intensifying the clumsiness and obviousness of its storytelling conventions—and, as a bonus, sprinkling them with throwaway jokes. It’s more celebration of schlocky TV than it is parody, not purposeful enough to be anything more than a trivial kind of postmodern pastiche; still, in this case at least, it’s pretty fun.
The miniseries takes place in the fictional village of Garrity, Vermont (aka “B&B Town USA!”). In its opening scene, an overworked Paul Rudd pulls up to a historic inn, exits his SUV, takes a revivifying gulp of the fresh country air, and chucks his chirping cell phone into the snow. But before he can begin his vacation, he’s eaten alive by a werewolf—thus functioning as the show’s Drew Barrymore, who opened the slasher-satire “Scream” with her own gory death, a surprise at the time, given that Barrymore was the biggest star in the film, as Rudd is here. Yet because Wes Craven’s pre-Millennium subversion of convention has since become genre cliché (perhaps by the power of its own fame alone), we actually expect Rudd to die, as he did already in the first episode of “Delocated,” the previous Adult Swim series by “Neon Joe” writer-star Jon Glaser. The only minor surprise is the postmortem realization that Rudd was in fact playing himself here, thereby literalizing the movie-star-death concept from which the sequence originated.
The following morning, the one-eyed Cajun avenger Neon Joe (dressed permanently in a construction worker’s high-visibility sleeveless jumpsuit) arrives, promising to restore the frightened town’s tourist trade in B&B stays, antiques, and artisanal mayonnaise by hunting down the werewolf for a not-so-small fee. As Joe gradually acquaints himself with the village, he encounters various stock characters, including the town drunk, the haunted-by-his-past sheriff, and the Italian-American pizzeria owner (an NYC transplant named Brooklyn Billy). The show incorporates clichés in a zombie-TV fugue of random consumption: a drag-race scene taken from “Rebel Without a Cause,” a crucial moment from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” and the entire story line of “Misery,” in addition to the more general idea of small, tightly knit rural towns as sinister cabals, previously utilized by “The Wicker Man” and, in a comic vein, by “Hot Fuzz.”
Oddly, the werewolf mystery is eventually more or less discarded in favor of an alien invasion plot: as it turns out, the mayor of Garrity and various other prominent townspeople belong to an extraterrestrial race called the “Cybots”—half-cyborg, half-robot (which, since cyborgs already are half-robot, must mean that they’re actually three-quarters robot). The Cybots have come to our planet to spread their “vision of what are called ‘B&Bs,’” sharing their love of bringing “strangers together over an awkward breakfast, locally sourced baked goods, and homemade jam.” Having achieved “light-to-moderate success,” they wish only to return to outer space but lack the spacecraft fuel to do so, unless they find an alternative power source.
The jokey implication is that New England’s quaintness-oriented tourism industry (embodied here not only by Garrity’s bed-and-breakfasts but also by its barns, historic homes, locally owned market, and sole bar, called Hot Cocoa’s Tavern, which hosts clam chowder-themed speed-dating nights) is a strangely benign alien conspiracy. The town of Garrity, in reality, is Palisades, New York—a Rockland County hamlet just north of the New Jersey border and just south of the region of New York State that previously stood in for Vermont in “Super Troopers.”
Given the entertainment value of Jon Glaser’s performance as Neon Joe, this is probably forgivable. Originating as a spontaneous one-off joke during a guest appearance by Glaser on Fallon, “Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter” somehow (preposterously) became an actual TV show—but then again, not quite: it has enough humor to occupy its 110 total minutes amusingly and is smart enough not to outstay its welcome, as it would as a full-fledged series. Its five episodes are currently airing in reruns on Adult Swim and are available for digital purchase on Amazon Instant Video.