'Primal' review: Genndy Tartakovsky's new show somehow tops 'Samurai Jack'
Adult Swim’s newest animated limited series from Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky is a beautiful, bold, and absolutely brutal story about a caveman at the dawn of evolution and the unlikely bond he strikes with a dinosaur. All five episodes of Primal will air nightly on Adult Swim starting Monday, October 7 at midnight and conclude Friday, October 11.
Anyone who already loves Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack shouldn’t hesitate whatsoever in watching everything Primal has to offer. The animation style is similar, with art direction from Scott Wills (The Ren & Stimpy Show, Samurai Jack). The world is full of vibrant colors that dip into surrealistic expressions in the most dramatic moments. Compared to Samurai Jack, the action feels more appropriately more brutal and chaotic for such a wild world. The nameless caveman at the center of Primal doesn’t have Jack’s finesse, but he more than makes up for it in pure instinct.
The nameless protagonist, called Spear in the credits, might not be able to speak or comprehend language — meaning no dialogue at any point in the series — but the guy has grit and verve. Against all odds, he and a random dinosaur bond over shared trauma and find a begrudging amount of respect for one another. It’s a marvel that Primal is able to communicate all of this without any real dialogue, but it’s immediately clear that in this world to eat means to kill, no matter how high or low you are on the food chain.
In the opening scene, Spear fishes in a pond, jabbing each fish one by one with a spear. Then he keeps them skewered under the water to stay fresh. We watch him perform this in ritualistic fashion and endure some unpleasant squelching noises as it happens. Then the nauseating moment is interrupted by the jump-scare of a huge crocodile that nearly swallows Spear whole. The entire time, the surrounding forest is exploding with the sounds of wildlife while a persistent musical score from co-composers Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy, Samurai Jack) and Joanne Higginbottom (Samurai Jack, The Punisher) accentuates the dramatic tension — and boy does the dramatic tension hit hard.
Heartbreaking tragedy strikes Spear’s family, and soon thereafter the same happens to a nice blue dinosaur, Fang. Through shared trauma, the two strike up an inseparable bond that feels similar to How to Train Your Dragon except so much more mature, nuanced, and full of violent gore. It’s a thrill to watch their relationship evolve, especially in how they play off one another in combat against all manner of prehistoric creatures.
Through subtle vocal noises and complex body language, Fang comes off as more intelligent than Spear, but she also has some behavioral traits and body gestures of a dog. The proto-man, however, will always rush blindly into battle. When knocked down, he’ll charge right back into the fray without a moment’s pause. If given the motive, he won’t hesitate to attack creatures 10 or 20 times his size — and he’ll win. Fang is a little more judicious in choosing her battles, but that’s part of what makes them such a good team.
Throughout the series, this prehistoric duo come up against a wide variety of larger creatures, and the choreography — the main draw of a show like this — is a sight to behold. It takes on an almost video game feel as things progress, with each character learning new skills to further improve their teamwork.
The show veers into the borderline supernatural as Spear and Fang contend with creatures that shouldn’t exist. There are giant spiders and big snakes alongside more realistic beasts like wooly mammoths. Everything in Primal feels like an unbelievable thrill, and each battle triggers a visceral feeling of fear and panic, especially because the series never shies away from showing the brutality of violence in untamed nature, which lands with all the emotional punch of a show like Attack on Titan.
There’s nothing out there quite like Primal, and even if it’ll one day be the most bingeable thing Tartakovsky’s ever done when available in streaming form, watching each installment every day this week feels like just the perfect amount of dramatic tension to make it even better.
Primal airs on Adult Swim at midnight from October 7 to 11.