The Cartoon Network has decided to branch out into live-action, scripted television, and Unnatural History is where that foray starts. Unlike the Adult Swim block of programming that is designed for adult viewers, Unnatural History is, or should be, reserved primarily for kids and teens.
Various reviewers have likened it to The Hardy Boys crossed with Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Scooby Doo. It’s like all of those. It’s also like National Treasure, Johnny Quest, Young Sherlock Holmes and a slew of other movies and television shows that are like a lot of other movies and television shows.
Kevin Schmidt plays the young protagonist, Henry Griffin, who gets taken out of his adventure-filled, world-wandering life by his parents because he needs “better role-models” than they have been. He’s sent to Washington D.C., where his uncle (played by Weeds vet, Martin Donovan) is the principal of “the best high school in the country,” conveniently attached to a huge museum.
On his first visit to the aforementioned high school, Henry breaks into the school, falls through the ceiling and lands in his recently deceased godfather’s casket. And the adventure begins from there.
Backed-up by his nerdy cousin, Jasper (Jordan Gavaris), Henry begins working on the mystery of his godfather’s death while trying to settle into his new surroundings. If settling means doing whatever he feels like at the moment.
Italia Ricci plays Maggie Winnock, a classmate with eidetic memory and a penchant for tofu. In the pilot episode her role is relatively low-key and she serves mostly as a source of information, but I’m sure she’ll grow as a character as the story continues to unfold.
On it’s own merit, Unnatural History has a number of strengths and weaknesses. The storyline is well-built and should keep the attention of the target demographic. Unfortunately, some of the writing is a bit stale and the acting feels lifeless and forced in places…it feels like an amateur production in a lot of ways.
The show should be well-received by its target demographic, for good reason. It’s well paced, interesting and shows spirit. If the writing tightens up (especially the dialogue–whoever wrote some of the throw away lines in this should throw them away next time), the actors become more comfortable with each other and the cinematography stabilizes, Unnatural History has the potential to be a great escape for the whole family. At the moment, however, it will remain a solid offering for our youth.
It is nice to see something offered to the younger generation that’s refreshing and intelligent, but to succeed the production value is going to have to climb just a bit.
Unnatural History (for adults): C-
Unnatural History (for kids): B