Review: High School USA! – Ep. 1: Bullies

Like most people I took one look at High School USA! and thought, “Oh good they’re finally getting around to spoofing Archie.” Only I said it really sarcastically. Well the joke is on me because this show is fantastic. In a lot of ways it reminds me of early Family Guy episodes in which they would spoof what television portrayed as reality and the TV formula in general. With High School USA! the formula is the high school experience boiled down to its lowest common denominator so that it’s transparent  and relatable. The episodes are only ten minutes long which means that it follows the Adult Swim outline for the most part. In the first episode we’re just thrown in with the characters with hardly an introduction and no backstory. It’s very easy to pick up on and the writer’s do a fine job of making sure character’s names are repeated often, but without it being so obvious that they’re just saying it for your benefit.

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The first episode opens up at a pep rally about Bullying. The teacher that we met (and the only character’s name that I don’t remember) calms down the crowd and goes through why a bully is bad and that they will not tolerate Bullies at the school and if caught students won’t be allowed to attend Friday’s dance.

After the pep rally we spend some time with our main characters: Marsh the “Archie” of the group who was overweight as a child and even though he’s thin now, he’s still obsessed with weight loss. Then there’s Brad, who is the “Jughead” to Marsh’s “Archie.” Instead of being a hollow knock off though he actually represents the typical jock for the most part. Then there’s Blackstein… he doesn’t really compare to someone from Archie in my opinion, but it’s clear that he’s the nerd of the group. There’s more to his character as he represents some typical stereotypes as well, but you’ll see it when you watch. Lastly are the ladies. Amber is of course the “Betty”, but this is in hair color only. She and Cassandra, the “Veronica”, are both very accurate in their dialog and come across like any tween/teen girl that you may have overheard in a mall or just out in public in general. Their charm is that they are so accurate with their dialog and mannerisms that you forget they’re just cartoon characters.

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We know the episode is about Bullies and while the gang is hanging out at “Le American Diner”, Marsh points out that Brad is a bully. It’s pretty obvious considering he has Blackstein in a head lock the entire time and calls him “Brainstein” because he thinks he’s dumb, but to the rest of the gang it isn’t as obvious. Brad runs away because he doesn’t want to be a bully; later that night he’s contact about his bullying and asked to meet with the stranger. He follows a Truman Captoe looking dude to a place where jocks are beating up on nerds. Brad unwinds on a nerd who is there because he’s a “pervert” and the Captoe looking dude records it. The next day the video has gone viral and Brad is banned from the dance.

That’s literally like half of the episode, but I haven’t told you any of the jokes. That’s what’s actually great about this show; sure they’ve nailed high school perfectly and managed to even represent the youngest generation in doing so, but the comedy is what shines. In the diner Marsh turns down both girls because he’s going to be home binge eating and after Brad leaves, Blackstein says that he’ll be their date to which Amber gives a hilarious response. I’m not going to ruin any of the jokes because they’ll be completely out of context for you. Brad’s home life delivers tons of great material and his mom might just be the best supporting character of the show.

Not all of the voice acting is amazing. Marsh is okay for the most part, but his golly shucks delivery tends to leave him pretty monotone and lacking any real emotion. I think that’s supposed to be the point, but when he’s mixed with all the other dynamic characters it doesn’t really work and makes him seem like the one that’s out of place. Brad is voiced by T.J. Miller and I recognized him instantly. He’s a bit rough with his lines and it doesn’t come off naturally, but I think as the show continues it’ll get there. It definitely didn’t stop the jokes from being funny. Blackstein is voiced by Nathan Barnatt and he does a great job, but sounds the most cartoonish out of the bunch. I’m not sure who voices Amber, but she does a fantastic job. In a huge surprise, Mandy Moore is the voice of Cassandra. She does a great job, but it’s kind of weird once you know that especially after the second episode. In general the voice acting is good and you can tell that they’re going for a wholesome feel even if they’re being crude at the same time and that works. I just hope that they don’t break from that.

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I would definitely say that High School USA! is worth watching. I expected very little from it and was then pleasantly surprised. If you know who Dino Stamatopoulos is, then you’ll definitely want to watch since this is his brain child. He’s written and created some of the best and most disturbing things on television including Moral Orel, which is similar in structure and parody with this show. I’m sure you can find a way to watch this for free considering Fox is backing their Adult Swim block of programing pretty hard, so check it out.

Score: 4/5

Writer: Dino Stamatopoulos