It might seem like Crossing Swords is an advertisement for a magical Playmobil set. But within the first two minutes, a clown man ends up being called a “fucking idiot” by the other members of his raiding party for not understanding the basics of dragon biology. Not long after, an orphanage full of kittens is blown to high heaven, and barely anybody in town has the time to care because their homes are all on fire.
Crossing Swords, created by John Harvatine IV and Tom Root, tells the story of a vaguely Arthurian young man named Patrick (Nicolas Hoult, putting on an unrecognizable voice) who dreams of nothing more than one day becoming a knight so he can escape his twisted family with whom he has little in common. As the last of his four siblings to turn his dreams into a profitable profession, Patrick has something of an inferiority complex, but it still doesn’t dissuade him from yearning to become a member of the king’s guard.
Patrick’s earnest desire to be a force of good in the world is sharply contrasted by how outright degenerate everyone around him is. He comes increasingly aware of this as he makes his way to the castle in hopes of impressing the Old King (Rob Corddry) and Queen Tulip (Alanna Ubach) in the land’s annual competition that determines who’s worthy of being brought into the squire training program. Different as Patrick is from most everyone else, it’s his good natured-ness that ends up giving him a number of distinct advantages, but as Crossing Swords’ first season unfolds, you quickly come to understand that it isn’t really all that interested in telling a straightforward coming-of-age tale.
Beyond Hoult’s Patrick, Crossing Swords’ cast is rounded out by Coral (Tara Strong), Patrick’s pirate queen sister; Reuben (Adam Ray), their narcissistic Robin Hood knockoff brother; and Blarney (Tony Hale), their drunken failed clown brother. Each of Patrick’s siblings hates him for different reasons, and were it not for Patrick’s fellow-squire-in-training friend Broth (Adam Pally) and their instructor Sergeant Megan (Yvette-Nicole Brown), he’d be all alone in the world.
There are more than a few shows — like Game of Thrones and Disenchantment — that Crossing Swords borrows from heavily, thematically speaking, but the show is decidedly more blue in a comedy sense. The series’ writers lead with a raunchy, Robot Chicken style of humour that it assumes you’ll be down with, and there are multiple times when you might find yourself having to hit pause and wonder if you actually are. The series is funny more often than not, and the jokes fire off at a clip, but Crossing Swords moves so quickly that it becomes easy to realise just how often the cast of actors lend their voices to multiple characters while not quite trying to differentiate what they sound like.
Crossing Swords’ animation style and its dynamic cinematography are its strengths to be sure. They make the show feel truly inspired despite the fact that you’re watching a bunch of what appear to be wooden figures jumping around as they vomit, bleed, and occasionally throw themselves at one another to fornicate and/or fight. Whatever digital artistry went into making characters’ movements through the series’ thoughtfully designed sets is balanced with cleverly used practical details (like tufts of red and yellow cotton exploding from a dragon’s mouth to simulate breathing fire) that make everything feel tactile and textured.
It would be more than fair to call Crossing Swords’ approach to making you laugh juvenile, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when you consider it really is just a bunch of talented comedians and animators getting together and saying dirty and gross things to one another. Cutesy as Crossing Swords may be visually, it’s a piece of adult-arse animation that isn’t particularly interested in deep ruminations about the human condition. If you’ve got the stomach for that sort of thing, give it a shot — especially if the idea of a fairy crapping glitter onto a person out of revenge makes you chuckle.
Crossing Swords hits Hulu on June 19. No word on where it’ll end up in Australia just yet.